COMFORT MY PEOPLE (A Spirituality for Those in Hospital Ministry) by William Maestri +


The title for this small book is taken from the fortieth chapter of Isaiah: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem," (Is. 40:1-2).

Biblical scholars tell us that the 'historical Isaiah' did not utter these words. However, one of his disciples, an unknown poet, continued to proclaim, "Thus says the Lord..." This unknown disciple was given a tough task: proclaim a word of hope in the midst of a people who are hopeless. Tell the people of darkness a light is about to come; exiles are homeward bound; and those whose guilt is ever before them will now know grace.

The Lord is about to act in a mighty way. The past failures will no longer blind their present and limit their future. Slavery is about to end. The God of liberation is once again calling His people back to the covenant. Israel is challenged to change, reform, and become God's people again.

These words from Isaish are instructive for today's faith community. There is a one-dimensional view of the prophet which limits his vocabulary to angry words; his ministry to social justice issues; and a strong bias against things liturgical. We see in Isaiah a balance that is needed. The prophet must also know how to proclaim God's words of comfort, healing, compassion, and above all hope.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Father of Jesus, is a God of passionate love. The stories of God (John Shea) are rich and diverse. They touch and illuminate the full range of the human condition and the multiple ways of God and man.

The anonymous disciple of Isaiah is a kindred spirit of all who work in various hospital ministries. Much of pastoral ministry is anonymous and goes unnoticed. The media is seldom present except during moments of high drama or exotic medical explorations (the recent episodes of heart transplantations are cases in point).

Yet the real ministry and story of hospital life goes on in odd hours and a little off stage. It is the quiet heroes and heroines who fight loneliness, despair, depression, and anger with kindness, hope, joy, and a human-divine love that lets all know someone understands and cares. Those in hospital ministry continue the words of Deutero-Isaiah -- speaking God's word of comfort.

For whom is this book intended? An easy and obvious answer would be 'everyone." (I know the publisher would heartily agree!). Reality demands this response: this book is intended for all who find their way into a hospital setting.

For the patient it is hoped the Scripture citations and reflections will be a source of comfort (that word again).

For the physician and medical professional (who often have more contact with the patient than the physician) who may desire to treat not the symptom but the whole person.

For the family members and loved ones who must serve by 'simply' watching and waiting (the powerlessness and anger are acute). And of course these reflections are offered as an aid to all those anonymous disciples of Christ who daily touch the sick and broken-hearted. Hence, this book may not be for everyone but it is offered to those who give and need comfort.

The organization of the book is simple. There are four (4) major sections and a total of thirty (30) selections. Each selection is based on a reading from Scripture that relates to some aspect of hospital life and ministry.

If there is a theme that runs throughout these reflections, it is this: God is at work everywhere. And we are privileged to be instruments of His grace and comfort. Our God is close to the broken-hearted. The great process philosopher A.N. Whitehead said it best: God is the great companion and fellow suffer. God understands.

A special word of gratitude is extended to all patients, families, and professionals who have taught me so much; and continue to do so. Naturally none of the above are responsible for the limitations of my reflections. - William F. Maestri, St. Joseph Abbey (from the Introduction)

"Nothing more resembles Christ then the innocent who suffer." - Emmanuel Mounier

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