Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Carolee Gifford

3/8/2012 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

How a Catholic chaplain uses Jesus' encounter with the woman at Sychar to empower her patients -- and herself

"Why do you think Jesus went to her?"

Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.

Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.


By Carolee Gifford

Catholic Online (

3/8/2012 (3 years ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: mental illness, depression, God's love, chaplain, psychiatric treatment

The strains of the famous  song from "Lilies of the Field" filled my ears once more,     "AAAmen! AAAmen! AAAmen! Amen! Amen!" It ended almost every one of my spirituality groups. Hands clapped and voices were raised - a bit of joy. The group was over and my patients were slowly making their way back to their rooms.

My groups were a bit different than the rest of those offered.  Mine were totally voluntary. I rejected offers from well meaning mental health aides and nurses to coerce their charges into attending. You cannot force God's love on people.  They have to want to hear it, feel it. 

We began with a simple prayer, inviting God to our group.  A prayer that our hearts be open to receive his love, some scripture, a little reflection, personal intentions, the Our Father and then that wonderful "Amen."

That formula varied little - if I had a Jewish patient we'd use the Old Testament and skip the Our Father. 

Once again I had used one of my favorite scriptures, John 4:1-42 - the story of the Woman at the Well.  Theologians offer up sophisticated explanations of the very long reading. My message could not have been more simple, some might say crude. 

"Why do you think Jesus went to her?" I asked.  My patients shook their heads, almost all of them in sad, slow motion.  Sadness that was a result of  depression, psych meds, and a life of being ostracized by a society that doesn't understand mental illness.

"He could have strolled into that town and met with the president of the Sychar PTA," I continued.                   

"But no, he went to that woman.  The woman who had been around the block one too many times, a loose woman."

"Why?" I challenged. 

"To let us know that no matter what we've done, no matter who we've slept with, no matter how broken we are, Jesus will use us to spread his news!  The news that we're loved, that he knows our sins and still loves us."

That reading has been part of my scriptural toolkit for many years. It has resonated consistently.  The beautiful faces in front of me would smile and nod.  This was truth to them.

And to me.  I am that woman.  My friends and family know I want that reading, that affirming story, read at my funeral.

Just as my patients heard in that scripture, the hope that even in their weakness they are precious, I also have heard that acclamation.  I have sought to spread God's good news, even in my brokenness.

My life is full of mistakes made, sins committed.  Telling my patients of God's love for them just as they are - broken and less than perfect - demanded a personal response from me.  I also had to look at myself differently, not through the world's eyes, but God's.  I was his daughter and he loved me.




Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Marriage & Family

'Baby Jesus': Crying newborn discovered abandoned in church nativity scene Watch

Image of


A newborn baby was found abandoned in a New York church nativity scene. Just hours after entering the world, the church's custodian discovered the full-term infant wrapped in purple towels crying in the Queens' Holy Child Jesus Church's nativity scene. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading

Couple heartbroken after doctor performs abortion without mother's consent Watch

Image of Dr. Rifaat Salem is being sued for malpractice after implanting the wrong embryo into a woman, then aborting it without the mother's consent (KTLA).


When David and Melissa Pineda had trouble conceiving, they turned to Dr. Rifaat Salem for fertility treatment. Following the implantation of embryos, Melissa was called in for a check up. What she wasn't told was that she had been implanted with a stranger's embryos ... continue reading

5 unbelievable times children taught us to be better human beings Watch

Image of People aren't born cold-hearted. They learn how to respond to situations from their friends, family and society as a whole.


Children are bundles of energy and their perspective are so new and original we can't help but be surprised by what comes out of their mouths -but what about their actions? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - There are thousands of children around the world who offer ... continue reading

'Bring Back the Holidays' campaign promotes family values Watch

Image of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods came together to launch a Bring Back the Holidays campaign.


T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods have joined forces to launch a "Bring Back the Holidays" campaign to support family time around the holidays. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Each year companies compete to provide the best Black Friday "door-buster" sales earlier ... continue reading

7-year-old shows compassion to hate-crime victims in touching act of kindness Watch

Image of Seven-year-old Jack Swanson donated his piggy bank to the Islamic Center of Pflugerville in Texas following hate crime (KXAN).


Following a hate crime at a Texas mosque that involved smeared feces and torn pages from the Koran, seven-year-old Jack Swanson decided to donate his life savings of $20 to help. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The hate crime included torn pages from the Koran and ... continue reading

The shocking thing a New Jersey mall is doing this year with Santa Watch

Image of Cherryhill Village Mall has gone from offering children free sits on Santa's lap to charging $35-50 for photo and video packages, with no 'free' option.


Cherryhill Village Mall, located in southern New Jersey, has decided to offer photo and video packages for families who bring their children to see Santa. The catch? Families must pay an entrance fee of $35-50, with no free option for those with children who don't want ... continue reading

Mother's heart breaks when 3-year-old ginger son asks 'Why don't people like my horrible hair Mummy?' Watch

Image of Noah Gilbert, 3, was bullied on a public bus for having red hair (Mercury Press).


Southampton mother, Lauren Russel, witnessed her 3-year-old son being bullied by teenagers over the color of his hair. Furious and heart-broken, Russel took to Facebook to write an emotional message asking users to spread awareness of bullying and to show her son that ... continue reading

Blind 7-year-old banned from using walking cane at school Watch

Image of Seven-year-old Lily-Grace Hooper was told she could not use her walking cane at school, despite being blind (David Hedges).


A Brussels primary school banned a blind seven-year-old girl from using her walking cane at school in a shocking move after claiming she could trip other students or teachers. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Lily-Grace Hooper had a stroke when she was only ... continue reading

Toddler burned to death in oven: Shocking story of severe neglect Watch

Image of J'zyra Thompson was found burned to death near the oven in her home, where she was left unsupervised with three siblings ages three to five (Facebook).


In a heart-breaking and gross display of child endangerment, 19-month-old J'zyra Thompson was found burned to death near the stove in her home Tuesday morning.  LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Thompson was left alone with three siblings aged three to ... continue reading

UPDATE: Two policemen shoot and kill Autistic boy strapped in carseat Watch

Image of Jeremy Mardis, 6, was shot and killed by two officers who did not know the boy was strapped in the front seat of his father's vehicle (Facebook).


An eyewitness has come forward to describe the encounter between Christopher Few and the murder of his 6-year-old son, Jeremy Mardis, at the hands of Marksville officers. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Mark Jeansonne, Few's attorney, viewed bodycam footage from ... continue reading

All Marriage & Family News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • CRYBABY KILLER: Islamist State fighter breaks down in tears after ...
  • The Miracle Prayer HD Video
  • St. Andrew: Saint of the Day for Monday, November 30, 2015
  • GRAPHIC IMAGES: Islamic extremist shown being BLOWN UP while making ...
  • MIRACLES DO HAPPEN: Days-old baby girl buried alive pulled to safety ...
  • Daily Readings for Monday, November 30, 2015
  • Prayer For Courage HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Romans 10:9-18
9 that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and if you ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 19:2-3, 4-5
2 day discourses of it to day, night to night hands on the ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 4:18-22
18 As he was walking by the Lake of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 30th, 2015 Image

St. Andrew
November 30: Andrew, like his brother Simon Peter, was a ... Read More