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“The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…And you have to start from the ground up.” – Pope Francis.
I had first imagined writing an article specific to the ongoing epidemic of gun violence. However, as Pope Francis reminds us, we need to treat the symptoms and wounds inflicted on the People of God – that’s everyone! – to bring healing and wholeness, to help every person know the love of God, who not only heals and restores but invites us to claim and live our unique personhood in service of others.
Regular hospitals generally do a great job of healing people physically, and many staff, particularly nurses, are great at treating the whole patient, body, mind, and spirit.
Our churches, however, can create safe and welcoming spaces with the ongoing treatment of faith, prayer, Scriptural reflection, community fellowship, and worship. Churches also offer pastoral accompaniment by a church community that can heal the grief of wounds and trauma and brings restoration to mind, heart, and spirit.
Not only that, our churches can then engage those who are healed to become ‘Jesus’ staff’ of the field hospital, offering support within the church community, but more importantly, in our daily ministry of accompaniment in the world – with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates and any other person God places on our daily path who needs our unique support.
A field hospital is a place of healing, nourishment, replenishment, and a weekly waystation to allow the Lord to rejuvenate and restore us in body, mind, and spirit. In the Catholic Christian tradition, that replenishment comes through hospitality, the reflection on the Sacred Scripture, spirit-stirring music, weekly nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion, and the collective prayer and support of the gathered community.
The staff and volunteers in the field hospital need to do everything to assure their ongoing well-being in body, mind, and spirit, but always with a focus and mission, not focused solely (soul-ly) on the well-being of ‘regular patients’ and visitors to the field hospital, but always, with the Spirit of God’s ever outflowing love, to prepare ‘the regulars’ for the ministry of compassion, generosity, forgiveness, mercy and communal accompaniment in their homes, workplaces, schools, and the greater community, wherever their daily lives and God’s spirit carries them.
Besides the challenge of gun violence, domestic violence, and the verbal and physical abuse of children and youth, the church, at its best, provides a space and place to break the isolation that often accompanies each of these forms of violence. Those affected by these types of violence and trauma often fall deeper into physical and emotional isolation. The church, at its best, provides a space that invites people out of that isolation into the loving embrace of a supportive community open and prepared to accompany those who feel alone in their pain and trauma. This comes from the heart of God, from the heart of our Scriptures, and hearts connected to the Heart of All Hearts – for us as Christians, Jesus Christ.
Gun Violence Statistics:
- More than two-thirds of gun violence is suicide. And it’s growing to 40,000 Americans in 2018 and to the leading cause of death for teens.
- More Americans have died from gun violence than in all American wars combined.
- Three-quarters of all U.S. murders in 2017 – 14,542 out of 19,510 – involved a firearm. (Pew Research)
- The 39,773 total gun deaths in 2017 were the most since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online data. This was slightly
more than the 39,595 gun deaths recorded in the prior peak year of 1993. (Pew Research)
- While 2017 saw the highest number of gun deaths in the U.S., this statistic does not consider the nation’s growing population. On a per-capita basis, there were 12 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2017 – the highest rate in more than two decades. (Pew Research)
- 41% of adolescents in gun-owning households report having “easy access” to the guns in their homes. (Simonetti JA, Mackelprang JL, Rowhani-Rahbar A., Zatxick D., Rivara FP, Psychiatric comorbidity suicidality, and in-home firearm access among a nationally representative sample of adolescents, JAMA Psychiatry; 2015;72(2);152-159)
- In incidents of gunfire on school grounds, 78% of shooters under age 18 obtained the gun(s) from their homes or the homes of relatives or friends. (Everytown for Gun Safety)
- 22% of Americans own firearms. Only 3% own half the guns. (NPR)
- 4.6 million American children live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked. (Journal of Urban Health)
- One million women have been killed by their partners, and a firearm in the home increase the likelihood of a woman being killed by five times – American women are 21 times more likely to die by firearm-related homicide than in other high-income countries.
Take the time to watch this video if possible. In many ways, it speaks to the heart of the church as a field hospital.
Written by Fr. Larry Dowling, Pastor, St. Agatha
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of bertknot‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Maryland GovPics‘ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of bertknot‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License