October 24, 2015

Hospital Chaplaincy: A Sacred Experience

Hospitals are not known to be places people enjoy going – not even to visit. Usually we go there in a crisis situation for ourselves or for someone we love. Who can forget the pungent smells, or the noises of machines constantly beeping? One summer in my years of formation and study to become a priest, I spent three months in a hospital setting, not as a patient, but as a Hospital Chaplain to provide spiritual care and emotional support to patients and their loved ones. My goal was to get experience dealing with death, dying and suffering so that I would have more than just theory in my head to draw from, when God willing, I am ordained a Catholic priest. Never could I have imagined the wealth of experiences the Good Lord would provide me with that summer.

In those three months, I cried with some people and laughed with others. I prayed with some patients and talked about life with others. As a Chaplain I got to know some patients so well that I felt like I knew them my whole life, while others remained complete strangers to me as I sat in silence next to their unconscious body in the hospital bed. Some patients asked for a blessing, while others cursed my very presence from their anger with God at the suffering they were experiencing. Some people wanted a shoulder to cry on when given the bad news of a terminal illness or the recent death of a loved one; while others sought the ear of the chaplain who would listen to them share their feelings of sorrow, or stories of an energetic life now in the past.

Those three months as a hospital chaplain were sacred days in my life. It was an honour to be invited to the bedside of someone as they took their last breath. My own prayer life was deepened as I prayed with patients’ loved ones as they placed all their trust in God during these most difficult moments. I remember being called upon to baptize a baby boy who was just born but would not live very long. When I poured little drops of water on the tiny boy’s head in the incubator the otherwise motionless little body began moving. All four of his limbs moved as if to be his affirmative response to my words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The next day, one of the nurses who were present for that baptism asked me, “how does it feel to know you helped a baby get to Heaven?” I said – “Blessed beyond my wildest dreams.” Hospital Chaplaincy is definitely a sacred experience.

Answering the Call