Healing Wounds Begins With Radical Love
It’s a beautiful Autumn Sunday morning at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. The homily is over, the Creed has been professed, and the reader is nearly done with the prayers of the faithful. He gets to the fourth prayer, when he reads, “For women who have had suffered through the sin of abortion: that they come to repent and believe in the Gospel of Life, and receive healing forgiveness from God, let us pray to the Lord.” At that moment, a young 21-year-old woman slips out the back of the church, determined to never return to this church or any Catholic church ever again.
That same evening across town, a young man decides that it’s time to talk to his mom and dad about something he’s terrified to tell them. After family dinner, he asks if they can come to the living room. Taking a few long breaths, he fearfully utters to them that he’s gay and is not sure he believes in God anymore, because he doesn’t understand how God could make him gay and not want him to experience love. His mother begins to cry: she suspected this was coming for some time. His Dad, utterly surprised, raises his voice at him in confusion and embarrassment, and tells him that he has a month to find somewhere else to live until he gets his life back together.
Next door to that family, a husband and father of two in his mid-forties tells his wife he’s heading to grab a drink with some buddies and jumps in his car. Instead, though, he heads to a woman’s house in the next town over. He met her three years ago on Facebook: she was an old friend from high school. They’ve been having an affair for the past two years. Later in the week the wife will find out, and the family will be ripped apart, leaving the wife, the kids, and also the husband shocked, and alone.
The three stories outlined above are real stories, and they are not infrequent. In fact, each of these will happen today, probably on many occasions; a pregnant woman will turn to the Church or subtly ask a Christian for help, only to feel rejected by a well-intentioned, but harsh-sounding response; a young man will come out and openly share his feelings and feel rejected by his family, those whom should love him most; and a quiet family will be instantly torn apart by the exposing of an affair, leaving everybody hurt, confused, and feeling utterly alone.
Frequent readers of Catholic content and those who follow news about Pope Francis are likely familiar with an article published in America Magazine by Fr. Spadaro, S.J. in September, 2013, in which Pope Francis proposed the image of the ‘field hospital’ as a model for how he envisions the Church in the 21st century:
“I see clearly that 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. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.’
An Honest Assessment of Ourselves
For the past year, bishops, dioceses, parishes, and individuals have been prayerfully meditating on and discussing the Holy Father’s image of the Church as being the ‘field hospital’ of the world, meaning the Church becoming the ‘emergency room’ and ‘critical care unit’ for those who have been wounded as they go about their daily lives. For me, these discussions have brought sentiments of excitement, but also discouragement at the same time. On the one hand, how exciting and true and wonderful and beautiful that we are called to be the ‘field hospital’ for men and women who are broken! This it the key! This will bring men and women to Christ! How can it not?
On the other hand, meditation on the image of the field hospital has been, quite frankly, somewhat discouraging, especially when we take off the rose-colored glasses and take an honest look at where we are today as the Body of Christ. More specifically, it’s discouraging to meditate on the way that we Christians talk about, treat, and see those who (in keeping with the metaphor) are bloody, missing limbs, and barely alive out in the ‘field’ of the world.
Why am I discouraged? Those who are bleeding accuse us of being judgmental. We hear that we are strict, we are mean, and closed-minded. We’re anti-love, anti-fun, and anti-thinking. We don’t like to reason with our minds, and we certainly don’t tolerate different views or opinions.
Or we may think that none of this is true. It’s not us that’s the problem – it’s them! They are the ones who are intolerant. They are prideful. They are closed-minded of our views.
And yet, if we are humble and know ourselves well, it is likely we are or have been guilty of many, if not all of these accusations at some point. And because wisdom suggests that reputation precedes reality a lot of the time, perhaps it’s good to take another look at ourselves.
Renewing Hearts, Opening Eyes
Here’s the point, quite directly: the Holy Father’s call to the Church to fulfill her missionary mandate of being the field hospital for the most wounded members of society will remain to be only a false mirage, a reality never manifested unless and until each member of the Body of Christ resolves to allow the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and to see every single man, every single woman and every single child as God Himself sees them, no matter the number, the kind, the guilt, or the scandal caused by their wounds and sins, and perhaps even because of them. Additionally, if a renewal of mind and heart on an individual level is not achieved, the image could remain a mirage, and might even become a temptation and catalyst in fueling self-righteousness and pride, in that while the members claim that the Church is a refuge of healing, the reality will remain exactly the contrary.
We can no longer be afraid to clean up blood. In other words, we must resolve by our will and by the help of God to no longer allow ourselves to be scandalized by other people’s wounds or behaviors, no matter what. Without lowering our expectations and knowledge of what man is in fact capable of knowing and becoming, we, at the same time, cannot allow scandal, disgust, or lack of knowledge to impede us in our work of seeing and treating anybody as anything other than the sole object of God’s love. The task at hand, no matter the procedure, must not dissuade us from caring for and healing the injured.
The field-hospital image will only become a reality if we, as individuals, begin seeing people as God sees them. After such a renewal of mind and heart, and only after such a renewal, will the realization of the Church’s mission begin to occur.
Developing Bedside Manner
I recently heard the following statement, or something like it: the parable of the lost sheep is no longer relevant for us today. Why? Because today, it’s not that only that one of the 100 sheep has wandered off and is in danger; no, rather, it’s the 99 that have wandered away, and seemingly only one sheep remains.
And yet, everything we do is to serve the one sheep that remains. We serve that one sheep only. We love that sheep only. And we use language that only the one sheep understands.
Recall at the beginning of the article the young woman who slipped out the back of the church during the prayers of the faithful. It was because the language chosen that day to pray for women hurt by abortion were words that, to somebody who doesn’t speak or think like a Catholic, were not only foreign to her, they also conveyed the idea that she had no worth. Although that was not at all what was meant, what she heard was that her abortion, which she thought she really needed at the time and hadn’t really thought about or was not guilty about, was so bad to these people in this church that she would never be welcome in this church.
To us, to the one sheep, we know better. To her, one of the 99, that’s what she heard. And she didn’t stick around long enough to learn otherwise.
Whose fault? Ours.
Transfusion: A Change of Heart
But changing our language to simply be more loving is not enough. It’s not enough to put a bandaid on somebody who missing their leg. The words we speak are often a reaction to what is going on in the heart. In order for us to authentically love, we must first renew our hearts, so that the words that come from our mouths are in tune with hearts that love, no matter what.
I don’t know what the implications are for us, for our parishes, for our dioceses. The point is to pay attention. Where are we at?
Do we really love people, or do we react to their wounds inappropriately?
When we meet somebody who is bloody, is our first desire to learn about and attend to their wounds?
Do we fear the ‘blood’ of people’s lives and run from it?
Are my actions, behaviors, and words the reason somebody will never come to know Jesus Christ?