I have revulsion to hospitals. It’s the smell, the wheelchairs, the nurses’ green outfits, the medicines and moans. Even the flowers and balloons in the gift shop seem sickly and artificially happy. I know, of course, that hospitals are places where the sick are made healthy, where new life takes place, where hope abides. Nevertheless, I dread hospitals.
Perhaps that is why my wife recommended that I take a year off from retreat ministry and join her in hospital ministry. Anxious though I felt, I agreed. I contacted a fellow deacon, a chaplain at a local hospital. He agreed to let us follow along in his daily routine. Throughout the year, we prayed with the very old who knew they were dying. We heard to the cries of the very young who didn’t understand pain and simply wanted to go home. We heard the loudspeaker calling out emergency in room 23a. We gave communion to those who needed nourishment beyond that of hospital food. As much as we may have blessed the sick, they blessed us by their patience and hope and courage.
By the year’s end, however, I admit I felt relieved. My year of hospital ministry was over. I must admit, too, that I felt virtuous and rather proud of myself.
Today’s gospel is almost rude in its bluntness for those, like myself, who may harbor heroic self-opinions. Jesus’ words are cold water splashed in my face. Snap out of it. I was doing only that which I was expected to do: to serve others – without regard to whether I disliked it or enjoyed it, whether I found enrichment or not. I ministered to the hospital sick because that’s where I was needed. Period.
We all are called to serve one another, even when we don’t feel like it. It’s never a matter of feeling. It’s a matter of calling.
And after we have done what is commanded of us, our evening prayer should be one of humble gratitude: “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what we were obliged to do.”
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.