By David Lewellen
The boardroom, the hospital, and the church often represent a clash of cultures, but chaplains and other Catholic healthcare workers must do their best to combine mercy, justice, and compassion.
However, those values “don’t always necessarily integrate themselves fully into our lives,” said Sr. Patricia Talone, RSM, vice president of mission services for the Catholic Health Association.
Talone, delivering the Rev. Richard Tessmer Leadership Lecture, told the conference audience that the root of compassion is “feeling with.” But mercy, a broader idea, is “the name of our God,” which drew approving murmurs. “I am able to be compassionate because someone has been compassionate to me,” she said. And justice, she said, is not just arithmetic or tit-for-tat, but “something much more nuanced and deeper.”
Chaplains, she said, live in “the complexity and depth and messiness of the human encounter,” and must work on developing habits of the heart, for themselves and for institutions. She told the story of the time she used a theological term in conversation with a chief financial officer, who said something dismissive in return. She retorted that she had learned to be trilingual in business, medicine and theology, and if the CFO wasn’t comfortable with theology, “perhaps you belong elsewhere” – a line that drew applause. (Though talking about virtues, she confessed, “patience is not always my virtue.”)
Justice and mercy can work together, she said, like Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, in which the father holds one hand tightly, the other loosely. And wholeness, Talone said, comes only in the intersection of virtues. In conflicts, for instance between families and staff, she said, “stop and say, ‘where is God calling us at this moment?’”
She told the story of a parish she served as a young sister, where several altar boys robbed the collection basket. The priest counseled her to “understand human nature and the reality before you,” and gave the boys “the privilege of making restitution.” And he asked her not to say anything to them, because “they need to believe in your good opinion of them.”
“God loves us with tremendous mercy,” she said, “but God also calls us to justice. … The Catholic tradition is never an either-or,” she said. “It is always looking at both-and.”
During the discussion period afterward, Cynthia Dwyer of Chatham, ON, praised Talone’s description of being trilingual. “There have been times I’ve hesitated to speak up,” she said, “but I will.”
In the question period, Talone said that chaplains are “gifted to hear the stories of many people,” and that “the viewpoint of the chaplain, to me, was always the key in a difficult situation.” She also said, “We want the perfect, so we stop ourselves from doing the good.”