Long before I was a priest,
before I was a Catholic,
I was a Lutheran seminarian,
and part of my education
was to spend a summer working as a hospital chaplain in Brooklyn,
way back in 1983.
I still consider it one of the most important experiences of my life.
Not because of what I learned about dealing with the sick.
But because of what I learned about dealing with myself.
I remember the anger I felt
when a 21-year-old newlywed died on the operating table.
I remember the sadness I felt
watching a 90-year Jewish woman grieve the death of her husband;
they had been married for more than 70 years.
I remember the fear we all felt
when we were told that there was a man who had that new “gay disease”
we would one day all learn to call AIDS.
we were not even allowed to see him.
And in fact all this was the real purpose of this program:
to learn about ourselves,
and how we handled such situations.
We would experience things in the hospital
and then come back and discuss them every morning
as a group with our supervisor.
10.One day one of the seminarians in the group raised an issue we all agreed with.
She said, “I wish when I visit patients, I had something to carry.
Doctors go in and they have stethoscopes
Nurses go in with syringes and pills
Nurses’ aides go in with sponges and bandages
They all have something WITH them to help the patient; I
walk in, empty - handed. And that is frightening”.
11.Our supervisor, simply said, “but that is just the point.”
12.When we asked what he meant by that,
he just sighed and as if we were the densest people in the world and added,
“You go into the rooms with empty hands
so that you might discover what it is you do have.”
13.We might imagine Jesus’ disciples having similar concerns in today’s Gospel.
For Jesus was sending them out two by two on their first missionary journey.
14.Now the disciples must have wondered
where they would get the supplies,
and all the money needed
for six groups to go out on an extended journey.
15.But when they asked Jesus how much food should the bring,
he replied, “No food.”
16.When they asked about money,
he said, “No money.”
17.When they asked then about a sack to carry their clothes,
he said, “no sack. And no extra clothes either.”
Just the clothes on their back,
the sandals on their feet
and a walking stick.
They were to go from town-to-town empty handed,
depending on the kindness of others for everything.
18.We do not know whether the disciples asked Jesus frightened questions
like we asked our chaplaincy supervisor.
19.We do not know if Jesus answered them.
But we do one thing: and that is
when they went from town-to-town empty handed
they discovered something.
They discovered they had words.
and with those words
they could tell others about what Jesus had done for them.
They could comfort and heal others,
and challenge the evil and the sin they saw in others.
Just as Jesus had done for them.
20.In short, they discovered they did not have to be afraid,
because even though their hands were empty,
that was so that the one thing they did bring with them
was all the more visible:
themselves and their relationship with Jesus,
how it had changed, challenged and healed them
and how it could do the same for others.
21.I wish I could say that I understood this during that summer of 1983.
But I did not.
I only remember going into many rooms,
aching with those who ached,
crying with hose who cried,
listening, always listening,
and when I thought it was right, sharing from my own life.
Sometimes I mentioned God, sometimes I did not.
But very often they did.
Towards the end of my time
there was someone who had become quite dependent on my visits.
When I told her that I would soon be leaving she was quite upset.
But when I told her that she would soon be going home anyway,
she said, “But you don’t understand: in you I see Jesus”.
22.When I sat with my supervisor at the end the summer and told him about this,
He just smiled and said,
“And you thought you were empty-handed”.
It was only later that I realized what he meant:
HE meant that I did not have to be afraid,
because even though my hands were empty,
the one thing I would bring with me throughout my ministry