Last fall, on September 30, 2013 a lengthy interview with Pope Francis was printed in America magazine, in which the Holy Father said (emphasis added):
“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”
What does it mean for the Church to be a field hospital after battle? Pope Francis gives us some insight into his thinking with talking about the need to heal wounds first, before talking about anything else, a triage of sorts. But what does it really mean to us, theologians and agents of the New Evangelization?
I think to help understand it, we have to really think about what a field hospital is and what it’s purpose is, so let me set that stage for you. I think it also important to consider the field hospital from the point of view of the injured person, so that is the angle from which I will describe it.
When a soldier is injured in battle, there are first medics who come to him. They enter the battle, risking their own lives and trusting their own training and the training of others to keep them safe so that they can attend to the injured soldier. The medics assess the immediate needs of the injured soldier and immediately bandage and temporarily treat those they are the most life threatening. When the soldier is as stable as possible, he is transported to a field hospital. Still close by the fighting, still within the arm of danger, but where he can get more advanced treatment and be more fully assessed. Now, if this soldier were injured in say, Afghanistan, once stable enough to travel, he would be transported, usually, to Germany for more advanced care and to begin to recuperate. His family may choose to visit him there, or they may await his return to the United States. For some soldiers that return would be to another hospital for final treatments, recovery, and care; for other soldiers it might be straight home. The field hospital, and those who care for the injured in battle first risk their own lives for the injured soldier; someone is with the injured soldier each step of the way, ensuring he is stable enough to be moved on to the next step of his recovery; only when he is ready does he return home and reintegrate into life fully.
With this in mind, what does this mean for us as the Church, called to be a field hospital. I propose the following as a start:
- For those who are injured and still in the thick of the battle, we are called to be properly trained and to go out into the battle and risk our own lives for them. It may mean risking our physical life, but it most certainly means risking the life we cling to – our idols, our reputation and more. It means getting dirty and bloody and keeping our focus intently on those who are injured and our goal of bringing them to healing. We must go out to meet people where they are. We cannot shout to them from the comforts of Germany while they lie bleeding on a battlefield in Afghanistan.
It means we have to be willing and able to authentically assess where a person is, and be willing to walk with them, at a pace they are able to be challenged to grow and heal, but that they can keep up with. We must be willing to see not only what we want – for the person to be home again – but what they need. We need to keep pointing them towards home, the fullness of the Catholic Faith, while walking with them and loving them through the transitions. It is scary to be airlifted off a battlefield and flown to a foreign country; it is no less scary to leave the life one has been living, no matter how sinful or damaging, behind for a life that seems so foreign. We must also remember that no matter how badly we might want someone to be home, if they are not there yet, they are not there yet. It can be tempting to say “call me when you get here”, when what we are really called to do is to continue to reach out and help them to be as prepared as possible for a smooth transition when they do get home.
We must guard our own faith. A medic who is worn down and only sees dying soldiers certainly begins to wonder if it is worth it, and so to are we at risk for apathy and frustration. We must remain close to the Sacraments while continually challenging ourselves to authentically see and love those who are hurting.
Truth and charity. Veritate et caritas. One without the other leads people astray and gives false hope or false despair. The journey from injury on the battlefield to healthy at home is not one that is always linear, easy, or fast. Honesty is key so as to not give false hope nor prevent encouragement, but honestly done without love, without compassion, without relationship can be equally devastating.
While these four things might seem easy or obvious, I challenge us all to really ask ourselves if we are living up to them. Are we truly stepping out into the battle and meeting people where they are, getting to know their pain, their struggle, their suffering and walking along the path with them? Are we holding ourselves to the high standard of truth and charity? Are we continually seeking to deepen our own faith, to see the own plank within our eye, and striving to live a life of virtue?
We have all of the tools, medicine, and equipment needed to heal those most hurting and most suffering in our world – be it from physical poverty, spiritual poverty, or a combination of both. The gospel message of Jesus Christ, the Tradition of the Catholic Church, and our own call to be priest, prophet, and king by nature of our baptism are the tools we need. We already have them, we must learn to use them authentically as agents of healing. We must remember, we must meet those who are hurting where they are and walk with them, leading and encouraging them along they way; allowing them to stop and rest when they need it and always walking the walk ourselves, continuing on our own journey towards home.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.