This morning I remembered watching a Catholic priest doing something similar during my first chaplaincy internship, back in 2001. At the time I wrote this poem about it -
Maybe if they called me “Mother”
by Tess Baumberger
2001, revised 2019
After anointing the barrel-chested man
who hadn’t yet awakened
from surgery last week,
touched the man’s hands.
Turning to the worried wife,
he commented on the strength
those hands had gained
working so hard
for so long.
Father continued his courageous caring
stroking the man’s head, his hair;
acts, to me, of untold bold affection.
That night, street lights looking
through my transom,
if it’s because they call him “Father”
that he can be so openly loving,
so tender with God’s children.
Maybe if they called me
could show my heart as well.
For me ministry is a constantly unfolding, evolving vocation. It can lead one to grow in unexpected ways. After eighteen years I find my shy self able to be as openly loving to my patients and their families as Father Joe was to this man.
By the way, Father Joe was very touched by this poem. It turned out he had struggled with being called "Father." You never know what lives in the heart.