Chaplains use Golden Rule to respond to those in need
Dr. Honora A. Norton
Special to Arizona Republic USA TODAY NETWORK
Key to service as a chaplain is the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is how you want to be treated if you were in a distress situation. A Chaplain responds to needs and wishes, offers comfort, provides advice and counsel, and supports people with their spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
Chaplains offer public prayers, provide pastoral care and are available in the mil-itary, federal prisons, the Veterans Administration, the Senate, the House of Representatives and in health-care organizations, including hospice and nursing home settings.
Fortune 500 companies have engaged chaplains through employee assistance programs. Chaplains are present at ports and airports, with professional sports teams, social-service organizations (i.e., Red Cross); and even at veterinary hospitals caring for pets and their humans during challenging times. While Catholics naturally think of priests as chaplains, lay people, women in consecrated life, and pastors from other faiths serve in the field. The National Association of Catholic Chaplains advocates for the profession of Catholic spiritual care and educates, certifies, and supports chaplains, clinical pastoral educators, and all who continue the healing ministry of Jesus in the name of the Church.
Catholic chaplains look on their work as a labor of love and find it rewarding. Chaplaincy lets Catholic pastors interact with people and other professionals that they cannot in their work as pastors.
Engaging chaplains is on the rise, especially through health-care organizations. During the pandemic, chaplains have bravely and tirelessly stepped up and provided spiritual care, listening ears and support to patients, families, doctors, and nurses; and have found new ways to care for the sick in hospitals, and at nursing homes and collaborate with police, firefighters, and other first responders.
Catholic hospital chaplains are especially inspirational. Whether virtually or in person, they have persevered to bring spiritual care and sacramental support to critically ill and dying COVID-19 patients while also providing a pastoral presence to families and health care workers at the heart of the crisis.
Catholic priest chaplains have connected family
members to loved ones and were with families when doctors told them good news and bad. Priests have said Mass by closed-circuit television, even at the height of the pandemic, offering the prayer for spiritual communion as a way for distanced faithful to participate in Eucharist. Early on when hospitals were shutting down to visitors, Catholic priest chaplains recognized it would be important for people who were in danger of death from COVID to receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick.
Catholic chaplains have found it humbling to be able to pray with the sick, blessing them with the sign of the cross on their forehead and hands, even to know if they were not able to respond that they were able to feel God’s presence. Chaplains changed their usual ways of working to adapt to safety protocols. Instead of holding patients’ hands or hugging them as they once did, they often are only able to talk using an iPad outside the patient’s room, stand in a doorway or look through a window of a patient’s room often from a 6-foot distance and behind layers of personal protective equipment.
The work of the chaplain will not go back to normal when the pandemic is eventually over. Chaplains will do tele chaplaincy and need to be prepared to keep up an almost unrelenting pace to address people who will still be depressed and anxious.
By following the Golden Rule, Catholic chaplains experience a sense of grace in accompanying so many in this pandemic however they could. Let us be thankful for their ministry.
Dr. Honora A. Norton is a former Catholic Charities Community Services Board Chair and Emeritus Board Member, Golden Rule Partner as well as a lifelong Roman Catholic and Gilbert resident.