Catholic church symbols, used with a Catholic prayer, helped me minister as a healthcare chaplain to a dying Catholic veteran, resulting in spiritual reconciliation.
As a Hospice Chaplain, I often looked for any indicator of faith when visiting patients. On one particular day, there was a crucifix hanging on the wall that clarified the faith of the patient I was seeing.
Usually the patient has already indicated what faith group he or she is a part of when they were interviewed before coming on service. On this particular hospice pastoral care visit, my paperwork indicated just that: religion or church preference - "Catholic".
But even if no faith affiliation had been indicated on the hospice patient intake form, one specific Catholic church symbol gave me a clue as to the patient's faith-group affiliation.
Preparing for ministry to the Catholic clients that were listed on our hospice health care forms meant a shopping trip to purchase Catholic church supplies, helping me minister to them more effectively.
The easiest way to locate a meaningful faith item was on the internet. So I did my online shopping by going to Amazon where I found Catholic Supplies to minister to patients who were Catholics.
I had begun online shopping when I was Chaplain at Polinsky Children's Center. I often bought a collection of Catholic Church symbols, such as crucifixes or Catholic Bibles, and other Catholic church supplies, in order to minister to Catholic children by using spiritual items familiar to them.
Now that I was ministering as a hospice chaplain, I was at the other end of the age spectrum, and end of life issues were the primary focus of concern.
Even though I was a Protestant Chaplain, whenever there was a crucifix in the room, I provided pastoral care that was based on the faith of the patient.
I also used a much-loved Catholic prayer, which was usually very familiar to my Catholic patients. I discovered that even those with dementia or Alzheimer's would often say a favorite prayer familiar to them.
These Catholic prayers, usually learned at an early age, were often the only words spoken when they couldn't communicate at any other time.
I would place the patient's crucifix (or other Catholic Church symbol) in close proximity in order to effectively minister using that which was special to them.
Once, while visiting a patient, I noticed a crucifix pinned to a bulletin board -- behind the patient's bed. That World War 2 veteran had not seen it, yet to anyone else coming into the room it was very obvious. I removed it from the bulletin board and placed this special faith symbol within the patient's line of sight.
In providing pastoral care to this dying patient, I could barely hear him voice his spiritual concerns.
But as he spoke, a forgiveness theme began to emerge -- afterlife concerns, reconciliation issues with God and his family, and remorse over broken relationships and past sins.
I took the crucifix and asked if he knew what this special Catholic church symbol represented. He replied, "Jesus dying on the cross".
Now a chaplain learns, in preparing for chaplain certification, to not impose his or her belief onto the patient, but to draw out of patients their beliefs, their hopes, their fears, or their regrets.
So I asked him "Who do you think Jesus died for?" His answer: "For the whole world!"
I continued, "Doesn't that include you?"
His reply was an amazing "Aha" moment of spiritual discovery when he said "Yes! I knew Jesus died for the world, but I never realized that Jesus died for me!"
So that illustrates what religious symbols are all about -- to represent spiritual realities and to point people to God. In this case, a simple cruxifix, a Catholic Church symbol, guided my pastoral care visit to a moment of spiritual awakening for a fearful patient, not ready to die.
As I concluded that pastoral care visit, I prayed with the patient, and I did what I always attempted to do in my role as a hospice chaplain -- give opportunity for the patient to pray in their own way.
I had discovered that most of my Catholic patients can voice their favorite prayer, the "Our Father" (The Lord's Prayer).
Through my time with this patient, I witnessed an amazing transformation spiritually, all because Catholic Church symbols, combined with a Catholic prayer, helped a patient address his afterlife concerns -- his fears, his need for reconciliation with God and family, and his need for God's forgiveness.