The “Keys” to unlock God’s Kingdom

Kelli was a trainee doctor, on a rotation in oncology. This particular day she was not her usual enthusiastic, upbeat self. She was having doubts. “The only thing I have to offer is my compassion,” she confided to her supervisor.   “But now I wonder what my words can mean as I look at Sheila. It’s all overwhelming. I’m not sure I can keep doing this.”

Kelli’s supervisor understood; her doubts are an occupational hazard for doctors and nurses who treat the terminally ill. But over the next month, Kelli had several opportunities to practice her “only” contribution.

Sheila was the 35-year-old mother of four whose husband, Michael, was a nurse at the same hospital. A persistent bout of “walking pneumonia” was finally diagnosed as lung cancer. Sheila began a demanding protocol of chemotherapy. Sheila was able to share with Kelli the full range of emotions common to all who struggled with cancer: fear, anger, sadness, joy at small successes, and gratitude. Kelli’s innate kindness and approachability helped Sheila get through those difficult weeks. Another of Kelli’s patients quite unexpectedly, his cough worsened and he went into respiratory distress, requiring him to be put on a ventilator. The poor man was terrified as the medical team went to work. Kelli stayed with him the whole time and explained every step of the procedure. “Now, Bernard, I know this tube is uncomfortable, but we need it to help you breathe. Hold my hand. I’ll stay with you.” And she did until he was settled and comfortable in the intensive care unit. Sheila’s husband, Michael, was on duty in the intensive care unit when Kelli and Bernard arrived.

Later in the day, at the end of rounds, Kelli and the other students were meeting with the supervising doctor to review the day. During the conversation, Michael poked his head into the room.

“Is Sheila alright?” she asked, fearing the worst. Michael replied all is well with Sheila but I just wanted to tell you, all of you, how much Sheila and I appreciate the care she’s getting. It’s not just the medical stuff. I mean that’s important, and we know she’s getting the best medical treatment available. But’s it’s the way you take care of her – and me – that makes it so different.”

He then turned to Kelli. “I was watching you hold that man’s hand. I listened as you talked to him and I tell you, do you know how long it’s been since I’ve held anyone’s hand in there, or thought about how it must feel to be on one of those things . . . I want you to know, Kelli, that you, and each of you, have reminded me of something I had long forgotten. And I won’t forget again to comfort those I take care of.” Sometimes compassion – the only thing we can offer – is the most important and remembered gift we give.

Kelli has learned that compassion is the “rock” of her work as a doctor. It is on that same “rock” that Jesus establishes his church, a community of men and women whose lives mirror the love, peace and justice of God. Every one of us has been entrusted with the “keys” to unlock God’s Kingdom here and now: our “keys” may be patience and understanding or a talent or skill we possess — even as Kelli discovered compassion and care, can be the means for others to be embraced in the peace and mercy of God. God entrusts to each one of us some “key” that unlocks, through the faith we live and the work of our lives, the presence of God in our world.  In taking on God’s work of reconciliation, in our struggle to forgive selflessly and humbly, in our often less-than-successful attempts to imitate the compassion of Jesus, our church and parish reflect the face of God to our world.