June 3, 2018


As you may remember, Pope Francis recently described the Catholic Church as a “field hospital”.  That quality resonated with many Catholics who felt it was a wonderful description.  I was speaking with a classmate of mine last week who said he believes many Catholics and others might describe the Catholic Church as more of a “courtroom” than a “field hospital”.  I’ve been thinking about his statement since.

I suppose our words for the Church depend on our experiences with the institution itself.  I know that “we” are the Church at its best, but we tend to represent the institutional Church as we see it ourselves.  It can be as simple as calling the Church to inquire about a “Mass card” or to ask about the Mass schedule; or it could be parishioners who are seeking to get information about an annulment so they can have their second marriage recognized by the Church.  The above examples can surely indicate whether their experiences in the Church will be more like a field hospital than a courtroom. 

I jotted down some of the descriptive words that I would identify with a “field hospital” and therefore hopefully would also identify in my interaction with the institutional Church or anyone in authority representing the Church.  I believe it needs to be seen as a safe place that is concerned with the suffering and wounded of our world.  The Church should be seen as a place of healing.  Those entering a hospital have a story to be told and those attending them need to listen and learn from that story.  The patient doesn’t come to be judged, but to be made whole again.  Everyone is treated as an individual and one size doesn’t fit all.  The field hospital is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  Everyone is welcome and there is no discrimination or dress code.  The goal is to reconcile the patient with their family and loved ones

If there are some who experience the institutional Church or those in authority as representing a courtroom, it may be for the following reasons:  a courtroom is concerned with silence and maintaining a very sterile environment.  Many would describe a courtroom as not having the most welcoming atmosphere.  It tends to create an ”us vs. them” climate.  We are there so judgments can be made and sentences handed out.  There is a hierarchical structure, and the final decision between punishment or rehabilitation is made by the “judge”.  The courtroom’s purpose is to make sure that everyone adheres to rules and regulations and is held accountable  for breaking the rules.   There are normal working hours.  The entire process can be so overwhelming and complicated that you very rarely are able to represent yourself.

Every Catholic represents the Church and plays a major role in how others view the Catholic Church.  

I can’t speak for any other priest or parish, but I can assure you that Charles and I are much more comfortable as doctors than as judges!

Enjoy life!
Fr. Coyne


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