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"ER": The Struggle of Faith

From 1993-2009, NBC's ER was a popular television series about the lives of emergency room doctors and nurses. One of the series' more popular characters was Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic), an ER doctor who moved to the United States from Croatia. Kovac's backstory was a tragic one: when the Croatian War of Independence broke out, Luka lost his wife and kids when his apartment building was hit by a mortar shell. In an episode from the seventh season, one of Luka's patients, a local Catholic bishop suffering from lupus, Bishop Stewart (James Cromwell), reaches out to Luka to help him heal from the pain of his loss—and hopefully restore the doctor's faith. As the scene begins, they are standing together in the bishop's office. The bishop is noticeably weak. Earlier in the day he had checked himself out of the hospital against Luka's advice. An ordination service is about to begin, and the bishop still plans on officiating the service.

Luka asks, "How long have you been having trouble breathing?"

"I'm just gathering my strength," the bishop says.

"You have to go to the hospital," Luka insists.

Bishop Stewart looks out the window at the snow that's falling outside. "It's pretty, isn't it? The snow? So much beauty."

"Where's the phone?" Luka says, undeterred. "I need to call an ambulance."

"No. Please. I only need a minute."

"You're dying," Luka says.

"Evidently," the bishop says. He pauses and continues: "As I was sitting here, I was reminded of the night I chose to become a priest. I had been struggling with it for a long time. Several years. Anyway, that night, I couldn't sleep, so I got up and went out for a walk in the woods, behind my father's house. It was snowing—like it is now. I didn't have any idea how long I walked, but, at a certain point, I suddenly realized I didn't know which way to go. I'd gotten lost. I was frightened. As I looked up into that dark night, He came to me. I saw all those millions of snowflakes drifting down toward me. So still. So peaceful. Perfect. And I was filled with the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like pouring wine into an empty glass." The bishop pauses again, reliving the moment in mind, and continues: "I'm afraid I may have wasted my life. For some reason, I never accomplished the things I should have—what God wanted of me. And now I'm frightened." He chokes back tears before saying, "I'm afraid of dying. There. I said it. I am afraid to die."

"You have to go to the hospital," Luka says again.

But the bishop begins to recite Psalm 23: "The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters."

At that moment, a priest comes in and tells Bishop Stewart that the processional for the ordination is forming. Bishop Stewart decides to skip it to save his strength.

The scene shifts, and having gathered enough strength, Luka and Bishop Stewart—who is now dressed in full bishop's robe and hat—are walking toward the sanctuary. Bishop Stewart turns to Luka and asks, "When did you lose your faith?" After pausing, the bishop reflects on the nature of faith in people—reflections that obviously come from deep within his own journey: "I have found with most people it comes and goes. Like intimacy in a relationship. Sometimes it's so strong. The passion. Rapture. And then at other times it's impossible. Distant. Lost. But that's not God. That's us. We put up our own barriers, with our egos and our pain. He's always there. No matter what."

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