Do we recognize the special place of the poor in our lives? When we serve them, do we act as if we are doing them a favour, or do we see they are doing us a favour? Do we not realise their presence is an invitation to intimacy with God? Who are the poor? Most of the time we connect the poor with those who lack material goods. But, look again at Jesus’ parables. The poor are the disdained, the hated, those who are different, those kept at arm’s length. Those who lack goods might be distasteful to middle class sensibilities. But there are others who live in a way that we feel is wrong, people that we might want to keep at bay. They are simply not like us. At what point do we show them mercy and compassion?
One set of people that I was always happier keeping at arm’s length until quite recently, were those suffering from mental illness. I always felt awkward around them; I did not know what to say to them, I was fearful of them. This meant that I would often ignore them and therefore be guilty of judging them. By God’s grace in my role as a Chaplain I am now beginning to overcome those prejudices and fears. A few months ago I met a woman in one of the hospitals I work at who had attempted suicide and was still intent on taking her own life. For the purposes of this message I will refer to her as Ann.
Ann has been living back at home for the past 3 months. She is still talking of suicide and has stated on more than one occasion that she sees October as a good time to do this. The reason
for October is that she has been away on holiday with her family as she promised them she would and two weeks ago she had her
diagnosis of depression removed by a Psychiatrist, who agreed that depression did not fit her symptoms. He has agreed that he will write a letter to her confirming this. This confirmation of not suffering from depression was something very important to Ann, and she has told me that with the letter expected to take 7-14 days to arrive, everything then will be sorted for her and October is still good to go, as she puts it. She has stated that she does not think that I will ever see her again. Please keep her in your prayers.
Those close to me will know that for the initial period of my relationship with Ann, I really struggled. I was constantly worried, anxious and on edge and I realise now that the reason for this was that I was judging Ann for being wrong in wanting to take her life, I saw her as someone who needed fixing, and that it was my job to fix her. Thanks to the grace and mercy of God I began to realise that the problem with our relationship was not a lack of faith on Alice’s part but a lack of faith on mine. I was not put there to fix Ann I was put there to simply be for Ann, to accompany her, to not judge her, to support her, listen to her and to love her. Once I did this Ann found in me, a place of safety, a place of comfort, a place of trust, a place of mercy and a place of peace. What I have received from Ann is immeasurable. The grace and blessings I have received through Ann are indescribable. I may have given her support but she has given me so much more, with the most amazing being that I am capable, of getting much closer than I ever imagined, of feeling and giving unconditional love. What an amazing and priceless gift she has given me.
So will Ann take her life in October, I do not know? How will I feel or deal with it if she does I do not know, but what I do know is that I will never tire of thanking God for choosing me to be the vessel that was there to support her. I will always be grateful and feel privileged and blessed for having got to know her and accompany her through this part of her life.
Others we may want to keep at arm’s length are those who live lives not in accordance with the teachings of the Church.
I know from personal experience that most parishes of ours are incredibly welcoming, where the doors of Mercy are open to receive those who wish to enter. But I also know from personal experience, both through my ministry as a Deacon but even more so through my ministry as a mental health Chaplain, that there is a massive fear out there of the Catholic Church. People see the Catholic Church as judgemental, a place that will welcome people, but only after they have changed their way of living. They believe we as a church will welcome them once they live lives in accordance with the Church’s laws and teachings. In other words, many people out there believe we will welcome them once they have been fixed. I come across many
people desperately searching for understanding and acceptance, a place of safety where they will not be judged and they feel that the Church is ignoring them. One Catholic lady, who is in a relationship with a married man said, “I will come back to church when I get my life
back on track and make my peace with God”. In our hearts we all know she should be saying “I will come back to church now, because I know I will be welcome and it will help me get my life back on track and make my peace with God”.
I understand that change can be scary, but we need to remember Jesus Christ himself hardly came to maintain the Status Quo. We are so afraid that if we are too welcoming and too merciful, the Church will be turned upside down. Well, Jesus turned the world upside down.
At the moment for many both inside and outside of the Church it seems the acceptable way is that the Church will welcome all who conform to our rules and regulations and live life in accordance with God’s laws.
Pope Francis says no. He says this is not acceptable. He says we do what Jesus would do. We welcome all. We welcome all into our parishes and communities, not for who we believe they should be, but for who they are now. We as a Church must become for all people, a place where they do not feel judged, a place of safety, a place of comfort, a place of trust, a place of mercy, a place of peace and a place of love.
In return we will receive so much more than we give. We will receive all the God given gifts these people bring with them and priceless graces and blessings. And if there is any healing, converting or fixing to be done, we should have faith that God will deal with that.
I believe that if we fail to accept and welcome people in this way it will not be due to a lack of faith on their part, but a lack of faith on ours.
We are not here to Fix. We are here to love.
-Deacon Martin Swaby, Assistant Chaplain, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, Spiritual and Pastoral Care Service