Clinical Pastoral Education Creates a Deepened Experience at MedStar Georgetown Hospital

My twelve-week intensive of Clinical Pastoral Education in MedStar Georgetown Hospital challenged me to deepen my self-awareness. I worked on two learning goals. One was to explore and reflect on the impact of my Franciscan habit in my pastoral encounters and leadership. The second was to use my patients’ understanding of God as basis in providing them spiritual and emotional support. These goals launched me into a journey where I not only invested my skills, abilities, energy and time but more so my heart.

My Vocation and Identity as a Follower of Christ

I entered the strange land of interfaith pastoral context where wearing my habit connoted different meanings for patients from varied faith backgrounds. One time, a patient threw his knowledge of Scriptures at me and told me that my vowed life goes against the commandment of Jesus Christ to go forth and multiply. At that moment I felt my sass coming right up to my spine, hitting my brain with words to defend my vocation. Between my brain and my mouth, a clear awareness disrupted my sassy thought pattern.

As far as I was concerned, I already had accepted my religious vocation as part of who I am.   However, how must I welcome and respect the strident sentiments of the patient in front of me? I asked him if my being a vowed religious offended him and made him feel uncomfortable. He could not answer. Then I learned that the basic building block of my pastoral authority was really about being responsible for my emotions and assisting others to be honest with theirs when it gets in the way of a genuine encounter. I came out of that encounter peaceful and grateful for being myself.

Sometimes my pastoral responsibility made me confront my emotions and convictions in the midst of what felt like an impossible mission. While performing my on-call duty I was called to baptize a baby who was actively dying due to possible abuse by a family member. I proceeded to baptize the baby, “In the name of the Father…” Then it struck me. Staring at the mangled body of that intubated child, I asked myself how God, our Father could still be the Creator who takes care of all his creation. I felt my doubts gnawing my jolted faith. I performed my first baptism but I came out shattered. I could not proceed as if nothing significant had happened.

The brilliant logic of philosophers like David Hume and Alvin Platinga on suffering and evil remained logical but failed to address my serious doubts about God’s ability to care for his creation. The Christian concept of redemption became too obscure to shed light on my doubts. I found respite in the Jewish and Islamic tradition that treated evil as a force to reckon but nothing can be so significant as the Divine energy that drives us to confront evil itself. Finally, I asked my spiritual director, “How could God not take care of that child?” He replied, “But you were there, baptizing the baby in God’s name.” This left me stunned. To this day, I am lost for words. Maybe in due time, this experience will mature in me and bear fruit beyond my imagination. I try to embrace my faith in the meantime.

Social Justice and My Social Location as a Pastoral Minister

The South Carolina shooting incident finally landed on the shores of our patients’ rooms. The entire pastoral team composed of permanent, resident and intern chaplains gathered for a theological reflection to find ways to confront the issue in our pastoral context. Race and social justice were inextricable issues from the incident. Without mincing words, our Jesuit colleague, Fr. Joe Schad shared his past experience of identifying his privileges as a white-Anglo, Christian male in the American society. I have never encountered a white-male-Catholic clergy share his experience of “white privilege” candidly in front of a diverse group of colleagues. Just as Fr. Joe’s “white privilege” socially locates him in his pastoral contexts so too does my social location as a Filipino Franciscan friar directly influence how I am welcomed and received by those whom I serve and work with in the context of modern American society.

Sometimes, wearing the Franciscan habit bailed me out of questions such as “Did you grow up here? Your accent does not show…” or “Where are your parents from?” When I had to face those questions, I felt challenged to develop my own curiosity about the thought patterns of American society regarding minorities. In the end, I learned to embrace the fact that God gifted me with a Filipino soul and identity. I welcome this gift as an irrevocable contribution to the life of the universal Church.

Interfaith Fellowship and Support

Another significant gift I take away from my CPE is the friendship I established with my intern classmates. I am convinced that our interfaith presence in the hospital served as a powerful witness. At lunch, people would un-embarrassingly stare at us with puzzlement probably thinking, “What could a rabbi, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, two African-American ministers and a Franciscan friar in a habit be up to?” Beyond our fellowship at lunch, it was our willingness to welcome and be conscious of each other’s vulnerability that galvanized us to trust each other especially in the difficult cases we encountered. I experienced this in our group sessions, cultural presentations and peer evaluations.

On the night of our graduation day, my Jewish classmate invited us for dinner to celebrate the Shabbat with his wife. I was the only one without a life partner for obvious reasons but there we were, carrying our interfaith experience into fellowship on a sacred celebration. When I remember this dinner, I feel that we are all really under one sky, standing on one sacred ground. To this day, we work really hard to meet, celebrate, and support each other as we journey into our commitments in all our relationships with our families, communities and ministerial contexts.

My Franciscan Identity and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

When I grew cold in meeting my patients in their suffering, my supervisor challenged me. I told him, “Maybe we just need to deal with evil and suffering as they are, and hope that meaning comes out of it.” He retorted, “That’s all?” I recognized that I wanted more than just that because I am gifted with faith in the Resurrection. In La Verna, Francis emerged from his hurt, scruples and suffering, and composed in my opinion, one of the most beautiful poetry humankind has ever written– The Praises of God. God offers the wounded yet transformed gift of self of Francis to his brothers and the Church with relentless and indiscriminate love. It is an immense gift with huge responsibilities. My responsibility is to welcome God’s presence in all of His creatures. If I cannot, my challenge is to find out what prevents me from doing so, and ask my brothers and the people of God to help me should my own efforts fail. I am called to do likewise for them. This is the heart of my CPE experience.

Written by Brother Ramon Razon, OFM, Clinical Pastoral Education Summer Intern

Mission and Ministry