I love Father K. Father K. is in many ways my role model for chaplaincy. We first met when I was working as a nursing tech in a Washington, DC hospital. He was a chaplain there. He’d come to our unit, and he’d sit in the nurse’s lounge with us. He’d joke around. He’d sprinkle holy water on us for no reason. He was sneaky. I never realized, back then, that he was pastoring to us.
I became a nurse. Father K. left the hospital and went to a parish. We stayed in touch. He gave me a saint’s medal for Twenty-Year-Old when she was born. Don and Twenty-Year-Old and I went to the celebration of his 25th anniversary in the priesthood. We exchange Christmas cards.
Only this year in my Christmas card I had to tell Father K. that Don had died. I haven’t actually seen Father K. in years. Maybe 18 years. But we keep in touch.
Today I got a card in the mail from Father K. It was a sympathy card that also let me know that father K. was saying a mass for Don’s soul. I was touched and grateful.
I’m not Catholic. Don wasn’t Catholic. In fact, I’m a Universalist. In my theology, Don’s soul is already saved and in the presence of God. I don’t believe I need to pray for him in order for him to be reconciled to God. That’s not the point.
Father K. is Roman Catholic. In his theology, praying for the souls of the dead is important, because eternal hell is a possibility. So Father K. is doing what is the kind and generous thing to do.
This is how we live in community with one another. We don’t all pray the same way. We don’t all believe the same things. We don’t all belong to the same religion. We don’t need to. God hears all prayers. And, as with all gifts, it really is the thought that counts.
I know there are people who get worked into a lather about other people’s beliefs. Some folks get all bent out of shape if someone says, “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”, or “merry Christmas” instead of “season’s greetings.” I don’t get it. I don’t understand how anyone could be offended by good wishes or the prayers of others.
So I’m grateful to Father K. and I think Don would be, too. I’m confident that Don’s soul is just fine. But how could prayers ever hurt? And now I am reminded once again that Father K. is still pastoring to me. How good it would be if we all treated each other with such care.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.