Carrying Your Cross with Christ
Lenten Meditations for the Sick and Those Who Assist Them
Working as a hospital chaplain for over two decades, and beginning a new step in ministry as a hospice chaplain, I felt that now was the time to reflect on the topic at hand. I wanted to address this holy season of Lent in a way for those who cannot, due to illness, disability or caring for someone who needs assistance, keep it this sacred season in more traditional ways - including fasting.
I consciously chose to separate the meditations for those who are ill or disabled from those who care for them. Thus, the first six meditations in each group of seven are written for those who are themselves experiencing illness. These address various struggles which that first group is contending. These are drawn from personal and professional experience.
The last, or seventh meditation in each group of seven meditations, is written for the caregiver. I do not distinguish here between the personal caregiver (family member, friend, etc.) and the professional caregiver (nurse, aide, therapist, etc.), because whether or not one is paid for giving care or does it out of love for a family member or friend, all are caregivers in the truest sense of the word. I have allowed this seventh meditation to fall on Sundays, because we associate it with the day of rest, and surely caregivers need rest from their sacred task of giving care to others! Thus, the readings for each week begin on a Monday, and end on a Sunday.
Because there is no greater source for meditation than the Sacred Scriptures, each meditation has a reference to at least one passage from the Bible that will perhaps speak to the meditation and give it new insight. Even a small scriptural reference can reveal volumes - as each is the divinely inspired Word of God. Some passages are from the Gospels, others from various New Testament letters, and still others are from the books of the Old Testament.
As my own background is a mix of Western and Eastern Catholicism, there will be references from both the Latin sui juris Church (i.e., "Latin or Roman Catholic") and the Byzantine sui juris Church (formerly referred to as one of the "rites" of the universal Catholic Church). Some of the meditations will be based on certain Lenten practices of those Particular Churches, so some may be familiar and others less familiar. I have done this consciously to acquaint the reader with the fullness of the Catholic Church which, as Pope Saint John Paul II said, "breathes best when she breathes with both her lungs - East and West."
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Fifth Tuesday of Lent
Sharing Burdens, Sharing Joys
The institutional setting (hospital, rehabilitation institute, skilled nursing facility, etc.) can provide an opportunity for those who are sick to do something positive despite their illnesses.
Working in a rehabilitation setting, I have seen the gifts of what I term "like-to-like ministry." This is when one patient, despite his or her pain, reaches out to another to person to share in that person’s pains. Often the testimony of faith from one patient to another is stronger than any that I or a member of the clergy could provide, because it comes from one who understands suffering in the present moment firsthand!
It is amazing how God opens doors for this type of ministry to occur! I have seen it during informal worship services. I experienced it in patient rooms as recently as the day on which I write this meditation. One patient’s daughter died today, and the other patient, also a mother, reached out in love to comfort her. This was something that I, as one who never had a child, could never have done as authentically!
I also hear how patients, as they wait for therapy, share their stories with one another. Stories of great heroism despite suffering are related, giving hope and inspiration to those who might otherwise give up. In essence, they become Christ to the other, and offer their ears, their hands, their eyes, their mouths, and their very beings to extend His love to their fellow patients.
In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, "Just as each of us has various parts in one body, and the parts do not all have the same function: in the same way, all of us, though there are so many of us, make up one body in Christ, and as different parts we are all joined to one another. Then since the gifts that we have differ according to the grace that was given to each of us: if it is a gift of prophecy, we should prophesy as much as our faith tells us; if it is a gift of practical service, let us devote ourselves to serving; if it is teaching, to teaching; if it is encouraging, to encouraging. When you give, you should give generously from the heart; if you are put in charge, you must be conscientious; if you do works of mercy, let it be because you enjoy doing them. Let love be without any pretence... In brotherly love let your feelings of deep affection for one another come to expression and regard others as more important than yourself. In the service of the Lord, work not halfheartedly but with conscientiousness and an eager spirit. Be joyful in hope, persevere in hardship; keep praying regularly (Romans 12:4-13). Nowhere does St. Paul state that the giver must be in good health. Rather, his is a call to ministry for all of God’s people. And the more we are able to reach out to the suffering of others despite our own suffering, the more acceptable will be the gift of our own suffering to God, Who sees all, and blesses all.
Dear Lord, You know that I really don’t want to be going through this illness. It has taken away from me so many of the things I like to do, the people I love to be around, the ways in which I feel I can serve You. But You have placed me in this moment - not to complain about my own suffering, but to be a conduit of hope to others who are likewise suffering. Use me, Lord, for whatever is Your will, and I will be glad to do as You direct me. And bless the suffering of all other persons - those around me, and those whom I will never know, but who also carry heavy crosses. Amen.