“Visiting the Sick” is not just a corporal work of mercy, but a regular occurrence for priests – praying with the hospitalized and their families, administering the sacraments of Reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick, answering tough questions about God and Heaven, and being an overall source of comfort and hope. The interactions that take place in hospital rooms, waiting rooms, and tiny chapels can have a profound impact on everyone involved, but how can these holy men handle so many difficult interactions in one day? How do they know what to say?
Mundelein seminarians get on-the-job training through the Clinical Pastoral Education internship or similar hospital experience, as in the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Spending their days (and many nights) on call as hospital chaplains, the seminarians minister to people in health crises alongside students and ministers of many other faiths, all unified in their mission of loving support.
“It’s exciting but at the same time unnerving,” said Deacon Dominic Couturier (Theology IV, Grand Rapids). “I have realized how much trust I need to put in the Holy Spirit’s guidance when entering a patient’s room.”
The value of CPE is important enough that it is an official requirement for a Master’s in Divinity, the degree each seminarian receives upon completion of our formation program.
Deacon Couturier, Michael Lingaur (Theology III, Gaylord), and Deacon Danny Orris (Theology IV, Grand Rapids) have spent the last eight weeks at Mercy Health in Grand Rapids, learning from experienced ministers and hospital administrators, concentrating on patient engagement while receiving feedback from peers and teachers. Through this daily interaction and analysis, seminarians develop new awareness of themselves as ministers and of the needs of the people they visit.
“The chance to just sit and be with the patients has been very rewarding,” Lingaur said. “Hearing their stories and sharing in their lives helps to remind us why we are pushing ourselves so hard on our journey to the eternal priesthood.”
Being entrusted with the deep fears and hopes of both patients and their families is a practical application of what these men have been learning about their ministry as priests. The parallels between delicate conversations in a confessional and those at a hospital bedside are clear. Reflecting theologically on specific human situations, the seminarians gain a new understanding of ministry and develop skills in interpersonal, ecumenical, and inter-professional relationships.
“I see how sacred and holy each patient is. It doesn’t matter what religion, gender, or race – all are created in the image and likeness of God,” Deacon Couturier said. “Entering into details of a patient’s suffering and concerns and questions about the future has improved my listening skills, awareness and sensitivity. Ministering to these men and women at the hospital has helped prepare me for administering the sacrament of Reconciliation.”
While the physical battles are obvious, the patients are also facing spiritual challenges. The pain of human suffering can tempt people to despair, but the glory of Christ’s suffering is the ultimate symbol of hope, and a common subject in patient-seminarian interactions.
“I witness people who don’t know what to do with their suffering and pain, and the enemy wants to keep them in confusion,” Deacon Couturier said. “But because there is immense grace in redemptive suffering, I enjoy revealing to these patients the Church’s beautiful teaching on how they are united to Christ,” Deacon Couturier said.
We continue to pray for all the men and women who are suffering, and for our seminarians, priests, and ministers of other faiths currently sharing Christ’s love and peace with them.
Photos provided by the Diocese of Grand Rapids, used with permission.