I have seen goodness!

I am not by nature an overtly positive person. I think of myself as a realist. And by realist, I really think life sucks a great deal of the time. But last night I saw something good. I saw someone who actually loved another person and they did not need to, nor were they doing it for possible gain.

Last night I was on call and around 8:30pm I got paged to call the ICU at St. James hospital, (I have changed the name). And on the other end of the line was a weathered voice of a male nurse asking if I could come in a pray with a patient and his visitors. I put on my official priest uniform and drove to the ICU. As I drove I prayed that God would give me strength and wisdom to do and say the appropriate things. When I arrived the crusty nurse told me that the patient was declared brain dead at noon that day and they were keeping him on life support until the family could come and say good bye. And that there in fact was no family coming in, just a co-worker who was in the room waiting to pray. He also said that once I prayed they were going to remove him from life support.

The world-worn hispanic patient lay on the bed unresponsive, as a former co-work stood next to him quietly weeping. As I  entered I saw Diego connected to every monitor possible with evidence that he had not bathed in a long while.

I introduced myself and told the visitor how sorry I was that she was loosing a friend. She then told me his story. Diego was homeless on and off most of his adult life and that all his family lived in Mexico. She said he was a kind man who worked hard and always smiled. As she cried she continued to tell me what a wonderful man he was and that he should not be alone ” like this”.

I asked her if we could pray? I began the office of the commendation of the soul, and reminding the Lord that where two or three are gathered in His name he would be there with us.  I anointed his head, asked the Lord Christ comfort Diego and that the Father would be merciful to him a sinner. Diego’s friend wept.  I asked the Holy Spirit to comfort friend and family as the loose Diego. We close with the Lord’s Prayer and The Grace.

Adam’s transgression has significantly distorted the image of God in us, but it has not destroyed it. This woman did not have to stand in a hospital room and weep for an hispanic homeless man. But she did, because she reflects the grace, mercy and peace of God. And if Jesus himself where there with us in the flesh, I believe he too would weep over the events that led this man to the ICU. Jesus was in fact there in her hands and tears as she wept, Jesus wept.

I have seen goodness on this earth!


The Chaplain and the Resurrection

I work as a chaplain in a hospital setting and am currently stationed in the ICU/CCU. There are about 15-20 diagnoses that are common to this unit. Drug over doses, delirium tremens, COPD, chronic repository failure, melanoma, carcinoma, acute renal failure, auto accidents. diabetic ketoacidosis, intracranial hemorrhage, the list goes on.

The other day a nurse informs me that bed 18 will most like die today and there is a family meeting at 11:30. The family is having trouble making any decisions about the DNR status of the patient. By the way the respirator is damaging the patients lungs. The patient could be 30 or 80. What can the chaplain bring to the table in this or similar situations?

In my short time as a hospital chaplain I have realized that I can bring four basic tools, and these tools are outside of normal medical intervention, or natural healing. Divine healing, the forgiveness of sin, God’s loving presence, and the resurrection. These are the comforts I bring to the sick. I pray often for divine intervention and healing, and in my 25 years of ministry I have genuinely and clearly seen this happen once. So miraculous healing is not the norm, but it can and does happen. So I pray for it everyday, and everyone knows this will most likely not occur. But we hope.

The second tool I bring with me as I enter a hospital room is always needed and is never wrong to pray for, and that is the forgiveness of sin. Death and illness is a result of the fall, the fall of Adam. Sometimes, but differently not always, the patients illness is due to the personal actions and sins. We never like to talk about this and I try to not pass judgment on why this specific patient is ill, but death is caused by sin, Romans 5:12. So bring to the patient the gift of the forgiveness of their sins and a burden lifter if the patient what to hear that news. Many do not.

From Genesis Two God is present with His people. As He revealed Himself to Moses and Israel He introduced Himself as the God who ever is and is ever with them. God led Israel by a pillar of cloud and of fire. For the Christian we too have been promised God’s ever-presence in Christ. Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus ends with the promise of His presence with us. For the sick, I normally pray that God’s presence and loving hand would be felt by them.

A few short days ago the church world-wide celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This historically well-attested event is “Leatherman tool” that I bring into the room with me all the time. This tool is multifunctional and multi-applicational. The resurrection solves so many health, emotional and spiritual problems. And is the one unique tool that the Christian Chaplain is able to bring to the patient that no other religion is able to bring. In the person and work of Christ we can offer complete eternal health and life, if we receive and trust in what He accomplished for us. The resurrection is that event that will bring us into complete and total eternal union with God and all new things again. It was the first goal for mankind in the first place. Sickness and death was never the goal for humanity, but life everlasting was.

The redemptive domino effect of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday bring us into a new reality with new and eternal promises and hopes. Most of the time when I pray with ill patients and their families, I thank God for the “innumerable gift brought to us by Jesus…The forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, Amen” This what Christianity offers and what I try to bring with me into the ICU each day.

An Atheist Logic.

A trend I see in my work as a hospital chaplain is what I am calling “pagan’s logic” or “atheist logic”, or you could call it “nominalists logic”. It goes something like this. Premise One: I am free to make my own decisions and I will do as I like. Premise Two: Since I can do as I want, I will pursue pleasure and fun. Conclusion: I am hurting and my life is miserable and empty. New Premise One: If I am miserable either god hates me or he is not there! New Premise Two: I am so lonely and life has no meaning! New Conclusion: I just want to die, or I will kill myself.

Monday’s as a chaplain in a critical care unit has been a bit repetitive lately. A high percentage of new admission into the CCU who are under 60 years of age are in for some kind of drug or alcohol related overdose or related incident. If you are over 60 it is usually heart, lungs or cancer that brings you into the CCU.  When I left my shift on Friday there were 7 patients in the 20 bed CCU. This morning there were 17. 60% were under 60, and 80% of them were there for drug or alcohol related events. Attempted suicide, or near accidental suicides. Most of these are well beyond the point of wanting to discuss finding help for their life situation.  Not all but most. They are Sarcastic, jaded, and or rude, “I’m not interested” are the attitudes that are common.

This common attitude could have a variety of explanations. A person could think they are beyond help. They could think that they have screwed up so many times, certainly God would no longer be interested. Or the deceit of of what I can atheist logic or pagan logic as stated above. Or many other reasons I am sure.

But once again the only answer I see to resolve this ongoing issue for those who chronically use alcohol or drugs to self medicate is the Gospel. But we are all repetitive sinners. I know for me, I have not committed a new sin in years. For me it is the same old thing over and over again. But I know the Gospel well enough to know that it is precisely the repetitive nature of my sin that illustrates my utter bondage and inability to overcome these chronic issues. And it is the Gospel that will renew the minds and hearts of anyone who is willing and able to receive it.

For the Christian biblical covenantal logic works something like this. Premise One: God created me. Premise Two: Christ redeemed me. Conclusion: He owns me, and I do not have the right to just do what I want! New Premise One: If God owns me then He sets the Agenda. New Premise Two: God’s plan is always a plan of life and liberty and love! Conclusion’: I have Joy and life everlasting!

Our life when it is separated from God’s will and plan will always lead to death and self destruction. His will will always lead to life and liberty and love.

Do God’s Plan!

Doubling Down!

An interesting attitude I have noticed among some folks I have ministered to over the years, is an attitude of “doubling down”.

You may have heard the old illustration about the sun and how its bright beams shine on everyone and everything everywhere the same. But the out come of how we react to the heat of the sun varies depending on how we respond. The same sun melts butter or hardness clay. Same sun, different materials and different reactions.

An illness, like cancer of the lungs can send some to their knees begging God of help and forgiveness. The illness like the sun can melt the heart of a sinner to the place that all they want is to get right with God and those around them. The sun can melt.

Others, with the same cancer, same prognosis get hardened, brittle, angry, hostile. The sun can dry somethings out till the crack and breaks. The sun beats down causes an outer crust, dries out the inner core. It shrinks. It loose moisture. It hardens.

The other day I was making my rounds in the CCU at the hospital I am a chaplain, and I entered a room, introduced myself and began a conversation. The patient had terminal cancer and was now in because of complications. I ask the same usual questions to get a conversation going and to assess the patient. “Hi, how ya feelin?” they reply “fine”. I then ask, “if you are feeling fine, so why are you hear?” Some laugh others do not get the joke. I ask about their faith or religious interest and practices. This gentleman told me that he has never been interested in God and has not been to church in year. He did not say that he was an atheist, or agnostic, just not interested. His wife then added, “I used to go to church, but when I married him, I lost interest.” “Oh” I said, “ok”.

We then chit chatted about his former employment and how many kids they had. I could tell he wanted the conversation to end, so I asked, “can I pray for you?” He doubled down, more disinterest. He said, “if  you want to.” He did not say it in the form of a question, but as a statement declaring his disinterest. Here is a man who is looking death in the face. He knows the time range in which he is going to die, and he is not interested in preparing to meet the divine judge that will evaluate his entire life and hand out the verdict. “If you want to.” His wife looked at me with very teary eyes. I prayed.

We will all die, and we should all live a life of preparation for that time in which we meet God face to face.  When it comes to dealing with God and our sin, sometimes its better to know when to fold ’em, not to double down. The best thing to do is lay at his feet and plead the blood of Jesus.

Chaplain as Kingdom Ambassador.

This past week I met with several patients and a few of them were either dying or had just passed from this life to the next. I have seen death many many times in my adult life. When I was 18-19 I was an ER orderly at our local hospital near Cleveland Ohio. I would be the one who did chest compressions while the Docs and nurses did their work. It is now new. It is still very real though.

For the dead, I normally perform the rite of the Commendation of the Soul. It is a very moving rite. For the living I most always pray for healing. I pray for a number of other things as well. That the patient might know and experience the loving presence of God. That God’s love hand might touch them. I thank God for His Son, our savior Jesus Christ and the many gifts he gives to us, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

But a thought stuck me the other day, even if God heals them, they will die anyway of some other ailment. Is my ministry really about their physical healing and them experiencing God’s presence? An experience or a healing is only a temporary fix and perhaps does not really communicate what chaplain ministry is all about?

With few exceptions the patients I meet with are baptized Christians. Most are nominal. Most have not been in regular contact with a local church or congregation. But most will say that their religion is important to them. My musings of late, have been on how I as a chaplain might help these baptized nominal Christians to reengage with the Kingdom of God and not merely comfort and healing? Or perhaps I should reframe my prayers somehow to engage the kingdom reality? These are questions in my head right now, so I have no real answers or techniques.


People really need the Gospel

One of my many hats, I serve as an On-Call chaplain for a Catholic hospital system north of Chicago. This morning I was awoken at 7am by my beeper. I call the number on the beeper and I was asked to come to the nearby hospital and see the family of a patient who had died late last night. I got on my clericals, drove to the hospital, found the room and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Father Malone.” As I prepare to perform the rite of the commendation of the soul, the son-in-law of the deceased asked me a question, “am I reading this right? If we trust Jesus, and then I die, God receives us like we are his sons?” He was reading Romans 8 from a Gideon Bible. I affirmed to the man that yes indeed, that is exactly how God looks at us.

We spent the next 30-40 minutes we walked through Romans 6 and 5 looking at how the work of Christ brings us into a righteous relationship with God the Father by grace through faith. This couple were very committed Roman Catholics, and in ten minutes of read Romans 8 this man unlocked the gospel and it blew his mind.

We talked, I performed by rite, I prayed for the couple and I left. As I drove home to get my first cup of coffee for the day, as I was driving it I was reminded of  the absolute necessity of he Reformation, and the recovery of the Gospel. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation which included the publishing of the Bible in the common language of the people all over Europe. Thank God for Christ, Salvation by grace and the Holy Bible.

Semper Reformanda!