My days as a Chaplain are blazed in my memory. Working with Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas was a joy. Perhaps the greatest among those joys was working with the Dominican Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy. They brought an extraordinary presence to the halls and rooms. I felt surrounded by God’s presence, especially with the visual reminder of their presence.
This Presbyterian minister dressed in a shirt and tie, often with khakis. I didn’t look like some of the other chaplains, who were Catholic and had priest collars or nun habits. And yet, the majority of our patients were Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian and it made perfect sense to have me and the other non-Catholic chaplains.
If I didn’t announce myself clearly, often I would be mistaken as a doctor. I would enter each room and be sure to identify myself. “Hello, I’m Matt, one of the chaplains here.”
Often a timid and disappointed response would come back, “Oh, I’m not Catholic. I guess you can’t help me.”
“I’m not Catholic either!” I would respond.
People were often surprised by the high value these Catholics had put on their spiritual needs, and the diversity with which they were committed to in their chaplain corp. At St. Mary’s Hospital, for instance, every patient in our facility got a visit from a chaplain every day. It was an extraordinarily high bar for patient care that had been set, but one in which we all firmly believed. I am thankful to the Roman Catholics for their ethic of care, and for articulating it so boldly!
Part of this is because we as a Church had taken our Bible so seriously. The 5th chapter of James is a reminder to me of this. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord…. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed”
Yes, I prayed a lot. I also sang. And there was much sorrow, but also much joy. I anointed some with oil – overwhelmed by its power. At first I didn’t believe it, considering it “some Catholic thing”. I offered it to some of the Protestants who had been there over 10 days, providing scripture reading, prayer, blessings, listening, and yes, anointing. And yes, I heard an amazing amount of confessions from Baptists and Presbyterians. I came to believe in the power of that too.
And in my time, I saw the amazing power of God’s presence, power, and healing. I saw some of the clinical staff marvel at some of the medical responses to prayer. Prayer, it turns out, works.
What I see happening near the end of James is a vision of real community – one that is united in faith and mutually supporting one another. It is a vision of the Church at work. And it works to build up the body of Christ, and knit us together in bonds of love.
Let’s live into that.