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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'

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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.


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