|10/26/2017 9:00:00 AM|
First day in hospital ministry
BY MATTHEW HOULEShe seemed distraught, worried, anxious, nervous. Maybe she was just tired or stressed out. Maybe she didn't understand why two men in clerical collars and a protestant minister were standing right in front of her, talking about sick people getting better and how to be there for them.
"Maybe it's nothing. What can I do? It's only my first day here."
Those are a few of the thoughts that raced through my mind as I, another seminarian and the chaplain at the hospital I am assigned to this year examined photos of "success stories" on the wall of the neonatal unit and I noticed a woman sitting nearby.
There was an expression on her face that could have corresponded to any of the thoughts described above. I thought,, "I can at least make eye contact with her when we leave, smile and say hello. If there is something in her mind that she wants to talk about, maybe that will start the conversation."
I didn't get a chance. As the chaplain explained the story behind one of the photos, the woman spoke up.
Tears filling her eyes, she began to tell us what she was going through: thoughts, feelings, worries and fears. We stood next to her; the chaplain held her hand, and we listened.
When she finished, we asked if she wanted us to pray with her. She said yes and the chaplain offered a beautiful, heartfelt prayer.
That is how my first day of hospital ministry ended. I felt so helpless. I wish there were something I could do, but I there was nothing.
Often, when we see suffering, we feel the need to do something: to fix it, to make it all better or to at least try to make sense of it and give it some meaning. The fact that we can't do any of these things undermines our pride and our delusional pretense that we can control the world around us.
It is easy to become discouraged, sad, cynical or even hopeless in these situations. If we give ourselves over to these feelings, they can destroy us. They are a powerful weapon in the hands of the devil.
Sometimes, there isn't anything we can do. Sometimes, there is nothing we can say. Sometimes, all logic fails, and every explanation falls short.
One of the most helpful things a priest ever said to me in confession was, "Suffering is a big mystery; we can't understand it." It reminded me that it's OK to not understand. Maybe we are not meant to understand everything right now. Maybe I don't have to make sense of it.
I look at the crucifix and realize this is the God I worship: a God who is perfect and innocent, yet willingly suffered torture because that's how much He loves us. He continues, in the Eucharist, to give Himself to us out of love.
The God I worship is love nailed to a cross. The closer I am to Him, the more I experience His Passion. Our suffering can have meaning when we unite it to His and offer it as a gift to God.
Maybe, like Simon of Cyrene, I can help Jesus carry His cross in some way. I can give back some of the love He has given me. There is nothing I can offer except what He has given me: love, freely offered.
When we are suffering, Jesus is near us. Sometimes, we are so busy scolding Him, demanding answers or trying to understand that we don't even notice He is there, offering His love. Our loving God is suffering with us, drawing near to us and offering Himself to us.
Sometimes, when experiencing my own suffering or witnessing another's, the only thing that makes any sense is to kneel at the foot of Christ's deathbed, that instrument of torture, and let Him love me.
(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary's parish in Albany, is studying for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.)
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