you want to be a…chaplain?

When people ask me why I’m studying theology, I usually just explain, “Well, I want to work as a chaplain, preferably in hospice.” Sometimes I just get a handsstrange look, more often I get the look along with an “…oh, okay…” Occasionally a brave person will speak up and ask me what a chaplain actually does, or why I’d want to do something so depressing. A relative told me once he wished I would do something more worthwhile with my life than prayer. Um, okay.

I did my first chaplaincy internship back in my twenties, before I had to drop out of school to deal with my fibromyalgia and migraines. This is a short story about my first hospice consult (I was terrified) which was subsequently published in our archdiocesan newspaper when they asked for submission on the question: Who Is My Neighbor?

Dwarfed by the hospital bed, surrounded by IVs and beeping monitors, she was a tiny, frail elderly woman with enormous haunted dark eyes dominating a white face. A native of Poland, she spoke little English, but was nonetheless able to understand the diagnosis: inoperable stomach cancer.

Six months, maybe less, to live.

I was a chaplain intern with a grand total of three weeks experience,
observing my first hospice consult. What could I, a 27-year-old graduate
student, possibly say to a lonely frightened dying woman who didn’t
even speak English?

As I stood huddled  in a corner of the room and watched, a tear formed in one of those dark eyes and slid slowly down her face. Then another. And another. Her fragile body began to shake; and suddenly I found myself far from the safety of my hidden corner, my inexperience forgotten, my arms around her and my face buried against her shoulder, I dug out my little blue
plastic rosary, and as we wept and prayed together, the healing love of
Christ transcended the gulf between us, overcoming the barriers of
language and age, binding us together as fellow pilgrims walking hand in
hand on our journey home.

In truth, I have come to realize since, we are all fellow pilgrims on a journey home to the God who created us and loves us beyond our wildest imaginings. We are, indeed, our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper, and we are called to bear one another’s burdens. We have more in common than we realize, as I discovered in my first hospice consult, and  it is
through Christ’s love that we are able to journey with, and heal, each
other.

And THAT is why I want to be a chaplain.

New interview shows why the pope is so beloved

All I can say, as a practicing Catholic, is, Wow. Pope Francis is a true pastor at heart, “eager to love and be loved” as Fr. James Martin writes. And the fact is, he didn’t say anything out of line with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. I see more of a change in emphasis than doctrine. If you see the Catholic Church as a community of pilgrims seeking “an invitation to encounter a person: Jesus Christ“, well then, you might hear hints of “aggiornamento” and St. Pope John XXIII (not to mention St. Francis of Assisi). I certainly do.

 

spiritual? relgious? both? none?

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning
St. Peter’s Basilica at Early Morning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been all over the internet–and my theological journals too–recently, that a large percentage of so-called Millennialsdon’t identify with any religion at all, and the new classification assigned by pollsters is “none.”  This makes me, a Gen-Xer, very curious. I have to admit that as a “Cradle Catholic” and product of Catholic schools the concept is quite foreign to me.

I do understand being disillusioned with the Catholic Church, especially over gender issues and the ongoing sex scandals. But for me, the closest I came to leaving was talking to a friend about becoming an Episcopalian, an inquiry I abandoned once Pope Francis was elected (I really love him). Although I am not a perfect Catholic (the phrase “Cafeteria Catholic” fits in certain ways–but then it does for most Catholics on either side of the spectrum) I can’t imagine believing in God and not being part of a faith community, despite the flaws inherent in any institution run by imperfect human beings. And for me, I’ve always found the dichotomy between spirituality and religion a false one; after all, any study of the great mystics and spiritual leaders throughout history shows that many, if not most, belonged to a church community.

But I want to hear about your experiences, too. What do you consider yourself, faith-wise? I regret using labels for such a huge part of our human experience, but for now it will have to do. Do you reject all organized religion, and if so, why? Do you consider yourself a spiritual person, or do you want nothing to do with any of it (in which case it is highly unlikely you are reading my blog, but one never knows)? Please, I invite you to share your story. I promise I won’t proselytize or preach. I just want to understand better.

grace and grumpiness

I am so incredibly, amazingly, crabby at the moment. I overdid it with my physical therapy exercises yesterday and am paying the price today. I also, I admit, was (to my surprise) completely emotionally overwhelmed yesterday by the election of Pope Francis. Pope Francis. But I am experiencing a tough letdown today after my elation and tears, which is making me headachy and grumpy.

It’s so easy to find grace in the beautiful moments, the happy times, when it seems as though God’s love is in the very air we breathe. Which it is, of course. But now? As I sit here in our cluttered bedroom, staring at the immense pile of dirty laundry that is refusing to wash itself, not to mention the many books which I swear mate while we sleep that have no home at the moment, and I could really use a shower, if I could work up the energy to turn on the water, get some towels (any clean ones?) and dig out some shower gel and shampoo which I know we have, somewhere or other.

my little family
my little family

Yet…I look at the face of my sleeping cocker spaniel, faithfully dozing next to me on the bed. I look across the room and see our wedding portrait, and I remember that I have a husband who takes me to all of my doctor and physical therapy appointments–and they are legion–and never complains. I remember my mother, and how thrilled she would be to see Pope Francis, and I smile, and say a quick prayer to her. And I think to myself, wow, am I blessed. Even if I do suspect my physical therapist of trying to kill me.

"Habemus Papam" - Cardinal Jorge Mar...
“Habemus Papam” – Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., has been elected Pope Francis (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

books: 2009

  1. The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World, Monika K. Hellwig
  2. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Paula Fredriksen
  3. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, Amy-Jill Levine
  4. Fortress Introduction to The Gospels, Mark Allan Powell
  5. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbach
  6. John, the Maverick Gospel, Robert Kysar
  7. Written that you May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, Sandra M. Schneiders, IHM
  8. The Middle Ages, Morris Bishop
  9. Models of the Church, Avery Dulles, SJ
  10. The Sacred Pipe, Joseph Brown
  11. A New Christian Paradigm: The Making of Post-Protestant Christianity, Ben M. Carter
  12. Jesus and the Quest for Meaning, Thomas H. West
  13. The Church Unfinished: Ecclesiology Through the Centuries, Bernard K. Prusak
  14. Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
  15. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky
  16. Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee, Mark Kurlansky
  17. Paul–A Jew on the Margins, Calvin J. Roetzel
  18. The Spirituality of Paul, Thomas H. Tobin
  19. Navigating Paul: An Introduction to Key Theological Concepts, Jouette M. Bassler
  20. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
  21. The Hollow Crown: A History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages, Miri Rubin
  22. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John O’Donohue
  23. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, Daniel Mendelsohn
  24. Whitethorn Woods, Maeve Binchy
  25. Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain & Ireland, Bryan Sykes
  26. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  27. The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
  28. The Children of Henry VIII, Alison Weir
  29. On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood, Irmgard A. Hunt
  30. My Life with the Saints, James Martin, SJ
  31. The Monster of Florence: A True Story, Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi
  32. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Thomas Cahill
  33. How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill
  34. Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent J. Donovan
  35. Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church, Joseph Martos
  36. The Catholic Myth: The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics, Andrew Greeley
  37. The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure, Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
  38. No Place Like Home, Mary Higgins Clark
  39. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, John Barry
  40. The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middles Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era, Norman Cantor
  41. Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation’s Troubled Homecoming from World War II, Thomas Childers
  42. The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky
  43. Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power, Virginia Rounding
  44. Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, and Queens, Jane Dunn
  45. Devil’s Brood, Sharon Kay Penman
  46. Falls the Shadow: A Novel, Sharon Kay Penman
  47. Queen Emma and the Vikings: Power, Love and Greed in 11th Century England, Harriet O’Brien
  48. Time and Chance, Sharon Kay Penman
  49. Dragon’s Lair, Sharon Kay Penman
  50. The Queen’s Man: A Medieval Mystery, Sharon Kay Penman
  51. When Christ and his Saints Slept, Sharon Kay Penman
  52. The Reckoning, Sharon Kay Penman
  53. The Sunne in Splendor: A Novel of Richard III, Sharon Kay Penman
  54. The Year 1000: What Life was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger
  55. Here be Dragons, Sharon Kay Penman
  56. Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark, Kathy Berken
  57. The Civilization of the Middle Ages, Norman Cantor
  58. Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, Alison Weir
  59. Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon, Andrea D. Robilant
  60. A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century, Andrea D. Robilant
  61. The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, Thomas Cahill
  62. Restoration London: From Poverty to Pets, from Medicine to Magic, from Slang to Sex, from Wallpaper to Women’s Rights, Liza Picard
  63. The Seville Communion, Arturo Perez-Oerveto
  64. In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made, Norman Cantor
  65. The Lady Elizabeth: A Novel, Alison Weir
  66. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, Antonia Fraser
  67. Blue Iris: Poems and Essays, Mary Oliver

This year’s list is dedicated to some of my favorite fellow bookworms: Aunts Barb and Jo, Emilie, Liz P., Liz H., Roxane S., and Kristine.

But most of all, this list is dedicated to my darling sister-in-law Fran, who shares my intense love of books and often subsidizes my Barnes and Noble habit, and to my mom, who instilled in me a love of the power of words and the magic of language, as well as an intense curiosity about the world around me.

 

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