The Holy Father Pope Francis has mentioned many times that the Church should behave as a field hospital. It is possible to wonder if the Holy Father has ever visited a real field hospital or indeed how many of us have done so even once in our lives. A field hospital is not for the squeamish: a visit may render you vomiting or fainting and you would be one of many brave people who has done so. The army used to lay on realistic simulated field hospitals for staff college officers to visit and these protected nobody from the awful scene of pieces of flesh scattered here and there, skulls draining of brains, dead bodies, pieces of bone or sawn off limbs in buckets and simulated stench. Once visited never to be forgotten.
The representation of the Church as field hospital has many parallels:
Once entered, in order to survive spiritually, psychologically or physically a different person has to exit, and this can mean, in many cases, radical changes.
The illnesses or injuries (sins) sustained can never be glossed over by anybody and have to be faced up to in all their gory detail: nothing and nobody is spared.
Parts of a person may have to be removed: limbs, features, eyes, ears, and internal organs; nothing can be spared the knife and the same would apply to sin - everything must be done to ensure that the person is relieved of it by removing the causes of such sin - "if thine eye offend thee, cut it out".
After the medication or surgery comes the period of rehabilitation which may take weeks, months or many years; any failing to keep up the recovery work many mean relapses.
(These two pictures show Stu Robinson, a Corporal in the RAF Regiment, who lost both legs after his vehicle went over an Improvised Explosive Device in Afghanistan. After rehabilitation, Stu was able to compete in the Invictus Games in autumn 2014 and this Remembrance Sunday he was able to march to the War Memorial and back.)
Some people will cope and achieve a new, even better, life but others will succumb and even turn their faces to the wall and be lost. Some may be hopeless cases and soon pass away: all that might be given is some small comfort or palliatives, accompanied by wretched sadness and. if capable. prayer.
Yes indeed, seeing the Church as a field hospital is an imaginative reminder to Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity that they will do nobody any favours by ducking issues if the patient is to recover, otherwise they will be left to die in their ailment, physical or spiritual. Also notice the changes that will have to be made and in many cases the pain will go on with less intensity allowing the person to live a near normal life as possible. As in the case of the field hospital all are affected for the rest of their lives by the experience and going back to the previous life is rarely an option.
So Pope Francis, and he appears to mean what he says, is offering us no soft option and in doing so, in this Year of Mercy, is making us face up to the reality of sin and to do what is necessary to ensure a speedy recovery for the patients who enter through the Holy Door: surgical tools or medications of truth have to be applied as acts of charity or else the patients will never recover. The blame will rest with those who, through misguided sparing of knowledge or pain for the patients, gloss over the reality of their states. Doctors, nurses and orderlies can never kill the patient out of misguided kindness nor can we do likewise to the souls of those who enter the Holy Door in this Year of Mercy.