Devotion and a Prayer

by Rev. Vicki Joy McClure, MAPM, BCC

October 2008

Rev. Vicki Joy McClure

While I was away from the hospital, I received a page from a nurse who was wheeling an elderly woman patient in her bed to emergency surgery. The patient was asking for a Catholic priest to pray for her. The nurse wanted to oblige the patient, so had paged me for how to go about it.

The interview was difficult in that I had not met the patient and was squeezed by time to assess her need. Further, the situation was complicated by distance and the need to communicate with an elderly hard-of-hearing person by yelling over the telephone.

Because I was not a male, not Roman Catholic, and not physically present, I wasn’t at all confident that my ministry would be satisfactory to the patient. Still, I wanted to let her know that I was willing to try to meet her need. This was a challenge to my sphere of comfort, as a woman with deep roots as a Protestant, who appreciates order, who doesn’t like to rush, and who doesn’t like to talk on the phone, much less yell prayers over it!

The interview came after I heard the nurse and the patient’s daughter saying loudly to the patient, “The Chaplain is on the phone. Do you want to speak to the Chaplain?”

Artwork by Rev. Donna Belt

When the patient decided to talk with me, she said, “Hello, Father?” I was startled by hearing her expectation, frame of reference, and trusting innocence. It only took a second to respond by just being who I am. What was nice is that who I was met her need for a confident “parent” to say a prayer and help her remember the Love that had sustained her many times before.

“Well, I’m not a father. But I am a mother. We don’t have a Catholic priest on staff, but they commend our work. May I say a prayer with you?”

I was pleasantly surprised to hear her accept my ministry. I began to pray off the top of my head because I didn’t have a Catholic prayer book nearby, nor time to get one. However, she couldn’t hear me because of the noise in the hall. Apparently, she was serious about having her request for prayer met, because this frail old woman let loose on those standing by. She yelled to everyone, “Be quiet! Hush up! The chaplain is trying to pray and I can’t hear a thing!”

Her calling out to the others stopped my praying and jerked me into seeing that my prayer was one prayed as a Protestant. “Be Quiet! The Chaplain is TRYING to pray!” Her call for quiet jolted me, as I realized that my prayer seemed inauthentic—even to me. I had begun to minister out of my frame of reference, not hers.

As I shifted into “Interfaith Chaplain mode,” I realized, as The Lord’s Prayer popped into my mind, how fitting and meaningful it might be. Since it is my desire to engage “my clients” in the strength of their own faith and not to impose my own agenda, the idea of saying the Lord’s Prayer together seemed rich with the possibility of help for her. Perhaps she would even participate with me.

As I started to pray aloud, I heard her frail voice join me. At the “Amen,” she seemed relieved, grateful, and ready for what might lie ahead.

What happened to me afterward, though, seems just as significant, as I became aware of the gift this dear lady had given me. I was reflecting on how quickly she accepted my desire to be of service to her. She “ordained” my ministry immediately. At first I couldn’t understand why, since she had so expected to hear the deep male voice of a priest as a response to her need.

It was only when I wrote a verbatim of the interview that a deeper meaning behind her ordination of my ministry dawned on me. In the Catholic Church, “I am a mother and I would like to pray for you,” is rich in significance and purpose. Mary holds the very powerful position of a mother who prays. “Holy Mary… Full of Grace… Mother of God… Pray for us now…”

Without even knowing it, in her time of need this elderly patient encouraged me to serve authentically, out of who I am as a woman and mother, as well as from what we shared in common: devotion and a prayer.