Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Final "arrest" ....

Ring! Ring!
"Hello, Fr Speekman."
"Yeah, hello, are you the Catholic chaplain?"
"Yes, I am."
"Oh, good. Right. Well, I'm Jason, a nurse on 12 West 1 and I have a patient here who's failing fast. The family would like you to come in as soon as possible and read him his Last Rights."
"No problem, Jason. I'll be there in 10 minutes."
"Cool. Thanks."

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Gospel of Nice ...

Jesus shared with his disciples, "I am the Nice Shepherd. I never say no to my sheep. They love me and I love them and I do anything they want. When the wolf comes I smile and say hello and welcome him into the flock because my flock is inclusive and welcoming.

Other shepherds are not nice. They are divisive and bullying. They have rules for the sheep. They do not accept the wolf and do not let the sheep play with him. I am the Nice Shepherd. I lay down for the sheep and the wolf. They love me lots and call me by my first name.

We love ourselves and we form community. We do not like those other sheep who are not inclusive and will not play with the wolf. We do not have them in our flock. We call them names and show them they are unwelcome because they are not welcoming like us."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Follow the leader ..

In a study (1966-1974) to determine the degree to which subjects were willing to inflict pain on another individual simply because they had been directed to do so by an authority figure, Stanley Milgram found that nearly two thirds complied completely.

Yep, that would be spot on, exactly spot on. Two thirds!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Not only the patients need to be patient ..

A hospital chaplain needs to have thick skin, patience and a healthy sense of humour.

On my rounds one day I bumped into two men in their hospital gowns and bare feet chatting at the door of their ward. They were new admissions in for a few days of tests before possible heart surgery. I passed by in my 'blacks' and Roman collar and gave a cheery 'Good morning'. Instead of answering they looked me up and down with some disdain, computed that I was of no relevance to them, and continued chatting.

It was the same the next day though on the third one of them managed the tiniest 'G'day' from the corner of his mouth. On the fourth day they were both trapped in their adjoining beds with the "Nil By Mouth" sign dangling above their heads. They were not happy. I approached the first one and said 'Operation today?' 'Yeah, mate .. er .. Father.'

'Don't worry, these heart procedures are nothing these days. They're just routine. You'll be right,' and before he could answer, 'Where are you from?'

'Dubbo.' 'Oh, the good country. I love that sort of country, almost outback. Let me give you a blessing before your op.' What could he do but say 'Ok'?

So I put my hand on his head and prayed. His friend in the other bed didn't have the heart to refuse my offer of a blessing, most of his energy was going into the pre-op jitters.

Next day they were there in ICU - looking like two wounded rabbits. Each had a big vertical scar down the middle of his chest and each was clutching a towel folded up against the suture. They were not in a good mood and suffering considerably. I knew not to start joking around, gave them a quick blessing and left.

The next two days saw big improvements, there were no complications and the pain left their eyes. 'Can I give you a blessing this morning?' 'Sure thing, Father.'

The last time I saw them was back in the Coronary Care Unit. I was walking past their room to check the names on the board and they called out 'Hey, Father, you've forgotten the blessing!' 'No, I haven't, I was just getting the list from the board.' We talked for a good while that day. They knew they were going and would probably never see me again but we were almost friends. There was a warmth in that room, an understanding - I might even say, the Holy Spirit.

Church-weary ..

In his book A New Song For The Lord, Pope Benedict begins his second chapter with the following words:

To a large extent it is characteristic of the situation of faith and theology in Europe today that people are weary of the Church.

Weary of the Church - arresting, simple and so true. Every day I meet people in my work as hospital chaplain whose eyes glaze over when they see the priest. They are not interested in Church or the things or people of Church. They will say: Jesus yes, the Church no.

Pope Benedict sheds light on this modern phenomenon by first identifying it as a christological and not an ecclesiological problem. He maintains that what people are really saying is: Jesus yes, Christ no or Jesus yes, Son of God no

Modern man is hungry for Jesus but only for the man, not for the Son of God, or what the Church or the Gospels say about him.

His human side touches us; the profession that he is God's only-begotten Son merely seems to alienate him from us, to transpose him into the inaccessible, the unreal and to surrender him simultaneously to the management of ecclesiastical authority. Separating Jesus and Christ is at the same time separating Jesus and the Church: Christ is left to the Church since he seems to be her handiwork; in shoving Christ aside one hopes to win Jesus and with him a new form of freedom, of "redemption."

The Pope, of course, goes on to describe very exactly how things got to be like this and it's rather interesting. I'll come back to the topic another time.

Doggerel or duckerel .. ?

Sometimes on worms
my duck will snack
and juicy escargots
toss back
and even little frogs
go in
till it canardly
(23 Feb '08)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mamma mia!

The phone rang. 1am. Groan! Could I come to the hospital? Sergio (not his name) was dying. I'll be there in 15 minutes.

It was not an unpleasant walk to the hospital - a warm night, the street busy with students going to or coming back from the pub, heading to their respective colleges. I made my way through the night entry door with my swipe card - silent corridors, a lift which immediately responded to the press of the button, another silent corridor on the 8th floor. I walked quickly to room 18 and knocked, pushing the door open.

Suddenly a hand on my chest - Sergio's wife, pushing me back out. 'Oh, Father, thank you for coming. You can't go in.' 'Oh?' 'Yes, you can't go in, Sergio will think he's dying'. 'Really? So I can't go in? But you did call me, didn't you?' 'Yes, I did, I panicked.' 'Ok, so what do you want me to do? Let me go in and give him the Sacraments.' 'Oooh, no! Please, Father!' 'Ok, so what do you want me to do?' 'I'm sorry, Father, please just go home.'

[I know, you think I'm making this up, don't you? Well, I'm not!]

It was an equally pleasant walk back to the presbytery and I imagined my bed was still warm in parts. Soon I was back in slumber land.

Ring! Ring! Oh no. Hello. The nurse put Maria on. 'Yes, Maria, I'll come at once. Sorry to hear that Sergio is dead.' The clock showed 5am.

Now the street was different - colder, some traffic, no pedestrians except for me.

This time I was met at the door. Maria was in tears. About 15 family members stood around the bed. I gave Absolution and the Plenary Indulgence and anointed Sergio's strangely cold forehead.

On the way out, curious, I asked the nurse to check the chart for time of death. 3am!

Whose sickness is it?

As a hospital chaplain I see sickness all the time. In every bed I visit there lies a story of discomfort, suffering, or even death.

To a certain extent one needs to detach, actually - to a large extent - and tell oneself: this is not my sickness, this is not my suffering, this is not my death.

I have spoken to various people who can't do this, who can't detach. Some of them feel guilty and imagine some sort of 'obligation' to suffer along with the patient. Others just won't go into the room for a visit because it causes them too much distress to see someone else's pain.

After all this time I've come to recognise that I experience most distress when called to visit a couple who lose a child before or at birth. This defeats my best efforts to detach and I often find myself weeping along with the parents.

Having said all this let me share with you an experience I occasionally have when celebrating the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

After all the appropriate prayers are said there comes the time for the priest to anoint.

I dip my thumb in the oil and then reaching out my arm and placing my thumb on the forehead of the sick person I sometimes feel I am 'claiming' him as my brother. In fact, more than that, I sometimes have the impression I am anointing myself. Isn't that curious?

It's as though the two of us were really 'one' body and my arm, the healthy part of the body, were reaching out and anointing him, the sick part of my own body.

For a split second the sick person and I are one. For a split second his sickness is mine and my health is his.

St Paul had a lot to say about us all being part of the one body and maybe this is just a little glimpse into the truth of this reality which is usually hidden from us.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

All too much ..

One of the things I don't like about the Catholic Church is the poor communication.

I mean, why should I have to learn from one of the teachers at the school that it's no longer a sin to miss Mass on Sunday if it's a bit inconvenient to go? And why should the sacristan have to update me about people not needing to go to confession anymore. They could have mentioned it at the Priests' Inservice last month. And how embarrassing to have to be corrected by the Religious Education Coordinator for using the word 'sin' in my homily! Apparently we are supposed to say 'moving away from God's love' now. She might have left it till after the staff meeting instead of making such a big deal of it.

It's all too much for me. Why hasn't the bishop said anything? Yesterday I discovered, from one of the good Sisters from over the road that I've been wasting my time encouraging Eucharistic Adoration. Apparently they've decided it's much better to adore God at home.

What puzzles me, though, is that no one can tell me where I can get a list of these new teachings. Surely Rome must have put out something! My guess is that it's an update to the Catechism.

I asked, silly me, at the Liturgy Meeting and at the Parents and Friends and got what I deserved. I said I was wondering if anyone had any document from Rome or any information at all about the new teachings that had come out. Well, you should have seen the amazement on their faces! It was like they had been practising for a moment like this because they all looked at me in utter disbelief and said, 'Dear me, "John", everybody knows the Church has moved on!'

I can tell you I felt like a real dill. Just wait till I see the bishop next .. I'll tell him to get his act into gear and start informing his priests about all these changes to Church teaching.

(NB - all characters mentioned above are entirely fictional and do not refer to you or anyone you might know, or any of their relatives or friends.)

Sue and Brian, are you out there?

I was driving my nephew somewhere. I hadn't really spent any time with him for many years except seeing him when I went to visit his father and mother. It was nice being alone in the car with him. He was about 23 years old.

At one point he asked me about Sue and Brian. I said 'Sue and Brian, who are they?' He said "You asked us to pray for them years ago?'

Sue and Brian? Sue and Brian? I asked them to pray for Sue and Brian?

Tiny bells started ringing in my head. 'How long ago did I ask you to pray for them?'

'When I was a little kid. You came to visit one day and asked us to remember a couple called Sue and Brian who were having some sort of difficulty. You were in such-and-such a parish.'

'But that was over ten years ago! And you've been praying all this time?'

'We all have, every night, at Rosary time. We pray for vocations and then for Sue and Brian.'

I couldn't believe it. And though I kept asking myself 'Who the hell are Sue and Brian?' the bells in my head were not getting any louder.

Anyway, somewhere in Australia there is a very lucky couple who have had 7 people praying for them for over ten years. And I still can't remember them, or what the problem was.

They never pointed out your sin ..

The visions your prophets had
on your behalf
were delusive,
tinsel things,
they never pointed out
your sin,
to ward off
your exile.
The visions they proffered you
were false,

[Lamentations 2:14]

A thought on Lectio Divina

The best fruit of
meditating on,
and contemplating
the Word of God
is that
we begin
to believe it.


I was doing my prayer time and the question 'What does prayer do for you?' popped into my head.

The answer was immediate and unexpected: Prayer pushes back the darkness.

So what does prayer do for you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Correction ...

In my experience one of the clearest indicators of a person's overall maturity is the manner in which he or she accepts and deals with correction. Today there is a notion, as false as it is popular, that correction, however gently given, is really bullying and mistreatment. Thank God for the man and woman who receives the word of correction with a humble and docile heart; may I be like them.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Narrow Door

Let me tell you what happened in the parish where I supplied some years ago. It was my fifth Sunday there and I had two more Sundays to go. They had no parish priest and it was gratifying for me to be there as people generally appreciated my preaching over the previous weeks and made me really welcome.

The gospel was most challenging that Sunday.
  • Sir, will there be only a few saved?
  • Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door, saying, "Lord, open to us" but he will answer, 'I do not know where you come from’.
  • Away from me, all you wicked men!
  • Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, ..

All was going fine as I read:
  • And men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
I said to the congregation: And that is what you have done this morning, from your farms and houses, from east and west, north and south, you have come to take your place at this feast on the altar of our Mass. You are rehearsing for eternity, when you will take your place around the banquet feast in the Kingdom. Well done!

And these seats here, these empty seats, they belong for the most part to people who have decided not to take their place. People who are hurt, who have lost hope, who are discouraged .. and it is our task, to go out and find these people, to give them hope, to encourage them.

So far, so good - approving looks, nods of the head, smiles, but then:

It is so important for us to meet each Sunday for the Eucharist, to take our place, to turn up for practice, that the Church teaches that anyone who deliberately and knowingly, for no good reason, fails in their obligation to attend Mass, commits a grave sin, a mortal sin.

There is a movie called The Day After Tomorrow which begins with a scene depicting a crack, a huge split suddenly forming in the arctic ice sheet right under the feet of the main characters. That is what happened in that church the moment I mentioned Sunday Mass obligation.

I noticed the community ‘leader’, and her husband exchange disapproving looks. One of the parishioners mouthed the words ‘Bullsh-t!'. Two friends who were visiting me and who had come to Mass said: Father, the moment you mentioned the Sunday Mass obligation, and mortal sin, the lady behind us just groaned!

I was terribly upset after Mass. A parishioner came over to me and said, Father, you should learn to use more carrot and less stick, and walked away.

Less stick! That man felt I had hit him! Others might call it bullying or harassing.

After Mass I unvested and on my way to the car noticed that man standing nearby. I went over and said: N., you may not want to talk to me but maybe we should chat a bit about what I said in the homily.’ He said: Father, you made all of us who had missed Mass feel that we were in mortal sin. Anticipating my response he added: Yes, yes, I know you did say deliberately and knowingly.

He then went on to say: Look, I miss Sunday Mass. Sometimes I have things to do .. and I sometimes go to the Anglicans and celebrate with them. And now I read in that new document that I shouldn’t do that either! Some people want to take us back to a point in time that has long passed.

He was very angry. His face was flushed and his mouth trembling. He told me we were turning people away and excluding them. He gave me an example of a lady who was divorced and remarried outside the Church - ‘she would dearly love to come to Mass and Communion but we are excluding her.’ Finally his wife came and they left, very angry.

I got into the car with my friends and we talked. I was so distressed. I imagined the bishop of the diocese saying ‘Well, he’s managed to upset the parish in only five weeks! Ineffective ministry!’

My friends knew immediately how I was feeling. One of them said: Do you know why they were so angry, Father? They suddenly discovered they might be on the wrong side of that door Jesus was speaking about. They thought they were inside and your homily caused them to fear it might not be so. Isn’t that what a good homily should do? I would say that was a very effective homily because you brought them the true teaching of the Church.

I asked them if I had said it too callously, accusingly, strongly? They assured me that I had nothing to worry about there. It was not the way you said it, Father, it was what you said. They have been going in and out of the wide door for so long they didn’t like you narrowing it.

A priest friend of mine once said to me: You are a John the Baptist, he didn’t know how to tell the message either! And neither did Jesus, apparently!

It makes me wonder, if only John the Baptist and Jesus, and St Stephen the first martyr had attended a personal relationship course, or a tactful preaching course, perhaps they wouldn’t have made so many enemies.

Well, I am content. Preaching unpopular truths will always provoke opposition, that is what happens when you try to evangelise a culture, and I believe that to be a sign of its effectiveness.

My sister said to me the same morning: So many priests think their job is to get people to come to Church so they can have full churches, and then forget that they have souls to be saved.

This thought echoed a recurring suspicion of mine. Perhaps the popular, easy going, crisis-free, uncontroversial ministry of so many priests in the contemporary 'liberal' Catholic Church is less a sign of effectiveness than of an unacknowledged scandal.