Today, 12 March 2022 at 12pm, Bishop Michael Router, Chair of the Irish Episcopal Conference Council for Healthcare, will celebrate Mass in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, for newly certified Healthcare Chaplains. The certification for Catholic chaplains is awarded by the Healthcare Chaplaincy Board, a sub committee of the Council for Healthcare.
The statement of Jesus in today’s gospel that we should “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, is one of the most perplexing and challenging in the whole of the gospel. How can we be perfect? To be human is to be flawed in some way. It does not seem possible that we can achieve such perfection in this life. Yet this appears to be what Jesus is asking from us?
I believe that in making that very challenging statement Jesus is helping us see that faith in God is not just an occasional pastime or an intellectual exercise, but something that demands a transformation of our whole lives. We are called through our immersion into faith to mirror the very essence of God, not just in what we say and do, but in our way of being. If we can accomplish that then, despite our human weakness, we will reflect something of the nature of God to those whom we encounter.
Encountering others as people of faith is what each of you will do as healthcare chaplains, and indeed what each of us strive to do each day as Christians. If your presence is open and welcoming, if you have the ability to listen and to understand the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual pain of others then you will have a transformational effect that will bring healing and hope into the most difficult and challenging situations.
The theme that Pope Francis chose for this year’s World Day of the Sick was “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. Pope Francis tells us that “Mercy is God’s name par excellence”. In the Gospels we see Jesus displaying great concern and mercy for the sick. He made proclaiming the Gospel and healing the sick central to the mission of his disciples. People who are sick or in pain are isolated from others physically and in so many other ways.
This isolating nature of illness was heightened during the worst moments of the Covid-19 crisis. It served to highlight an element that is always present in the experience of ill health. Pain and suffering can bring loneliness, confusion and loss into the sick person’s life, and sometimes they can be as difficult to bear as the illness itself. That is why Jesus made healing and pastoral outreach to the sick an act of mercy and a crucial part of the Christian life. He touched the leper not just to bring healing but to highlight the importance of simple human connection in times of suffering. His gesture to those who were marginalised because of their illness brought them at once an experience of God’s presence and an understanding that they were not alone. It gave them the courage to face their situation and to hope for something new and life giving
That is why the journey you embark on as a Healthcare Chaplain has a vocational element. You are called to this work through your own lived experiences and through your own personal experiences of care and concern from others. Through a period of spiritual, theological, pastoral and personal formation you have each deepened your relationship with God and are ready to accompany others in their journey towards God. This is never done through preaching or through compulsion, but through a presence which helps others, in the circumstances of their lives, to encounter God.
You will face many challenges as healthcare chaplains. The role is increasingly coming under pressure from those who wish to exclude spiritual care and accompaniment from patient care and treatment. You will have to be sensitive to that reality, and negotiate your way around it, by once again modelling Christ in all that you do and say.
One positive aspect that the Covid-19 crises highlighted is the incredible work that is being done, each and every day, in our hospitals by so many dedicated professionals. To the forefront among that number are chaplains. The RTE Investigates programme ‘Covid-19: The Third Wave’, broadcast on the 9th February 2021, focused on the work of Tallaght Hospital during the height of the pandemic. The documentary highlighted in a special way the work of Fr. John Kelly, the head Chaplain, and his chaplaincy team. It brought to our attention the crucial nature of such work, not just in a crisis, but in the ordinary everyday life of such a busy healthcare facility. The spiritual and emotional care and support which the patients received from the chaplain was seen to be crucial in their treatment and holistic care.
The programme itself reflected a positive shift, during the pandemic in many people’s understanding of the chaplain’s work in the healthcare setting. As each of you begin your journey as a chaplain I know that you will continue to create that positivity about your role through your dedication and commitment to bringing the healing presence and power of Christ into every situation you encounter.
May God bless you in your work and may you see Jesus’ challenge to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect not as something impossible but as something that can be achieved when you allow yourself to be a channel of his grace, love, mercy, and healing to the weak, the suffering, and the poor who will be entrusted to your care in the years ahead.
Remember, your first priority will always be to bring God’s compassion to those in need. If you do the satisfaction and joy you will receive will bring you great fulfilment in your ministry and profession as a healthcare chaplain and as a representative of the Church’s ministry of healing.
- Bishop Michael Router is Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678