Doing Mercy: Hours Not to Reason Why

Author: Father Joseph V. Corpora, CSC, ’76, ’83M.Div.

Pr 9

There’s a phrase in Spanish that I like very much. Dios se vale de todo. God makes use of everything. Another way of saying this is, “With God, nothing need go to waste.”

After a very unusual semester at Notre Dame, where I live and serve, I began the 700-mile drive from South Bend to my hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania on December 16. I was hoping to spend three weeks with my dad. He turned 91 the day after Christmas. Due to an accident on I-80 East that (I learned the next day) involved 56 vehicles, I spent 5 hours and 24 minutes sitting on Interstate-80 without moving one inch.

We have a way of saying things like this: “I will never get back those 5 hours and 24 minutes.” True enough. I will not get them back. But I squandered those 5 hours and 24 minutes. All that I did was get angrier by the minute. What was going on? Why was no one communicating with us? Why couldn’t they divert us to the I-80 West lane until we would pass the accident site? Why was no one answering the phone when I repeatedly called the state police?

Though I do not know the answers to those questions, I do know this. I could have read. I could have called some friends. I could have prayed. Often we live with the illusion that we have to get everything in order and the traffic has to be moving again before we can start whatever — serving God, the next project, moving ahead. It turns out, however, that this is false. There is no time like the present moment to serve God.

Every moment, every event, every situation provides an opportunity to serve God. God makes use of everything. With God, nothing need go to waste. Dios se vale de todo.

On Thursday, I got up and cleaned off my car preparing for the remainder of the drive, about 300 miles. OK, I got up and complained about having to clean off my car. Thursday was not much better than Wednesday. We were diverted off I-80 twice, presumably because of accidents. We were diverted through small towns that added five hours to the trip.

On the second detour, I decided to try to travel the remaining 175 miles on side roads. Not a good idea. At one point I ended up at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. I needed gas and I was hungry. I filled the tank and I bought a hot dog that looked like it was originally bought at a second-hand store two weeks prior. No matter. I was hungry and I ate it.

I complained for most of the five hours that we were detoured. I have to say, however, that the landscape was amazingly beautiful. I wasn’t looking to be struck by the landscape, but it was impossible to not see the handiwork of God in his creation. Beautiful rolling hills, farmlands, small towns. God makes use of everything. With God, nothing need go to waste. Dios se vale de todo.

I finally arrived at my dad’s apartment at 7 p.m. Thursday. I was so happy to see my dad and so looking forward to spending the next three weeks with him. At 9 p.m. I began to feel sick. I had a very slight fever. I had the chills. And I had a stomach ache. I was pretty certain that this was from the sickly looking hot dog that I ate at the gas station.

I felt better on Friday, but I called April, the nurse practitioner at Holy Cross House, and told her my symptoms. We both thought that I had whatever people got before the world of COVID-19. But to be certain she asked me to go for a COVID test. I did. They said that I would receive the results on Monday or Tuesday. But I received them on Saturday afternoon — COVID-positive. I was shocked since I had been regularly tested at Notre Dame all semester long. I had even tested the day before I left to travel home. I had no idea where or how I could have been infected.

I spoke with April and she did some consulting. It was clear that I should not stay with my 91-year-old dad. I had to quarantine somewhere. She and my religious superior wanted me to come back to Notre Dame on Sunday so that I could go for a monoclonal antibodies infusion on Monday. This infusion works best if one has it before the virus has progressed too much.

My brother, Jim, who already had COVID-19, said he would drive with me to Notre Dame so that I could get there in one day. Thanks to his incredible generosity, we made it back by Sunday evening.

I had not spent this much uninterrupted time with my brother since we shared a bedroom when we were growing up! When we arrived safe and sound, my sister, Mary Grace, met us and gave us dinner in Tupperware.

I have the best siblings in the world, even if we did not, as I suspect, vote for the same person in the recent election. When people really try to love another and to understand one another, they can vote for different people and still respect and care for each other. A lesson that we, as a nation, need to learn badly. God makes use of everything. With God, nothing need go to waste. Dios se vale de todo.

I had very mild symptoms the first couple of days and no symptoms after that. I’ve had worse symptoms from doing push-ups and crunches. Way worse!

I had the infusion on Monday. I was so aware at the infusion center of the privilege that I have in life. You have to have great medical staff and great health care. In the Holy Cross congregation, we have both.

I often struggle with all the privilege that I have. Since I did not ask for it and it was given to me, the only way to respond to this privilege is to do everything that I can to serve others, especially the poor and the marginalized.

I quarantined in my room in Dillon Hall until December 28 when I tested negative, thanks be to God. I used the quiet days of quarantine solitude to make a Christmas retreat — and to eat every piece of chocolate I could find in my room!

Though my days of quarantine and retreat were good, my dream of perhaps one day becoming a Trappist or a hermit became a nightmare! I was reminded of the words of the famous Trappist Thomas Merton, who wrote that everyone has a vocation to contemplative prayer, but few people have a vocation to contemplative life. I’m very grateful for the days that I could spend on retreat. Days of grace and silence and quiet. God makes use of everything. With God, nothing need go to waste. Dios se vale de todo.

I was released from COVID jail on December 29. Having PTSD from I-80 and being immune from COVID-19 for a few months, I flew home to see my dad. In all of this, it was easy to see how God was at work at every moment.

God is present at every moment of our existence independent of the content of the moment. After all, Dios se vale de todo.

Father Joe Corpora works in Campus Ministry and in the Alliance for Catholic Education, and is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis appointed in 2016 to serve as Missionaries of Mercy. He has written three books of reflections on this experience, The Relentless Mercy of GodBeing Mercy: The Path to Being Fully Alive and Doing Mercy: A Path to Contemplationpublished by Corby Books.