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Faith and the Marketplace by Fr. John Rausch

My friend, Sr. Bernie Kenny, won the 1998 Lumen Christi "Light of Christ" Award. The Catholic Extension Society gives the award to people "who are quietly doing exemplary evangelization work around the United States."

For 20 years she drove a Winnebago outfitted as a mobile medical unit into five isolated Appalachian communities to offer the only medical attention available to the folks. Her infectious laugh, her counseling and her professional skills as a nurse practitioner touch the hearts of area folks and promote healing.

One wintry night Sr. Bernie answered a call from a woman in labor. She grabbed her bag and drove the icy roads to near the woman’s house, then walked the last half mile to help her. Miraculously she got the woman to the hospital just minutes before she delivered a healthy baby. Sr. Bernie literally goes the extra mile to bring the healing of Christ to the poor of the mountains.

Friends of Sr. Bernie easily recognize the light of Christ in her. People reading about her dedication feel a buoyant pride that healing angels fly among us. Yet the light of Christ ultimately shines through the work of a disciple to highlight the call to justice.

When the Pittston Coal Company cancelled health coverage for over 100 retired miners in 1989, the United MineWorkers Union struck. The company was swept along with the trend to raise profits by cutting benefits. The strike lingered several months and grew bitter. One day the authorities interpreted Sr. Bernie’s snail-paced driving of the health van as a deliberate obstruction of the non-union coal trucks along a narrow road. The newspaper photo of Sr. Bernie arrested in handcuffs brought the strike into perspective. Her integrity galvanized public opinion, and many people believe her arrest—and subsequent acquittal—hastened the strike settlement.

Over the past 20 years she has organized health fairs and hosted volunteers. From her health wagon, she dispenses free prescriptions to people whose limited incomes force them to choose between medicine and food. Volunteers catch her spirit of solidarity with the poor, and she inspired two local women working alongside her to pursue medical training to serve in their own neglected areas.

The distinction between healing and curing gets lost in the high tech world of medicine. Medical science sees death as the enemy, and sickness as a weakness. Sr. Bernie views health as right relationships and she sees illness as a teaching moment about our humanity. She cannot cure cancer, but she can help heal the spirit. The atmosphere in the health wagon she creates promotes the values of caring and compassion—patients mingle among friends, they laugh together, they affirm one another with a gentle touch. Her holistic nursing approach emphasizes "the therapeutic use of self." Though the health wagon offers limited medical technology, the practice of healing deepens the meaning of each patient’s life.

The authentic light of Christ, that Lumen Christi, exposes, ignites and illumines life in a different way. It exposes the phoniness of the world with its greed and indifference. It ignites a spirit of generosity in people and evokes dedication. It allows the humble to teach the proud. The authentic light of Christ illumines a path through sickness and death that leads to the ultimate healing.

.Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the January 1999 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue. Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky. His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours beginning this month, courtesy of the Friends of the Good News. When you purchase books, videos, etc. from this site, we receive a referral fee from which support the work of the Friends of the Good News.