The wicked tenants in this Gospel passage do not just represent Israel’s leaders. Our Lord too, has left us each a ‘vineyard’ of blessings, gifts, talents and charisms.
How have we been using these gifts God has loaned to us? Have we been prideful of our abilities or do we praise and thank God everyday for them? Pope Benedict tells us:
“We should not become elated over our good deeds… it is the Lord’s power, not our own, that brings about the good in them.”
Going a step further, through Baptism, every Christian is expected to participate in Christ’s ministry as Priest, Prophet and King.
As Prophets, we are expected to share the Truth of the Gospel boldly and prudently.
As Priests, we are expected to be faithful followers of Jesus. This refers to our interiority and inner disposition. If we begin to think of ourselves acting in a priestly fashion everyday of our lives, we would undoubtedly carry out the work of Jesus — bringing justice and love into our world.
As Kings (or Queens), we are in charge of ourselves. Intellect and free will are powers bestowed upon our rational souls. This gives us dominion over our choices and bodies. We have a moral obligation to look after our temples and keep our passions under reason.
The Psalmist today gives us the simplest solution on how we can fulfill our three roles to its maximum potential: “In you, my God, I place my trust.” (Ps 91:2).
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 326/330 – 390), nicknamed since antiquity as ‘The Theologian’, was a fourth-century bishop, born in the rural setting of modern-day central Turkey. He is venerated as a Father of the Church, and is one of the Cappadocian Fathers, along with Ss. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa.
Gregory fought strenuously for spiritual orthodoxy, particular in relation to a doctrinal understanding of the Trinity, championing the Nicene perspective, and developing a unique Trinitarian language. He viewed the Nicene stance as a midday between the heretical extremes of Sabellianism and Arianism.[i]
Classically trained in rhetoric and philosophy, he is responsible for transposing Hellenism into the Early Church. In fact, “Gregory’s literary ability was regarded so highly by the learned connoisseurs of Byzantium that they ranked him with the great stylists of classical poetry and prose.” [ii] For example, Psellos (c. 1017 – 1028) describes Gregory’s style in glowing terms as embodying the gifts of figures such as Demosthenes, Pericles, Lysias and Herodotus, whilst outranking them, in wit, persuasive power, beauty and skill.[iii] He was even well regarded by Renaissance humanists for his literary prowess.[iv]
Gregory has left the Church with a large corpus of written works: letters, poems and orations. It is through his orations—speeches delivered in homilies and sermons, and polished and edited in his later life—that he has extended his greatest influence, both theologically and literarily.
Among his 44 orations is Oration 42—a Farewell Address; a kind of apologia directed at his flock at Constantinople upon his resignation. A resignation made for the purpose of quelling the dissensions and controversy surrounding his Canonically awry position in Constantinople. He thus stepped aside, to keep the peace.
The audience included the 150 bishops of the Eastern Church gathered for the First Council of Constantinople (381), and various rivals low and high. It is also addressed to the Nicaean faction in general. He is defending accusations against his style of ministry in Constantinople, whilst raising the banner of his Trinitarian faith. He says his farewells with a mix of sadness, joy, and satire, and leaves by throwing a few preacher-punches at the “great and Christ-loving city!” a descriptive term he calls unenlightened, while at the same time it is expressive of his hope of what could be.[v] Still, the tenderness of his delivery is undeniable—in Gregory is a pastor who loved his people.
The Cult of Numbers
The portion of this Oration I’d like to draw attention to is section 7, where Gregory alludes to a worldly, economic kind of religious way of thinking, that can be described as the cult of numbers. This can simply be understood to be a measuring of spiritual success and fruitfulness in Christian communities, based solely on numbers—on the population of a group in the Church or the Church as a whole. It is an outlook that focuses on the external of quantity, to the exclusion and neglect of the quality of such members. A quality defined by sound spirituality and doctrine, manifesting in holiness and love.
The Context of His Farewell
In the context of his Farewell Oration, he speaks to a church where the Nicene community has recently regained power from the Anti-Nicene’s; finally having the support of imperial policy on its side. It is “a people now grown from small to great, from scattered to well-knit, from a pitiable even to an enviable state”—and Gregory testifies to this increase as the work of God, the rich harvest won through his ministry with the support of his companions.[vi] Yet he does not praise the increase in numbers as the real reason to rejoice, but the increase in this people’s quality: a people who soundly “worship the Trinity”.[vii]
Gregory—God and Numbers
In the following extract Gregory shares what he thought he “heard God saying” (Or 42:8) in those days when the faithful adherents of the Trinity in Constantinople were a mere remnant, “tiny and poor” (Or 42:4), vastly outweighed by those who “wickedly divided” the Godhead in their false doctrines: many of whom, brought from darkness to light, falsehood to truth, now stand before Gregory as he speaks.
“But you build walls around me, and marble slabs and mosaic floors, long colonnades and porticoes; you glitter and shine with gold, spending it like water and gathering it up like sand, forgetting that faith camping in the open is worth more than the richest impiety, and that three-people gathered in the name of the Lord are worth more to God than tens of thousands who deny the divinity. Do you value the Canaanites more than Abraham, all by himself? Or the Sodomites more than Lot on his own? Or the Midianites more than Moses—though all of these were aliens and strangers? What of the three hundred of Gideon, who manfully lapped up the water, while thousands were rejected? What of Abraham’s household slaves, a few more than these in number, who pursued and defeated many kings and their armies of thousands of men, few though they were? And how do you understand this passage: ‘If the number of the children of Israel should become as the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved?’ Or this: ‘I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bent their knees to Baal.’ No this is not the solution—God does not delight in numbers![viii]
The Approach of a Spiritual Man
Gregory understood this Scripturally-derived lesson of God so very clearly. His understanding was applied in the way he went about his ministry. Faced with a tiny remnant Gregory did not conjure up systematic methods to increase his flock, with the mind of an accountant and tact of an administrator. Nor did he subject himself to human standards at the compromise of the Gospel message to gain sympathizers (Or 42:19). Nor did he play politics, to win members to his flock—siding with one faction against another, but he simply delineated between truth and falsehood, paying no regard to human groupings. And nor did he lord his authority over the Anti-Nicene’s in order to crush them, and consolidate the numbers of his Nicene-flock, when the tables turned in his camps’ favor, but rather he acted mercifully, to the point of being blamed for leniency by his very own.
For St. Gregory was a spiritual man, who saw things with a spiritual eye. Seeing success in the quality of his people, not in their numbers; to the point he even lost favor with much of his own due to his steadfastness to the Gospel of mercy. He knew what was at stake — “the salvation of the soul”— and saw his pastoral responsibility with a sharpness of vision: “to guard and protect his flock” but above all “by distributing the word” in teaching, example and the sacraments, which he calls “the first of our tasks” (Or 2:35).[ix]
In one of his poems he defends his Word-focused approach as a Bishop; an approach carried out from the motive of saving souls, not to increasing numbers for the sake of numbers:
You’ve been considering a bishop as you would an accountant, laying stress on mere rubbish, where I’ve been concerned with important issues. A priest should have one function and one only, the sanctification of souls by his life and teaching… Other matters he should relinquish to those skilled in them.[x]
Learning from Gregory
There is so much we can learn from St. Gregory on the cult of numbers. The lesson he understood so well, is perennially relevant to the Church in all its spheres: on the universal scale, the local parish scale, on the level of the religious community, and even to the microcosm of every youth, bible study or prayer group. The value of all of these is not weighed by the numbers of attendants or alleged adherents, but on the quality of the interior fruits of sound spirituality and doctrine, brought forth as the harvest of the Word; nourishing the real spiritual growth of its members, shown to be authentic by a visible and practical love.
It is easy for groups to become ‘accountant-minded’ and focus on numbers as the measure of spiritual success. Acting in ministry from the motive to “increase numbers,” and investing efforts to win “bums in seats.” Yet by focusing on numbers, we lose our focus of love—depersonalising the face of ‘the other’ into a mere number, thus losing sight of the face of Christ in our neighbour; and this is all a consequence of chasing after numbers instead of a deepened relationship with the Word and the lived proclamation of His Truth—a proclamation that reaches out to ‘the other’ as the image of God, not as the means to bump up a statistic.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus shows us that we need not focus on numbers, for “God does not delight in numbers!” but we need only focus on God the Trinity, seeking to increase the quality of the “tiny and poor” remnant in our midst—above all by seeking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ourselves (in prayer, instruction and the sacraments); and this labour will be blessed by God who in time, will bring forth an increase far greater in quality and quantity, than we could ever achieve by our quest for greater numbers.
God did so in Constantinople in the fourth-century A.D., and He can do so again in our day; so long as we see like Gregory that our strength lies not in numbers, but in our God, and the unconditional Love He has for us (Ps 28:7). That Love of the Father for the Son, the Love who is the Holy Spirit—and increasing in this Love, which always reaches out, and not in numbers, must be our sole and only focus.
[i] Brian E. Daley, S.J., Gregory of Nazianzus, The Early Church Fathers (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2006), Oration 42:16, pp. 147-148.
A few months ago, my husband and I agreed to re-do the roof on the outreach and hospitality house we run for the Parish in town.
We are not inexperienced construction workers. We’ve worked on dozens of houses, tackled problems of every type and ability level, and know this house inside and out. Despite the fact that the roof on this house is quite technical, we weren’t intimidated and decided to take it on.
The entire week spent working on this roof was an overwhelming experience of joy, mercy, love, and the tangible feeling of the Lord’s presence. The fruits of my contemplation on the roof I now present to you in…
Lessons from a Roof
Lesson Number One: Destruction is Easy, Building Up is Not
The first day was spent tearing off the old roof. Fairly low on the skill-level spectrum, we were able to get some volunteers up the scaffolding and ladders and get the old roof in a dumpster. It’s not exactly the easiest job on the planet, but it’s hard to mess up. No one cares how the shingles come off, so long as they do. No one cares if you destroy them. If they are off and the sheeting is ok, you’ve done your job.
Building, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. The care, precision, diligence, tact, and skill required to make something out of a bunch of pieces cannot be over emphasized. It took 1 day to destroy the roof. It took 14 to put it together.
Likewise, it is incredibly easy for us to tear each other apart. How much easier is it to gossip or snap at another person when we are frustrated? How easy is it for 1 small word or act of injustice to ruin a good day? When we experience evil in our lives, it is easy to allow it to negatively impact or change us for the worse.
Additionally, we know how hard people fight for wellness. We know that establishing health in mind, body, and spirit takes people years – even lifetimes – to accomplish, and how in one instant everything can be destroyed.
So too the same is true of our Lord and the devil. We often wonder why God doesn’t make things right right away when something goes awry. Yet, isn’t it more fitting that it would take time for things to be put right?
The Lord isn’t just putting a roof on a house, He is making goodness out of nothing. He is taking our brokenness and knitting it into His ongoing act of creation; sewing it into His divine plan and making everything right by re-creating joy out of sorrow. Yet this takes time and finesse. We must trust the Lord in His actions: just as rebuilding the roof took two weeks longer than removing it, the finished product was far more glorious than the original roof.
Evil destroys quickly because evil is rash and loud. But the Lord is total peace and tranquility. When something in our lives is destroyed by rash evil, we must return to the peace of creation that will make everything right again.
How much more like God are we, then, when we choose to build up those around us. One kind word is like adding a shingle to a progressing roof. It is a slow process, but the end result brings glory, while tearing each other down is like tearing a roof off. Easy to do, but it leaves the other with nothing but their bear bones, and moreover, it takes years to remedy.
As scripture says:
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Romans 14:19
“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up” -1 Thessalonians 5:11
Lesson Number Two: The Communion of Saints Begins on Earth
The guys who helped on our roof are really good guys who work really hard. Since they work really hard and long hours, they don’t have a lifestyle conducive to time spent with our Lord.
This is where an Earthly Communion of Saints comes in. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
I was incapable of truly thanking the men for the work they did for us, at least corporally and physically. I could thank them by showering them with prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. I could pray in their stead, ask the Lord to count my prayers as their prayers, just as their work counted for my work.
Lesson Number Three: There Are Things You Can do Alone and There Are Things You Can’t
Even though my husband and I had tackled similar problems in the past, this roof required reinforcements. So too the same applies to the spiritual life.
Confession, adoration, Mass, the sacraments, are not signals that we have somehow failed. They are in place to aid us in our attempt at holiness. Having recourse to them is a sign that we know ourselves and our limitations, not that we have somehow failed at being holy. Calling in extra roofers wasn’t a sign that we were somehow bad at what we do, but a recognition that everyone needs a hand sometime.
Let Jesus be your Simon!!
Finally: We are Corporal Beings
The incredibly physical activity on the roof led us into deep reflection and contemplation, just as any physical experience in the world is meant to do.
Christ made us as corporeal beings. Therefore, it is good, right, and proper that we come to know Him better through our experience of the physical world around us. Do not see the physical world as a threat to holiness, but rather as an opportunity to experience God’s creative genius, artistry, and beauty. The heat, soreness, sweat, (and yes, blood), that came from the roof, served to illustrate God’s mighty power: We slave to create, yet Christ creates in 1 word. We work because of Adam’s curse, yet we have the divine assistance with us in our work. We are tired at the end of the day, and so we rest when we “see that it is good.” All of these things lend us to a deep communion with God. Do not shy away from the corporeal world simply because it is physical. “For God saw that it was good.”
Maybe, He saw that it was good, because it has the very real potential to help us get to know Him better.
Lately, I’ve run into periods of extreme busyness. There have been times I’ve come back home to finally sit down and cook myself a decent meal—and truly couldn’t recall the last time I’d been able to do so. Being busy in American culture is sometimes made out to be a good thing. People are made to feel as if they are better, more productive members of society if they are busy. The endeavors that keep us occupied can all be worthwhile: volunteering to help pass out food to the needy, attending events at the parish, or trying to run 5Ks to raise money for good causes. Yet there is a point at which it can all become overwhelming and we lose track of our good motivations. Being too busy can be a distraction. Our full schedules can keep us from hearing God’s call and the needs of others in our lives.
When we’re running to and fro, we don’t have time to tend to the needs of others. When someone calls in a bind or wants to get together, we might even feel as if they’re an inconvenience and that we’re too busy for them. A person turns into simply another “thing” to check off our lists. When we’re constantly unavailable, we’re unable to focus on relationships. The times when I’ve been available to help someone and need to do so, it interestingly seems as if God multiplies my time! For example, today a friend was in dire need and, thankfully (for the first time in a long while), I had no plans for the day. I was able to minister to her when she felt as if she had no one else to turn to. Yet still I’ve had time to accomplish numerous things today and even to write this article! God blesses the times that we allow ourselves to rest. He also blesses the time that we use to serve others.
Time is a tremendous gift from God. It is easy to forget what a gift it is. After all, we are living the gift every moment! We pray about the big decisions in our lives. Do we pray about how God is asking us to use our time? We can fall into the trap of thinking that the more “good” things we do, the more we are serving God and others. Yet, did we consult God about all of the items filling up our schedule? There are times God asks us to choose between a good and a better. For example, if you are volunteering at multiple ministries and finding you are getting sick often, maybe God is calling you to step back. Or, maybe your work allows you to do something great for the world–but you’re working so much that you haven’t been able to give your spouse and children the love and attention that they need. God could be asking you to think about another job, or simply to work less hours and trust Him to do the rest. Life is a constant journey and God may be calling you to open a new chapter in the way you use your time.
By God’s grace, I am taming the “busy” monster. I am seeking more earnestly to determine the priorities that Christ is calling me to hold. If you’re feeling busy and overwhelmed, don’t feel like you have to stay there. There are seasons of life, and there are also times when you can allow yourself to step back and have open time on your calendar. You will benefit, as well as the people in your life that you love. When there is free space, you can more easily hear the voice of God and discern where He is calling you. Let yourself stop running. Ask God what He is asking of you. Leave open space for the Holy Spirit, and be amazed at how God will work.
I grew up in a home where meals were important affairs because food was more than mere fuel. It was a ministry for my mother who believed little else could make someone feel as welcome, loved, or nurtured as a good meal.
I never thought my family odd until I became aware of the secular world’s view of food: where fast and convenient meals take precedence over nourishing food, and where food serves to get rid of the uncomfortable “hungry” feeling, rather than as a way to build up the body of man and Christ.
The idea that food could play a deeper role than a purely physical one is lost on the world, except those poor girls double-dating with Ben and Jerry after a break-up. The world understands an emotional component to eating, but only when it comes out in an unhealthy manner.
In essence, food has become for the general public something simultaneously taken too seriously on one end (“I can’t eat a brownie. I had one this month already. I’ll get fat.”) and not seriously enough on the other (“Whatever. Let’s just go through the drive-thru.”).
Neither of those approaches is healthy or Catholic. There is a
real ministry in food and the potential for Christ to work
intimately in, through, and with food in ways you would never
In fact, Christ is all about food, as we know that Christ’s most
important work happened, and continues to happen, in the
form of bread and wine.
His first miracle occurred at the Wedding Feast at Cana, where He made alcoholic drink.
Now, we all know that alcohol isn’t exactly the kale of the beverage world. Why would Christ supply something that is actively bad for man? Because God did not create food merely to fuel us physically, but to support us in the many facets of our own lives.
As the importance of wine at the wedding feast was not about the physical benefits but rather the emotional and spiritual, Christ’s supply of wine points to these different roles of food and encourages us to embrace them.
Furthermore, Christ ministered to the crowds with food. He multiplied the loaves and fishes, dined with tax collectors and prostitutes, called to Zacchaeus that he would “dine with him tonight,” and urged the family of the girl brought back to life to give her something to eat.
The vast majority of Christ’s interactions with people have to do with food. He creates community over food. He even called fishermen, who were doing what? Collecting fish to be sold for food.
What’s more, all of this wining and dining culminated in the last supper – the meal which instituted the Eucharist and our faith.
All of salvation is continued through Christ’s ministering to the body of His bride – us, the Church – in bread and wine, which becomes our “spiritual food and drink” at the Mass. Catholics believe that by eating this bread and drinking this cup, we may come to eternal life. The act of nourishing our souls does more than give our souls energy for that day. It actively goes into the very center of our souls and transforms us from the inside out, making us more like Christ with each partaking of His blessed body.
Christ is all about food.
Food is His gift to humanity by which He nourishes the magnum opus of His creation, His living, breathing, temple of the Holy Spirit: mankind. If Christ takes food this seriously, then we too ought give food the respect it is due.
If food is the means by which Christ reaches out to sinners and gathers His Church, then we too must see food as a ministry.
It is a ministry that we do for ourselves. In ministering to our bodies through wholesome, healthy food, we are giving ourselves the nourishment necessary to carry Christ’s joy to the world.
It is a ministry that we do for others. Food brings people together. Meals ought to take precedence, with proper settings, serving dishes, and time to enhance the experience of community over food.
If food creates community, then it should be celebrated. Meals are universal. Everyone must eat, and so we ought to celebrate the genuine community that comes from eating. As St. Francis of Assisi once cried in joy: “It is my wish that on a day such as this even the walls should be smeared with meat so they may feast with us!” If such joy is worth feeding walls over, then surely the joy of the Christian life is worth more than a McDouble from the dollar menu.
Food ought to taste good. Everything that is good points us back to the One who is Goodness. It should taste good naturally: by working with the flavors Christ gives us, we come to know His creative mind just a bit more.
Food ought to be enjoyed. By slowing down and enjoying our meals, we become aware of the goodness of God who provides us with sustenance.
Finally, food must stir in us thankfulness. We must pray fervently and with intense gratitude before consuming anything. Every morsel we touch is a reaffirmation of Christ’s overwhelming love for us, a reminder that we are in His caring hands. For, “the birds of the air neither sow nor reap … and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
Consider making food your friend again. Make time each week to make a good meal. Set the table. Take the time to dine well. Do not rush your meal, allow it to make present the joy God takes in and the love He has for His creation.
There is a tendency in ministry to talk about what we do as “ours” or “mine”. I’ve fallen into that trap more times than I can count. My ministry is growing or my program has seen much change and improvement. Wrong. This ministry I’m blessed to work with isn’t mine. It is God’s – He just lets me be His hands and feet.
It really is a pride thing, or so I’ve found, when we start claiming things as our own. Has the ministry grown under my direction? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make it mine. God willed it to be so and could just as easily let me fail to teach me a different kind of lesson. When I start claiming the ministry as my own, dangerous things can happen. I start thinking that the success or failure of it relies solely on me and my abilities. When that starts to happen, I lose focus and the ministry fails. It is a danger we all face – those in ministry, but everyone really – the danger of thinking we have complete control over everything, or anything for that matter.
The reality is that the only thing I can ever claim as my own is my sin. My responsibility, my fault, my failure. My successes however, whether in ministry, marriage, or life in general, are not mine to claim complete praise for. I can’t ‘succeed’ in ministry – no matter how you define success – without the Holy Spirit guiding me. Being a director of faith formation means nothing if Christ isn’t at the center of everything I’m doing: recruiting volunteers, training said volunteers, picking curriculum, teaching kids about Jesus, etc. None, and I do mean none, of that matters if I think the ministry is mine or if I lose my focus on what is truly important: salvation.
The same can be said of marriage. It isn’t my marriage, it is our marriage – a covenant that Anthony and I made with God. Our marriage isn’t merely about us, what we want, what we desire or what we think we should be getting or giving in our marriage. Our marriage is about getting each other to Heaven, encouraging each other to be holier along the way, riding ourselves of pride and drawing closer to Christ. The goal, much like with ministry, is salvation. It isn’t about me, my, I, or myself. It is about God, as well it should be.
The same, I think, will be said of parenthood. Our children will not be our own, not eternally anyway. They are on loan from God, gifts from Him for us to raise, love, nurture and teach about Him. It will, I imagine, be easy and very tempting to claim our kids as our, to claim total dominion over them. But the reality is that we wouldn’t have them in the first place if God didn’t give them to us, if He didn’t trust us with them (and why would He do that in the first place?!). The children we’ll have, much like ministry or our marriage, are not ours, but a gift from God, a means to our salvation, and hopefully, to theirs.
“It isn’t mine” – be it ministry, marriage, or children – isn’t meant as a way to get out of something but as a way to remind us of our goal, to rid ourselves of pride and to draw ever closer to Christ.
One of the most horrifying things I’ve seen as a chaplain intern is a mother curled up in bed holding her dead teenage daughter. I’ve seen a half-dozen families with babies in the ER. When I come home from the hospital, the first thing I always do is hold my infant son.
So, what is a parent to do in my situation? Is it a detriment to my ministry if I see my boy in the face of every pediatric patient? Is it bad for me to sympathize with all parents, especially mothers? Do I risk putting families above all other patients in my priorities? Do I risk not being able to see clearly due to my own biases? Here are a few of my thoughts on the situation:
How to treat parents
As part of my internship, I had bi-weekly supervisory meetings with the head of the Spiritual Care Dept. Once, we reflected on my work with the family of a severely injured child. I admitted to my supervisor that as I went to meet with the family, I tried to put myself in their shoes. I thought, “What would I be thinking or feeling if I were them? What would be most helpful for me if I were them? What would be least helpful?”
I think that last question is the most important one for a parent/minister to ask. Every person and every situation is different. The parents of this patient have their own stories and backgrounds. You can’t use your worldview to judge theirs. There may be emotions felt and expressed that you may never understand. They may need something that you’d never think of. But, at the end of the day, we’re all human and while you can’t use yourself as a gauge on what to do, you can usually use yourself as a gauge for what not to do. Although there are some people who are more sensitive than others, generally speaking we’re all offended and hurt by the same kind of things.
For example: Some people are huggers, some people are not, but most people would agree that laughing while someone else is crying is extremely insensitive.
Now is not the time or the place to swap dirty diaper stories or to talk about your own children and parenting adventures. The topic at hand is the sick child and the goal is to help the parents in any way you can, period.
How does being a parent affect my priorities
Clearly, you cannot put parents first, above all of the other people vying for your time and attention. You will want to and it’s only natural to want to. As a parent/minister, you can most sympathize with the parents and you have deep concern for any and all sick children. But that doesn’t mean that you shirk your responsibilities to the rest of the hospital.
Priorities need to be set regardless of how well you can relate to the patient and family. My priorities tend to be set as follows:
1) Those who clearly need spiritual assistance come first. (i.e. those who directly request a chaplain)
2) Life threatening injuries and illnesses
3) Provocative cases (for example, suicidal patients or cases in which there is more than one patient from the same family)
4) Everybody else
Notice that my priorities say nothing about the age of the patient (although the age of the patient could be a factor in any of these) nor does it say anything about the religious affiliation or lack thereof of the patient. Most of my patients are not religiously affiliated. I think that might be a product of the overall culture.
Being able to see clearly
I have to admit that when I see a child injured or sick, I am taken back. But the trick for me is to not let that paralyze me from doing my job. For some reason, in our culture, we find it hard to believe that young people can get injured or sick. We associate youth with health. Regardless if you are a parent or not, seeing a child unconscious on a hospital bed does lead to some cognitive dissonance. When you are a parent, there is an added layer of seeing your own kid in the face of the kid who is hospitalized. It’s natural. It’s okay to see your kid in the sick kid and to have some of that parental instinct come up. Of course it’s going to happen because being a parent changes everything!
You can’t let it get in the way of your work though. You have to funnel it to give you energy to help the family, not to start crying. You don’t need to make everyone else’s job harder by being the chaplain who can’t keep their stuff together. The patients don’t need that and you’re just making yourself look unprofessional. At the end of the day, by all means, cry! You need to get it all out but, don’t do it in the moment in front of the family.
Seeing your work through the eyes of a parent can also be a blessing. Your identity as a parent gives you just one more thing in common with our Father in heaven: You know what unconditional love feels like. You know how much God loves every single person in that hospital. So, your identity gives new meaning to your work as you know part of your job as God’s representative is to reflect that love to everyone. “What am I to do?” you ask. You are to do what you think God-who-is-Love would do.
And I think that is what it all boils down to. Of course your identity as a parent is going to affect how you minister. You can’t stifle all of that nor would you want to. But you can’t let it get in the way of your job. Your job at the moment is to care for all patients and their families. But, again, being a parent kind of gives you an inside track into understanding the mind of God. As it says:
Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. – Isaiah 49:15
God loves everyone more than you love your own child. Doesn’t that blow your mind?
This post was initially published on the author’s own blog.
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