Parish Nurse fundraiser: Fr. Mark Miller reflects on the gospel command to “Go, Heal the Sick”

Fr. Mark Miller, CSsR, described the call for Christians to bring healing to the world at a recent Parish Nurse fundraising event at St. Mary Parish, Saskatoon. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News.)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

The community gathered together Dec. 5 to raise funds for the parish nursing program at St. Mary Parish in Saskatoon, with a gala dinner and silent auction featuring guest speaker Fr. Mark Miller, CSsR, Provincial of the English-speaking Redemptorists of Canada.

Fr. Mark Miller, CSsR, returned to St. Mary Parish as guest speaker. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Saskatoon Catholic News)

“I am passionate about parish nursing, because parish nursing is our community’s response to great needs – particularly to the needs of those who are elderly, shut-in, those that are maybe just back from hospital, those that are overwhelmed, those that are in need of someone to listen to them, those that we so easily overlook,” said Miller, who served in Saskatchewan as an ethicist for Catholic health care for several years, and who now continues his clinical ethics work at the Centre for Clinical Ethics at St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s hospitals in Toronto.

“The work of parish nursing is an effort to take seriously the responsibility to take care of one another, especially those who are so easily lost on the fringes.”

Being a healing church, a healing community and healing individuals is part of our mission as followers of Jesus Christ, stressed Miller. He pointed to the gospels, and Jesus’ two-fold mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing the sick, and how Jesus commanded His disciples and followers to do the same.

Miller called for taking seriously God’s command to heal, as well as to proclaim the kingdom of God.

“And what is the kingdom? It is wherever God is at work, that is where the kingdom of heaven is taking place. It begins here on earth. The kingdom is wherever we do the will  of our God in heaven. That changes our world, that is the way that the kingdom starts to grow…  it is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Imitating Christ in his healing ministry is not a matter of working miracles, but of following His example of bringing people back into the community, added Miller. In the midst of an understanding of sickness as a punishment from God for sin, Jesus was instead showing that “this is a God of mercy, a God of healing, and a God of tenderness,” Miller described. “This is what he tried to get his disciples to understand: that they were called, not to be a people of justice, but a people of mercy, of tenderness and compassion.”

The natural instinct when we are wronged is to “get even,” he noted.  Yet Jesus tells Peter to forgive not just seven times, but seven times 70 times. “If we are to take this seriously, then the challenge for us – both as Church and as individuals – is to be a people of mercy, a people of healing, a people of reconciliation, because our God is in charge… in other words, we radiate something of that presence of God by our own actions. God entrusts that to us, and … God also promises to strengthen us with the Holy Spirit. This is the challenge we have, to live by the Spirit, even beyond our own needs and wishes, and the things we want.”

As an example, Miller pointed to the work of the orders of religious women who came to care for the sick among the First Nations and newcomers in so many places, including in Saskatoon, where the Grey Nuns arrived in the midst of a typhoid epidemic, and established a hospital. “So many Sisters came to serve, because there was no health care …the Sisters were there where the need was, and they did whatever had to be done.” He recalled the words of a Sister of Providence reflecting on the hard work of providing health care at Slave Lake in the 1940s and 1950s: “We were never happier: we were doing God’s work.”

“And this is the challenge that I would like to raise for us in our world today. The legacy of the Sisters is not to do exactly what they did, but to think in terms of healing. What does healing mean in our society?”

He continued: “For many many people in our world today, the healing that is needed is to invite them into community.” Loneliness in our society is rampant, and can be addressed through simple actions to create community, such as gathering people for a Bible study, a game or a social event, he added.

“We are meant for community… We all need to know we belong,” Miller said, reflecting how Jesus tells the healed lepers to go and show themselves to the priests, restoring them to community as well as to health. “One of the most important aspects of Jesus’ ministry of healing was to make sure that those that are considered outcasts would be welcomed back into community.”

Miller also reflected on controversy and negativity in our world about refugees and immigrants. “I want you to know that the best way to get over any kind of negative thinking is to get to meet refugees and hear their stories.When we stop and recognize that these are our brothers and sisters that God has sent to us, then we have to become creative, and see what it means to welcome, to have open arms, to be supportive and to help people find a new home.”

Striving to personally ensure that all are made to feel worthwhile and welcomed is part of being a healing community, he said. “Right here in your own neighbourhood – it is deciding to smile at somebody, to say hello rather than responding in fear or uncertainty.”

He cited examples of the respect given to all at St. Paul’s Hospital ER, and the relationship of collaboration between St. Mary Parish and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, among Indigenous and non-Indigenous parishioners. “This is what it is to be Christians, this is what it is to make our community more wholesome… to take the opportunity to build bridges and see one another as God’s family, as God’s children.”

Sometimes we are not thanked for our efforts — and the challenge is then to recall that we are doing it because it is the right thing to do, not for thanks, added Miller. At the same time, many of those involved in healing ministries will say “I get more out this than I give,” he said.

Lots of times there is not much that we can do for others, with healing totally in God’s hands, Miller added. However there is also healing when we are simply there for others in times of suffering or sorrow, he said,  relating a story from Leo Busaglia about a four-year-old who went to visit an elderly, grieving neighbour. Asked what he was doing, the child replied: “I was helping him cry.”

“Sometimes that is all we can give… sometimes that willingness to be there and share in suffering and sorrow is our gift, and as Christians we can do that because we know that suffering and death are not the final answer,” Miller said, describing how we rely on the promises of God and the hope God gives to us.

“This to me is the secret about the healing ministry of Christ: We were made to give ourselves to others. That’s who we are supposed to be,” said Miller. “God made us to look after each other, and to the extent that we do that, is the extent that the kingdom of heaven is in our midst.”

Photos from the Dec. 5, 2019 fund-raising event for the Parish Nursing Program at St. Mary Parish, Saskatoon: