The Church As Field Hospital

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Some time ago, Pope Francis referred to the Church’s vocation as a field hospital. This phrase didn’t really strike me as anything more than a clever metaphor until I started viewing stories set in the battlefields of our World Wars. Then I saw what life was actually like in a field hospital.

Mansions of the wealthy were turned into wards filled with moaning, bleeding soldiers. The wounded arrived in an endless stream, with injuries from simple scrapes to life-threatening, body-altering wounds.

How can “the Church” be likened to such a place?

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Unlike previous popes and traditional bishops, Pope Francis chose not to live in a princely residence. No red shoes for him either.

As long as “the Church” is viewed as a kind of religious country club where sinners need not apply, Francis’ metaphor makes no sense whatsoever. Is “the Church” a collection of buildings? Is “the Church” staffed by bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, who are to act as spiritual doctors and nurses? Are there enough of them to care for long lines of the spiritually wounded or dying? Who are the “wounded”? Are some in a privileged class, and therefore treated better than others? What are their wounds? Which ones might be life-threatening? Which of the wounded do we have the right to turn away?

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

A real field hospital exists in the midst of WAR. There can be no casual approach toward the wounded in a field hospital. The field hospital staff puts itself in the same danger as the military personnel. Their burden is equal to what their patients experience. Staffing is insufficient. Virtually every situation can be described as an emergency. There is no time to waste, no time for a leisurely approach.

As an un-ordained woman, am I needed and assigned to work in this field hospital, or am I not qualified? Which instruction manual do I use, the Catechism or the Gospel?

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Christ’s merciful attitude toward sinners was exemplified at the dinner where a woman of ill repute wept copiously and penitently at the feet of Jesus. “If this man were a prophet,” thought the Pharisee, “wouldn’t he know what kind of woman is touching him?”

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

Healing is at the core of Jesus’ ministry. For whom does the church exist? The saved, or those in need of saving? For whom did Christ shed his blood? Why do some bishops deny the Holy Sacrament to those most in need of the Lord’s intimate help? Do we refuse blood transfusions for those who are bleeding to death? Didn’t Jesus shed his blood for all sinners? Aren’t we included in that group?British surgeons and nurses prepare one of four casualties injured by gunshot wounds in Helmund Province in Afghanistan

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

This summer’s revelation of crimes committed under cover of clerical protection has now reached unspeakable depths. We’ve now come to the point where we are reduced to shame and utter disappointment as we learn of hateful evils against the innocent, hidden by cowardice and hypocrisy.

Over and over again we hear the question: how can I belong to such a church?

I suggest that the answer is simpler than we might think. Coincidentally, the answer is in Paul’s letter for today’s Mass (1 Corinthians 12). Paul refers to the diversity of gifts of those who contribute them to form the Body of Christ. You are Christ’s body, he says.

There is a beautiful unity and serenity in the picture Paul paints for us. This is the true Church where each part, no matter how insignificant, no matter how far out of the mainstream, is part of the saving Body of Christ: blood of his Blood; heart of his Heart. It is built by small deeds of love and attention we show our neighbors.

For sure, there are unending opportunities for true Christians to volunteer for service in the spiritual field hospital we call life. We are all among the wounded. We all need words of encouragement and the healing compassion of a patient listener. We all need spiritual pain-killers to soothe the hurt of anger, violence, crime and negativity that are both within and outside of us.

It is not the healthy who need a physician.

 

The Joy of Evangelization

When I was miraculously (yes, miraculously) brought back to the Church, I experienced a sense of what can only be described as true joy.

I know there are many who would be puzzled by this. We’re aware of so many flaws existing in the institutional church. How can one be happy (much less joyful) to be brought back to this historically flawed institution?

Amazing, right? This seems impossible, because we expect perfection in any organization that’s dedicated to the precious person of Christ. These perceptions reflect, I’ve discovered, a serious absence of understanding.

Take this Sunday’s Gospel of Mark (6:1-6a).

Jesus has come back to Nazareth, his native place, intending to teach in the Synagogue. The reaction to him is, in the vernacular, “Who does he think he is? He’s no better than us. He hasn’t had any special instruction, so how can he talk about wisdom? He comes from a common family whom we see every day, and his relatives aren’t that great either.”

Like so many of us, the Nazarenes looked at the messenger and ignored the message. Jesus had something remarkable to teach them, if they had only been open and non-judgmental. He had been given the assignment when he was baptized by John in the Jordan, participating with (let’s not forget) a bunch of sinners. What he heard as he emerged from the waters was the divine call to teach, which is what prophets do. This is my beloved Son; listen to him. Jesus cemented his resolve by spending 40 days in the desert, alone except for beasts and angels: one side against the other, leaving him to discern the message he was to teach: The kingdom of God is near. Indeed it was. It was especially present in this new Prophet from Nazareth.

Unfortunately, many of us have become jaded, unimpressed, empty of wonder at the message of God, delivered through this divine Prophet. Yes, the Church has a history of imperfect behaviors. But what is its message?

Through all its human failings, the Church has continued to deliver the message: God IS; Christ IS; the Gospel IS. There are no teachings that can surpass the one commandment that Jesus constantly repeated as the most important: Love one another. Love covers a multitude of sins.

And there’s St. Paul in this Sunday’s letter, begging God to take all sense of pride and elation from him. Of course Paul was elated to have been allowed to teach the gospel, to Evangelize.

But God knows how to keep us humble as he allows us to struggle against egotism so that we might rely totally on God’s strength and perfection. And so the Church has likewise struggled, and has still been enabled to bring the world that most important message.

The Prophet Ezekiel (first reading) has been sent to speak to a “rebellious house.” And “whether they heed or resist, they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” Again, not because of the prophet/messenger, but because of the message.

True discipleship is to cling to the message of the Gospel, not because the Church is made up of saints, but despite the fact that the Church is made up of imperfect sinners, which includes us along with all the rest.

Most astounding of all is that we imperfect ones are given the same assignment as Christ’s: Teach the Gospel in our native place and elsewhere. Teach it by living Christ’s message, by loving and accepting all the sinful others who share our need for God.