Marginalized Bring Gifts to Parish Community
posted on 03/06/99 01:29 pm by Fr. Mark Miller, C.Ss.R.
Prairie Messenger June, 1999 Mark Miller, C.Ss.R., Ph.D. On a cold day in February, after several days of wind, snow and blizzard-like conditions, an elderly man was admitted to the emergency department of a city hospital. He was extremely weak, pale, confused and disoriented. Extensive tests revealed a simple diagnosis: dehydration and probable malnutrition. This man lived alone in an apartment on the top floor of a three-story walkup. When the snow storm began, he was already short on groceries, but he decided to wait out the storm before attempting to go to the store. As the storm raged on, the cold discouraged him from leaving his apartment until all that remained was a bit of tea. Eventually, weakened by the lack of nourishment, he took to his bed and soon lacked the energy even to take a sip of water. Because he was a quiet and unassuming man, his neighbours thought nothing of not seeing him for several days. Fortunately, one worried neighbour realized the man had not been to church the previous day and when she could not reach him, called the landlord. An ambulance brought him to the hospital where he stayed for five days to get his strength back. The cost of the medical care that he received would have been far better spent on ensuring that this man did not become ill in the first place. However, modern medicine— and our society’s priorities— are still very much focussed on repairing injury and curing illness. We are only slowly learning to see our health within a larger perspective, that of “living a healthy lifestyle” rather than responding to an illness. Of course, this illness centred medicine is compounded by another problem in our society., namely, our strong individualism. It is simply expected by the majority of our society that every person ought to be independent and self-sustaining. This philosophy conveniently overlooks how interdependent we really are. We need one another in order to be somewhat independent. Unfortunately, the weak and vulnerable are often overlooked in such a society. Or, worse, they are “assessed” as an economic liability, because they can’t look after themselves. Jean Vanier, in his book Becoming Human, points out that weakness is simply a part of the human condition, something we all participate in one way or another during our lifetime. “Our lives are a mystery of growth from weakness to weakness, from the weakness of the little baby to the weakness of the aged. Throughout our lives, we are prone to fatigue, sickness, and accidents. Weakness is at the heart of each one of us. Weakness becomes a place of chaos and confusion if in our weakness we are not wanted; it becomes a place of peace and joy if we are accepted, listened to, appreciated and loved.” This last line is often forgotten in an individualistic society. Mother Teresa also took pains to point out the single great disease of our society. Loneliness. Disconnectedness. Separation. And the answer to this world of lost and lonely individuals is not Hollywood’s romantic love (for the young and beautiful!), but a loving and caring and sacrificing community. A loving community. What do we mean by that? Let us look at an example. A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She needed immediate surgery. Needless to say, her life as well as the lives of her family and friends became topsy-turvy. In the midst of this tragic drama, A couple of her friends from her church community organized a prayer service and an ongoing prayer circle for daily prayer. Her husband was given unconditional support in getting to and from the hospital. After the surgery she returned home, weak and dreading the upcoming chemotherapy. Meals were organized and delivered daily. Visits were carefully controlled (and mostly foregone) to keep her from tiring out; but she knew that there was tremendous support all around her. Two comments struck me as this community rallied around her. She told me simply, “I had no idea I was so loved!” And one of those who joined in the prayers and the meal-making said, “I always worried that if I got sick, I would be abandoned and on my own. Now I know that in this community people will be there for me.” This is a community of faith and love in action. However, the community was there before she became ill. In the case of the elderly man, the community was not in place, at least, not carefully enough. What I believe we need in our society is a renewed sense of our fundamental interdependence out of which we become healing communities. This is what Jesus asked us to be— parts of one another and being particularly conscious of the weak and vulnerable. In an individualistic society, the weak and vulnerable are usually made invisible. In the Christian community, they should be at the heart of our care. A parish community ought to be aplace of care, a place where the healing hands and face of Jesus are apparent to all. When we Christians, however, absorb the values of our society, like individualism, we tend to become invisible to one another. The parish becomes a gas station, rather than a community. We can change our parishes through a conscious effort i.e. an awareness of and a committment to our parish as a healing community. This will require some careful organization and in my next column I will outline the program prepared by the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan called the Parish Home Ministry of Care program. To become a healing community, we need first tp open our eyes and see those on the margins of our parish communities. Then we need to open our hearts to all that the weak and marginalized give back to us.