A WEEK AGO, I stood meekly on the beach.
The wind whips me, the frigid surf stings me. I’ve
long abandoned the idea of actually going in the
water; I am committed now to staying dry and comfortable
and warm. Meanwhile, my six-year-old
daughter bounces happily in the surf.
“Come on in,” she calls. “It feels great!”
And now it’s Good Friday. Today we see Jesus,
pierced and dying on the cross. Never has Jesus’
humanity been more evident. It is a day of suffering,
and suffering defines the human condition.
We all have suffered, or will suffer. There
are among us the brokenhearted, and those
who will be brokenhearted. We know our day
will come, the day when our lives are irrevocably
changed by death or suffering.
Our culture thrives on distracting us from
that time, on denying that time, on filling our
days with wondrous things that can make us
feel that the days of awful sadness will never
come, or that they are so far distant that we
need not bother to think of them. There is
always the new thing, after all, and medical
research is progressing so rapidly that our day
of reckoning will be pushed back so far that perhaps
we will be immortal.
Jesus, however, tells us something else. Pain
and suffering are all around us. If we dare to
look, we may be overwhelmed, even paralyzed,
by the injustices and evils of our world, not to
mention our own personal concerns. Pain will
come, and if we are not now walking around
shell-shocked, scarred and bleeding, our time
But there is more. Jesus and the Scriptures tell
us something more, something different, something
radical. From out of the pain and suffering
will come life. We don’t know how, we
cannot see it happening, but if we trust, if we
can muster up even a tiny bit of faith, it will
Taking the Plunge
I’m back on the beach. I finally am just too sick
of my comfortable self, too eager to swim the
cold ocean, surf the waves, play with my daughter.
I take the plunge. It shocks me to the core,
but it strangely begins to feel good, fine, great.
I have joined the brotherhood and sisterhood
of “Those Who Take the Plunge,” and the world
looks different now that I am wet with life.
Do I—do we—have faith to take these
plunges? When our hour is near, when, like our
Lord, we suffer and are alone in the world, will
we have faith?
In our struggles, we can look closely at Jesus
on the cross. As theologian Richard John
Neuhaus says, “Look at him with whatever
faith you have and know that your worry about
your lack of faith is itself a sign of faith....Look
at him. Keep looking, and faith will take care
And we can look at the world around us
more closely; we can find in our own lives what
I call points of presence—those odd, moving,
unpredictable moments when we deeply understand
that God is near, God is alive, God is
Moments of Theophany
In preparing these words, I found a word that
brings this home for me. I am obsessively verbal,
and a word that carries such meaning is to
be savored and enjoyed. It is not the word
epiphany, but it is close.
Epiphany is defined as a usually sudden manifestation
or perception of the essential meaning
of something. In fact, in our religion, the
Epiphany is celebrated after Christmas with
the coming of the Magi—the first manifestation
of Christ to the gentiles.
The word I would like to share with you on
this Good Friday is theophany. It means the
physical manifestation of the Lord’s presence.
For some, this might mean a spectacular sunset
or a beautiful mountain vista. In my daily
grind, as a father, husband, son, heart doctor
and pilgrim of struggling faith, I cling to my
own theophanous moments. Here are some:
• Watching the heart. Watching our perfect
pump relax, fill, and contract, delivering blood to our tissues, 70 times per minute, 4,200 times
per hour, over 100,000 times per day. Watching
it stop in a patient near death, then sputter,
then start again, regular and strong. For me,
this is theophany.
• I know an 88-year-old man beset with all
the problems of life. He has buried his wife of
half a century, he has seen a son die unexpectedly,
he has seen his dear grandchildren
perish in accidents. His heart fails, his limbs
won’t obey, he is dizzy. Yet he makes new
friends wherever he goes, he visits the sick, he
masters the Internet to investigate the emergence
of China, he volunteers to prepare Meals
on Wheels for “old people.” He is my father,
and for me his whole life has been a profound
• I am down and demoralized. My patient
has died. I walk through the corridors of the
hospital like every doctor—in a hurry, preoccupied,
late, distracted, busy. As I approach a
glass door, I see a construction worker coming
toward me struggling with a length of pipe. I
could skitter through the door. But not this
time—I still have some vestige of politeness to
my manner—I feel my mother watching me.
Damn, this will slow me down, I think, but I
stop and hold the door so the slow-moving
bumbler can stumble through. Hurry up.
But then he stops! He has noticed my name
tag. He puts down the pipe, and shakes my
hand. I took care of his grandfather 10 years
ago, and he had always wanted to thank me,
but had never actually had the chance.
“How is he doing?” I ask.
Well, he died a few years ago, but he never
had trouble with his heart again. And he was
thankful for a long life. Now I am thankful, too.
Thankful to be part of things, thankful to my
new friend who gave me back a bit of life’s
meaning. Thankful for a moment of theophany.
• And last summer, my nephew George—who, like your beloved ones, I am sure, was the
world’s most precious and perfect 17-year-old
boy—stumbled on a cliff during the night on
a rocky island in the north woods near Canada.
He was found the next day, drowned in the
His parents stood before a crowd of a thousand
at his funeral, and bravely remembered
their joyous son, their gift from the Lord. And
in their unspeakable grief and pain they became
healers for the rest of us. They pointed to the
path, the only path through pain, the path
that Jesus himself took. They pointed to life.
I like to think that my nephew George, at
some time that night, paused and looked up at
the night sky ablaze with the stars over the
dark waters. I hope he saw not a cold, dark and
barren universe, but instead saw a brilliantly lit
window into the vast mystery. I hope he caught
a glimpse of the infinite, of the divine. I believe,
I have faith, that my George had a moment of
Transform Us Into Life
On this day, we pray that our pain and suffering
will transform us into life.
We pray for faith, to find Our Lord on the
cross, and to find him again on Easter morning,
in the full glory of the Resurrection.
This reflection was delivered on Good Friday
2006 at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of
Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dr. Charles Hattemer is the director of cardiology for The
Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. He and his wife, Ellen,
have eight children.