A Time to Speak — Are you called to share your love with the sick?

By Father Bryan Lamberson

When I pray grace before meals, I include an intercession that those who don’t have God’s blessings in the same measure as I do — “those who haven’t enough to eat, have no place to lay their head, and especially, have no one to call them friend” — not be forgotten in God’s plan.

While physical hunger is one type of poverty, the poverty of walking through life without friends is, for most people, more a kind of spiritual starvation. This truth becomes even more apparent when one is facing the crisis of illness.

As a hospital chaplain, I am acutely aware of this dynamic. It’s even more apparent today, an era when families rarely live close together, medical advances see us outliving our contemporaries and parish membership has been declining. Recently compiled data reveal that nearly 60 percent of self-identified Catholics in hospitals have no parish affiliation. All of these factors contribute to a sense that one is alone in illness and underscore the need for sustenance of the spirit.

This need for spiritual nourishment is being met, in part, by a dedicated group of Catholic volunteer hospital ministers. They are participants in the Befriender Hospital Ministry, a collaborative project of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s pastoral care ministries in the Office of Family Ministries and the Spiritual Care departments of area hospitals. These volunteers are trained to be a supportive presence to hospitalized Catholics and help them connect with the spiritual resources the faith has to offer its hurting members.

Befrienders aren’t eucharistic ministers, nor are they chaplains, as such. Those are specific roles within health care ministry with a specific focus.

Befrienders are lay men and women who believe they’ve been called to share the love of Christ with others and have been trained in how best to do so. A theological degree isn’t a prerequisite to serve in this ministry, but a heart touched by the love of Jesus and a willingness to share that gift with others is.

The Befrienders I work with at Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital and Jewish Hospital find that their own faith is nourished in encounters with the sick, relating that it’s a kind of spiritual paradox — getting far more than they give in the exchange.

This ministry is not for everyone (1 Cor 12:4), but every disciple has an obligation in faith to play the part assigned them in the building of God’s kingdom on earth (1 Peter 4:10.)

Starting in June of 2010, the church has been inundated with a focus on “The New Evangelization.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI hoped to “promote a renewed evangelization” in countries where the church has long existed “but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.’ ” You may have seen how this initiative is being pursued through programs in the archdiocese and your parish.

But if it’s true, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill stated, that “all politics is local,” then it follows that all genuine faith-sharing is personal. Since the time of Christ, faith has always been handed on through personal encounters.

If you feel that the Lord may be calling you to respond to the call for a new era of Catholic evangelization, sharing your love and your faith with the sick and suffering, contact Michelle Herberger, coordinator of Pastoral Care Ministries in the Family Ministries Office, at 636-0296 or mherberger@archlou.org.

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