By George Reed, MA, BCC
As a Catholic lay ecclesial minister, I realize my priority is first as a follower of Jesus Christ and as a husband before I am a hospice chaplain. My faith has taught me to sincerely hold to these priorities.
In hospice chaplaincy, I often need to hold my beliefs silently to support others of different beliefs. Does this mean that I am a lukewarm Catholic? This question has troubled me.
As a board certified chaplain I am supposed to refrain from proselytizing. I find, especially out of respect for the imbalance of power between a vulnerable patient and myself, that there is much more to living faith and growing in holiness than a nominal profession of loyalty to the church and to our Savior.
“Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
Recently, in Eucharistic adoration, I read in the Liturgy of the Hours an excerpt from Lumen Gentium: “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are in their different ways related to God’s people.” It clarifies these as Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and others who seek God with a sincere heart. “Whatever goodness and truth found among them is seen by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel and as given by Him who shines on all men so that they may at last have life.”
This reflection from the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours tells me that there is hope even for those who have not yet received the Gospel or who live by another faith. I am in continual formation as a chaplain who supports people of all faith backgrounds including Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Native Americans, agnostics, and atheists. It is essential for me to remain rooted in my faith and to honor the diversity of beliefs and practices of the dying whom I encounter in hospice.
Kneeling before the humble, courageous, and compassionate presence of our risen Lord as the small consecrated host held in the monstrance, my faith grows stronger in hope for the dying. “His mercy is endless and his treasury of compassion is inexhaustible.”
The dying have so much to teach me, just as Christ teaches so much to his disciples through his dying. The dying help me in the ongoing spiritual battle I have with my pride and how difficult it can be for me to be small.
So often, I need to get out of the way and let our Lord do what he wills. What I do and say is important, but more important is faith in the blood of Christ. “And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6).
And this faith is to lead me to love my neighbor as Christ loves them. Unfortunately, I often fall short and need to recharge in prayer before the Eucharist and in Confession. There I find the grace to see the face of Christ in those with whom I serve and those whom we have the privilege to serve together. The fruit of listening with faith is a quiet evangelization.
In the Eucharist we have the compassionate presence of One who suffers with those he loves. Jesus, though he could have prevented his passion and death on the cross, surrendered to his Father’s will. And in doing this he reveals the undying love of God … the love that is better than life (Ps 63:4), stronger than death (Song of Songs 8:6b) , and surpasses all expectation (Eph 3:20).
“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:20)
In hospice chaplaincy, I often need to hold my faith silently. Even this silent act of holding faith bears fruit. The fruit of listening with faith is a quiet evangelization by the Holy Spirit for those to whom I listen and for me (Acts 15:9). It is faith that cleanses the heart.(Acts 15:9).
There are times I avoid conflict. I don’t find it necessary to always make my disagreements known. I discover that by listening with faith, our God cleanses my heart and invites me to grow into a better teammate in this quiet evangelization.
I can help prepare the way for others to receive the Gospel by listening to and honoring what is true and good in their lives. While this is not as exciting as preaching the Gospel to all of the world, it is in line with what Saint Francis taught while working to rebuild the church in the world. “Preach the Gospel always. Use words only when necessary.”
But isn’t hospice chaplaincy different? What about unbelievers who are near death or actively dying? This question has troubled me. I am thankful for a humble Polish nun named Faustina Kowalska. She received in a vision from our Lord the chaplet of Divine Mercy with an invitation to trust in the infinite ocean of mercy that is our God. Praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy has strengthened my identity as a lay Catholic chaplain for the dying.
I pray that when I am dying, someone will be praying with faith in Jesus for me also (Mt 25:40). “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’”(Mt 25:40). So that in joyful love, I, too, may embrace our merciful Savior.
George Reed is hospice chaplain at Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County in Everett, WA.
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