“Lord, when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the Lord answered “just as you did it to one of the least of these sisters and brothers of mine, you did it to me.” [cf. Matt. 25: 32-40]
One of the major struggles of life is encountered in physical or mental illness when, through accident, disease process or physical issues, we come face-to-face with the mystery of pain, potential loss, and vulnerabilities. It is much the same as a youth who, in different cultural settings, encounters the need to go through some form of puberty rite, to help them bridge the gap between being a child and becoming an adult. The youth is removed from their normal environment, taken aside into some ‘different place’, and, through various means, endures whatever is considered necessary to deal with the break from one level of life to another.
For a patient entering a hospital, much the same dis-orientation, challenge, pain, radical events and vulnerability can take place. Just as a pubertal youth struggles to regain their emotional balance and make sense of what is being endured, so too does a patient struggle with accident, disease process or physical issues. The struggle is intense and personal. The hospital is, in most if not all cases, a place of sacred encounter when the wonder of each person, in all their mystery, reaches out to others for help, for support, for healing, for understanding, for direction and for that reassurance that they are not alone or at the random mercy of others – nor are they abandoned, rejected or unloved by God. It is especially not a time for easy answers or shallow reassurances. Facing the truth, seeking solutions, and sincerely being present to each patient brings not only comfort and embrace, it also brings witness to all that we are indeed sisters and brothers who strive to love and care for one another.
The chaplain is one who enters the patient’s presence to help make God’s redemptive love more real to the patient and their loved ones. The compassion and caring presence of the chaplain seeks to be a sign of the ability to endure, the possibility of persevering through difficulty and pain, and the hope found in the faith that ‘Emmanuel”, (God-with-us), has not overlooked us in our time of need.
The Diocese of Charlottetown has maintained for many years a clear focus of personal attention, spiritual assistance and understanding support for patients and staff in the various medical facilities which have been part of our past history and today’s reality. Through adequate and up-to-date pastoral education, chaplains are prepared for their role on the team of professionals who comprise the front-line workers and support staff of our hospitals. As a visible sign of our Diocesan care and love for those facing the challenge of illness, the chaplain gives expression of us as a people who journey together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, as we strive to do our part in the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God.
Rev. George F. Gilliland, Chaplain
Queen Elizabeth Hospital