Work among sick inspired future ministry as deacon

| Deacon Mickey Friesen | February 1, 2011 | 0 Comments

Pope Benedict XVI carries the Eucharist during Mass marking World Day of the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 11, 2010. The relics of St. Bernadette Soubirous, right, sat in front of the altar during the service. Lourdes and St. Bernadette have been associated with the sick and healing for more than 150 years. CNS photo / Paul Haring

One of the most memorable ex­periences I had as a young man discerning my vocation was the time I spent at the Our Lady of Good Counsel Free Cancer Home in St. Paul, now part of the Fran­cis­can Health Community.

It is a place for those living with terminal illness to spend their final days in relative peace and comfort, surrounded by the loving support of caring brothers and sisters.

I spent most of my time washing dishes on the weekends or helping with maintenance during the summer. One year, I got to volunteer to feed some of the patients and was assigned to a woman named Gert­rude. She suffered from a massive stroke that paralyzed her on one side of her body and cancer was slowly taking over her entire body.

She rarely had visits from anyone and would just helplessly lie in her bed and look out the window. Des­pite her broken and dying body, Gertrude glowed with joy and gratitude for her life, for chocolate pudding, for my visit, for the chance to bless the pureed food she was about to eat. I felt loved and close to God in her presence.

Gertrude had a big impact on my faith and call to ministry. My experience in the cancer home gave me a glimpse into something very holy.

Jesus healed the sick

There is nothing more Christian than ministry with the sick. Jesus’ mission was defined by his healing of the sick, the possessed, the outcaste and the sinner. When he first sent the disciples out, the Bible says, “He gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2).

There is good evidence from the first centuries showing that one of the biggest attractions to Chris­tia­n­ity was the way Christians cared for the sick and vulnerable. Stories are told of Christians caring for the sick, the needy and victims of widespread epidemics who were not members of their family, faith or cultural group.

They showed a respect for all people that was contrary to the brutal norms of the Roman Empire. They believed that this love and care for the sick, despite the risks, was a way to be close to Christ crucified in their midst and a foretaste of heaven.

This early movement of healthcare and hospitality was further developed in the monasteries and convents in the Middle Ages. We are all beneficiaries of this ethic of Christian charity.

Sick also provide ministry

The other unique dimension of Christian mission with the sick is that the sick themselves give a special witness to Christ. We anoint the sick and the dying sacramentally because, in a profound way, they reveal the presence of Christ crucified, who is in solidarity with them.

Suffering in the Christian tradition is profoundly meaningful. In our culture of chronic doing and producing, the sick and the dying teach us something about the value of presence, living within our limits and patience.

Pope John Paul II declared Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, as a world wide day for the sick. It highlights the essential Christian mission with the sick in our world and acknowledges the vocation of those who bear pain and suffer in body, mind and spirit.

Pope John Paul was no stranger to pain as he spent his final years in decline and suffering, on display for the world to see. Despite his profound teaching and missionary travels, it may be the way he made his final journey to God that he taught us the most about God’s mission of love. Soon he will be beatified as a saint.

Beneath the current politics of health care reform and the important debate around how to care for the sick, the elderly, the dying and the vulnerable, let us receive our baptismal call as Christians who are sent in Jesus’ name to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2).

Deacon Mickey Friesen is director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission.

Students: Tell us how to follow Jesus

The Center for Mission invites students in the archdiocese to enter its 2011 Writing Contest. The theme is “Jesus is our best example of how to participate in God’s mission of bringing wholeness and goodness to those who are broken or suffering in our world. Jesus eased the suffering of others through his words and his deeds. Afterward, people felt more whole and able to become the loving and loved person that God intended. This was the mission of Jesus.”

Answer the question: “How can we follow the example of Jesus’ mission in the world today?”

» Division I: Grades 1-3. Com­plete the phrase, “We can follow the example of Jesus’ mission by ___”  and draw a picture on 8.5-by-11-inch paper to illustrate it.

» Division II: Grades 4-6. Essay, up to 250 words, answering the theme question. Must be typed or neatly printed.

» Division III: Grades 7-9. Essay, up to 500 words, answering the theme question. Must be typed.

» Division IV: Grades 10-12. Essay, up to 500 words, answering the theme question. Must be typed.

Prizes: Divisions I and II, $50 each; Divisions III and IV, $100 each.

Requirements: All entries must be on 8.5-by-11-inch paper with your name, grade, Catholic School and/ or parish name. Entries will be ac­cep­ted through March 9. Submit by postal mail (postmarked no later than March 9), or e-mail with Word document attachment (received at the Center for Mission by 11:59 p.m. March 9). Winners will be announ­ced by Easter, April 24. All submissions become the property of the Center for Mission. Entries not in com­pliance may be disqualified.

Mail: Writing Contest, Center for Mission, 328 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102.
E-mail: with “Writing Contest” in the subject line.

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Category: Mission Link