Into the Valley of Death*

In these last weeks, we have all seen the headlines regarding the Ebola crisis in western Africa.  The staggering potential for loss of life gives one pause and reminds us of the not-unjustified-fear that is preyed upon in movies like Outbreak, Contagion, and World War Z.  

While most of the media propagates an alarmism directed at quarantine and safeguarding the West from falling victim to the epidemic, when the Twitter-verse went viral with reports of a doctor fighting the disease who subsequently died of Ebola himself, my curiosity was piqued.

While the rest of us are running as far away as we can, there are heroes like Dr. Khan who willfully insert themselves into the worst environments with the hope that they might save some.  Upon reading the tweets, I was immediately reminded of recent saints like Fr. Jozef Damien de Veuster whose life was spent serving a leper colony until he died of the same disease;

or Mother Marianne Cope, OSF who took up Fr. De Veuster’s work as he succumbed to the effects of leprosy;

 

 

or Saint Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa) who cared for the dying in Calcutta who were left in the gutter to rot.

 

Moreover, the threat of Ebola raises a further question whose urgency is not diminished despite modern medicine and technology:

 

Have they been baptized? 

 

The question is of the deepest significance.  After all, Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19)  Moreover, it is baptism by “water and the Spirit” which unites us to Christ, gives us a share in His kingly priesthood, and by which we are made “one body with Christ and constituted among the People of God.”1

 

Saint Francis Xavier, that illustrious member of the Society of Jesus, whose name many thought to be the inspiration for our current Jesuit Pope, is well known for having implored any who might travel to India with him to evangelize.  His exasperation led him to “cry out like a madman, ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell,’”2 for lack of courageous Christians willing to leave behind father, and mother, and sister and brother to bring the faith to those longing to hear the Gospel with its promise of a share in the divine life. 

 

Another Jesuit, Saint Peter Claver traveled to Colombia a century later to baptize the slaves unjustly transported across the Atlantic and to give them hope in Christ.  

 

Is there one among you willing to “lose his life that he might save it”? (Mt 16:25)  Will you take upon your lips the words that Francis Xavier wrote: “Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like”—even to Africa.