In a Hospital Room…


May 1, 2000

Nothing quite focuses one as does a hospital room. Sounds of the day’s news swirl around, heels clatter, subdued traffic noises lose their urgency as they float upward. The world goes on but makes little impact. One filters through tests that have been taken, and analyses offered, conjectures of what may be. Friendly, serious men and women, unimaginably well trained in their professional skills, patiently answer questions, repeat over and over again upon request their conjectures of what might be if something else is not.

One is grateful, immensely, inexpressibly grateful. One knows the limitations, even in today’s world, of medical science, yet thanks God for what it is and thanks those who practice it with such consecrated professionalism. One thanks, as well, those who are deeply committed to the day-to-day care of both patient and hospital, who do all of the things that add to one’s comfort; the kind words shared by those who cook and clean are as healing as anything else. And all the while, one prays and trusts the God one loves so deeply. Days gone by slide into one’s memory and recede even more quickly than they have appeared. One reflects on one’s failures, one’s imperfections, one’s hope of what one might have done and perhaps failed to do or should not have done and perhaps did. But washing through it all, refreshing, purifying, is the unyielding sense of the great mercy, and even more the great gentleness, of God. Because of the ever mystifying kindness of people one has never met, of those one has met from time to time, and of those with whom one’s life is intimately intertwined, prayers and best wishes flow into one’s hospital room, into one’s being, and one is overwhelmed, but gently overwhelmed, by the mystery of goodness. It is goodness often scraped and bruised and damaged and scarred by what so frequently seems to be the overpowering evil of the world, but goodness which refuses to be destroyed.

As I write these words, uncertain of the outcome of tests I will be undergoing early tomorrow morning, I find myself in unutterable peace, a peace born of the grace of God and of the goodness of God’s people. Life is such a gift, and after almost 80 years of living it, I have no sentiment so strong as gratitude. But faith is an equal gift, most particularly the faith to believe unconditionally that one’s life, everyone’s life, is ultimately in the hands of a loving God. It is my natural, human hope that this period of hospitalization will result in good and vigorous health for many years to come, and that I will be privileged to serve God’s people of New York and elsewhere in whatever capacity God and our holy Church should design for me for many years to come. But God writes straight with crooked lines and only he knows what the next moment will bring. This I do know, however, with passionate certitude, that in his unlimited love he created me, as he created each of us who tries to live and die in that love, for the breathless joy of an eternal springtime. I thank each of you for your prayers and for your kindness. Each of you has my love.

Reprinted with permission. ©Catholic New York. Published in the September 2, 1999, issue.


  • John Cardinal O'Connor

    John Joseph O'Connor was an American prelate of the Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of New York from 1984 until his death in 2000, and was created a cardinal in 1985. He previously served as auxiliary bishop of Archdiocese for the Military Services (1979–83) and Bishop of Scranton (1983–84).

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