Reflection by Seminarian Gilbert Guzman
My summer 2013 at the LAC/USC Medical Center
I wish to, first of all, thank the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Community for its generous and prayerful support of me during these last two years at St. John’s Seminary. It has been an intense, enriching and transformative experience spiritually, academically, and pastorally. And it is regarding this pastoral component that I would like to share with you.
Fr. Chris Ponnet, Chaplaincy Supervisor for the LAC/USC Medical Center, accepted my application, and invited me to officially become one of six Inter-faith, Intern Chaplains for the hospital. Of the six, one was a Jewish seminarian, one a Buddhist nun, one a protestant seminarian, one Catholic Friar and two Catholic seminarians. In addition, my CPE class supervisor was Hindu! We visited patients three and one half days per week and attended class one and one half days per week for ten weeks from June 18 to August 23 for a total of 300 hours of hospital visitations and 100 hours in class.
Every morning, one of the staff chaplains or CPE students facilitated a daily, inter-faith, morning meditation. When it was my turn to lead, I felt like I had been thrown completely out of my comfort zone! “What does Inter-faith mean? What can people from completely different faith traditions have in common? What is the purpose of having an Inter-faith mediation anyway?” After my initial panic, I soon realized that I needed to think about what we all had in common, rather than think about our differences. I led two meditations during the summer that centered on a specific virtue, included silence, time for group sharing, and a final thought or prayer. I learned that regardless of our religion, the purpose for coming together before going out to the hospital was to center ourselves, foster unity of purpose in our ministry, and to remind us that we all belong to one human family.
A hospital chaplain provides patients, their families and even hospital staff with spiritual and emotional care. During our rounds, we have no information about the patient, his or her illness, faith or lack of faith. Those of you who know me personally, know that I like things that are planned and predictable. A hospital environment is rarely planned or predictable. My first day at the hospital, I had the opportunity to shadow one of the staff chaplains in the Emergency Unit. After a few visits, he motioned to me to go speak to the patient in the next room. My heart pounded in my chest, my lips started tingling and all I could think was, “I don’t know what to say. What am I doing here? I think I’m going to faint!” The staff chaplain looked into my eyes and said, “Whatever anxiety you are having, you are going to bring into the room with you. Your job is to bring a presence of peace and assurance. Now, assert your pastoral authority. You’ll be fine!” and he pushed me into the room. Sure enough, the woman in the room looked at me with apprehension as I stumbled through my introduction, took shallow breaths, and asked her how she was doing. As our conversation progressed, however, I felt myself relax. As I relaxed, she began to relax, open up and share her fears and concerns. I learned that this was not about me, nor was it about knowing what to say, but rather it was about being patient-centered, not me-centered. I learned to be present to the patient and learned to trust that the Holy Spirit would help me to listen empathically and help the patient to articulate his or her concerns and find peace of mind and heart. From that visit on, before entering a room, my prayer would be, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
Not all patients are welcoming. Not all visits go the way we would hope. Sometimes, I would leave a room, thinking, “Wow. I really blew it!” During my CPE class, we interns had the opportunity to share our successes and our failures. The purpose of our class time together was to analyze our visits, and openly share our insights into how our behaviors come across to others in the group. One of the books we read that helped us to learn to share truthfully with one another was titled, Caring Enough to Confront by David Augsberger. Often, sharing the truth with someone who has offended you is not easy to do nor is it easy to hear as it can feel like criticism or judgment. However, to be an effective minister, I learned the value of being told what it is that I need to work on and am learning how to speak the truth in love to another person in order to continue growing to be all that God wants me to be.
~Gilbert Guzman, Seminarian