Field hospital stewards in our midst

By Mary Ann Otto | Special to The Compass | January 14, 2015

I believe one of the most enlightening comments that Pope Francis has made thus far in his papacy is that the church is the “field hospital” for the world. He states, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.” (America Magazine, Sept. 30, 2013.)

As a visual person, it brings to mind the medical care units that you might read about in war literature/history, the work of Blessed Mother Teresa, or even from the former television series MASH. It brings to mind the early missionaries who brought Christianity to lands around the world.

As I reflect on the idea of the responsibility of a “field hospital” attendant, I am somewhat overwhelmed. Pope Francis’ description puts “flesh” on and gives urgency about what Jesus modeled so well in the Gospels. To think we are called to stand with and serve our brothers and sisters during some of the most difficult times in their lives seems like a tremendous challenge and yet a sacred honor.

Pope Francis says that if we want to know Jesus at an intimate level, we need to look into and touch the faces of the poor and suffering. He states: To touch the living God, we do not need to attend a “refresher course” but to enter into the wounds of Jesus, and to do so, all we need to do is go out onto the street. (Tweeted 7/3/13)

Recently I was selected to serve as a juror in a criminal case. It was my first experience and I would not be honest if I did not say it was an unsettling and emotional experience for me. The fears and tears of witnesses as well as the defendant brought a very human and vulnerable dimension to the process. Though the outcome of the trial was based on the evidence and testimony provided, the face of Jesus was everywhere in the courtroom.

After the trial was concluded, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the people involved were tended to by any workers from our parish “field hospitals.” Was anyone visited, prayed for or provided a compassionate ear and encouragement? There was so much opportunity there. I hope so.

So many of our parishes offer what we call pastoral care not only to members of the parish but also to those who are in need of the presence of Jesus in their communities. I am grateful for the many committed people I encounter who visit the sick and dying, lead grief and divorce support groups, are a part of jail and prison ministries, etc. The talent that you have been given to do this important work in our “field hospitals” and on behalf of our church is truly a gift from God.

You are “good stewards” of your gifts not only in providing comfort to those in need but also in your ability to bring the “Good News” of Jesus Christ to those in your care. As we see in the life of Jesus, he brought many people to him through empathy, authentic love and his compassionate presence. Your witness to Christ through pastoral care can and does change people. Thank you.

I cannot help but think of all the pastoral care staff in our parishes as well as at the diocesan level (Mary Sherman) who provide excellent training and support for our “field hospital” ministers. In my conversations with you, I have come to know and witness the love of Jesus at a deeper level. You lead with the heart of Christ. I would invite anyone who is being called to this important ministry to speak with you.

I’m also amazed at parish leaders who see the needs in their communities and respond with urgency. Thank you for offering opportunities and encouraging members to be good stewards serving others through pastoral care. I believe the Holy Spirit is there with you every step of the way.

There is no doubt that until Jesus returns, we will always have a need for a “field hospital’ ministry in our church. Please pray with me that our parishes will always recognize where we are needed most so we can bring the love of Christ there and be a witness to the Good News.

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.

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