It has been almost a year now since I left Nazareth House in Hammersmith to join the Greyfriars – the Friars Minor Conventual. The three years as chaplain in hammersmith were very happy years, and I am grateful to the Sisters for allowing me to minister to them and to the residents. It was a new form of ministry to me and so it became a time of learning and growth. Looking back now, I believe my experience of working with the residents can best be described in a short contribution I wrote for the NCCT Annual Report of 2017.
The Sisters of Nazareth are known for creating spaces of welcome and care in cities and suburbs throughout the world. Here people find more than just a modern professional care home, but a place of peace, loving attention, and spiritual nourishment. As chaplain at Nazareth Care in Hammersmith I am privileged to share in the life and work of the sisters. This means that the chaplain’s pastoral and sacramental ministry is exercised with a genuine love for the residents and that the core values of the Congregation become a part of one’s daily life in the House.
Over the past two years, I have discovered that the principal role of the chaplain has more to do with presence than it has to do with accomplishing many tasks. The daily presence of the chaplain at Mass, on the floors and at those critical moments of spiritual care, reminds the residents that they are loved by God and cared for by the Church. For so many of the residents who throughout their lives have been committed members of parish communities and now find themselves arriving at the end stages of life, the concern and care of the Church is extremely important. Many suffer from varying degrees of dementia, some are in the advanced stages of terminal illness, and others are no longer able to care for their increasingly frail bodies. The chaplain leaves to the professional nursing and care staff the attention these conditions demand. In the face of the overwhelming physical needs of the residents, the chaplain has very little, if anything to offer. What he has to offer is the gift of time, presence and prayer. He serves them when he respects their unique individuality and the fullness of their life experience, when he recognises their spiritual depths and rich inner lives, and when he looks beyond the signs of their frailty and to the beloved child of God within each of them.
He prays for them and with them now that they can no longer articulate their own thoughts, feelings and intentions. He looks for them when they are absent from their daily Mass – bringing them Holy Communion and the collective concern of the other daily Mass goers. On Sundays he shares in their joy when their family attend Mass with them. In their pain and feelings of isolation, his vocation reminds them that their suffering is not in vain. In the fatigue and frustration of their condition, his ministry is a strengthening presence. In the anxiety and doubt that sometimes pervade their final days, his faith assures them that beyond the veil of death is light and joy in the eternal presence of God.
In ministering the spiritual, pastoral and sacramental life of the Church to the residents, the chaplain is a comforting friend and hope-filled presence. He shares this ministry with the Sisters, is inspired by their devotion to the residents, and strengthened by their support.
I also enjoyed the opportunity to teach and guide the novices who come to Hammersmith from all parts of the world to undergo their two year formation experience at the motherhouse. I am grateful to the novice-mistress for the opportunity and challenge of working with the novices and being able to share a part of their journey.
The nature of the ministry also gave me time for reading and reflection, prayer and discernment, which led me to where I happily find myself today.
I have visited Nazareth House in Hammersmith a couple of times in the last year, and it is a joy to see everybody again and to be in the old place, which is filled with so many good memories. My continued prayers for the sisters, the residents, and all who work and live there.