Corporal Works of Mercy

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gerard with patient

“The Corporal Works of Mercy are found in the teachings of Jesus and give us a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise.”

~United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

     The above description of the Corporal Works of Mercy reminds us that Christ lives within all of creation, unifying every living being. When we experience this sacred reality, we come to understand our actions as a means by which we may bring healing and wholeness to the Body of Christ. As our Bon Secours Ministry Volunteers practice the Corporal Works of Mercy through their service, they develop a deeper appreciation for the web of relationships which connects each of them in both an intimate and a personal way to all those they meet in their daily lives. In the reflections below, the BSVM volunteers share encounters which illustrate this growth. It is in the act of responding to their neighbor’s hunger and thirst for dignity through the Corporal Works of Mercy that our volunteers meet Christ in service.

~ Olivia Steback, Program Manager, Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry


Feed the Hungry and Give Drink to the Thirsty

When I bring a patient a container of apple juice or a pack of graham crackers, it often doesn’t register in my mind as a significant action.  After all, most patients get three meals a day while in the hospital, something many of them do not receive outside the care of Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital.  However, during my year of service I have come to realize the importance of these gestures lies not in their magnitude, but in the greater recognition of the human dignity these acts symbolize.

The patients I encounter, many of whom struggle with poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and other afflictions which contribute to their marginalization from mainstream society, are not used to being waited on or served. On the other hand, I am accustomed to going out to restaurants with family or friends, people taking my order, cooking my food, filling up my drink glass, and removing my dishes when I am done.  When offering a patient a snack, I don’t quite have the selection of a five-star restaurant to choose from, but when I am asking a question as simple as, “Would you prefer apple, cranberry, or orange juice?”  I feel I am embodying the ways in which I have been served. “Waiting” on patients, taking their “orders”, bringing them food, and clearing things away when they are done, feel like true acts of mercy. I am showing them that I find them important by honoring their requests and responding in a full and prompt manner.

In my mind, this is what it means to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. In the above scenarios, the acts are not important because the people I am serving are in danger of starving to death in that moment, but because of the dynamic they represent; seeing and honoring Christ’s presence in all people elicits the desire to serve. ~ Gerard Ondrey

Shelter the Homeless

Through my ministry in the emergency room I have been able to work with many of the homeless men and women who reside in our community. These individuals come to the hospital seeking medical care and assistance with their social problems. My role, when I first meet them, is to ensure that their non-medical needs are addressed. One of the main organizations the hospital partners with is Healthcare for the Homeless, a nonprofit that provides medical care and social service assistance. With their aid, I have been able to provide patients the support and resources needed to help them transition out of homelessness.

~ Alex Yeo

Visit the Sick

Our volunteer community has been fortunate enough to avoid sickness so far (thank you Lord!) but, every day at the hospital, we work with those from the greater West Baltimore community who are ill. In my experience, it is often the sickest patients who are the most difficult to ‘be present to’. All of our renal patients have a lot going on in their lives, from physical ailments, comorbidities, and actual disability to the myriad social problems that living in an impoverished neighborhood presents. In spite of the massive obstacles that all our patients face, there is still a huge range in energy levels and general overall health. The chipper, friendly, energetic patients are often the easiest to build relationships with. At first, I was daunted by the prospect of talking to the older, quieter, sicker renal patients. As I have grown and learned with Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry this year, I have come to understand that our service isn’t necessarily about entertaining patients, solving little problems, or even listening to them. It’s about being there for them with your whole soul.

That is the mentality that empowered me to smile a bit and sit down next to one of our elderly, quiet, very sick nursing home patients. Sometimes, I’ll hold her hand or say something that I am thinking of, but mostly I just sit there beside her. It’s really a silent visit, a moment of being present to one of my sisters in Christ in the only way I know how – to just be together. I don’t have much else to offer her, but something about those tiny moments, no matter how small and simple, just feels right. It’s like a little slice of the Holy Spirit is there in right relationship with us as we sit and simply be together. ~ Mackenzie Buss


Visit Prisoners

     It is not unusual to pass a man or woman walking down the hallway in handcuffs, flanked by two security guards. Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore ministers to patients from the Department of Corrections. In fact, some patients admitted to St. Martin’s Hall Inpatient Unit will be discharged to the police. Seeing these patients, shackled to their beds, I find myself trying to imagine what they must be feeling. Some are visibly anxious. With a small idea of the dehumanization that can be experienced in prison, I feel privileged to extend warmth and kindness to our prisoners at the hospital. Recognizing basic humanity and dignity, of both patients and the guards in their rooms, can be as simple as smiling and offering a cup of water. ~ Elizabeth Modde

Bury the Dead

In the ER, you rarely get the opportunity to develop a lasting relationship with a patient. There is a very specific process: triage, treat, and either discharge or admit to the inpatient floor. The focus is on efficiency not casual conversation. Regardless, many of the patients that come to the ER frequently are often too intoxicated or incapacitated to engage in conversation. This year, however, I had the privilege of meeting a patient, let us call him David, who had developed a lasting relationship with the ER staff.

David, admittedly, was not the most pleasant patient to work with; a homeless alcoholic he had been cycling through the ER for over twenty years. I was always impressed that despite how frustrating it was for the staff to see him constantly return to the hospital, they were able to retain hope for his future. He was always given a place to rest out of the cold, a warm meal, and often times new clothes. The ER staff was his family. Their relationship may have begun begrudgingly but was now one of love and concern.  When David passed away this winter, the mood in the ER was one of sadness and relief. Knowing that he had moved on to a better place brought solace to those who had worked with him.

Being one of the last people to work with him, I was given the task of organizing his memorial service. Visiting the different departments of the hospital to raise publicity about the service, I was amazed at how many people in the hospital knew of him or had stories about caring for him. The hospital staff had given him many resources and much love, but he also gave back to us. During those difficult and frustrating moments of caring for him, he taught us how to love and to be patient; how to look past one’s impulsive judgments and tap into a deeper desire to care for one another as members of God’s creation. For those lessons we are eternally grateful and his presence will be greatly missed.  ~ Alex Yeo


Give Alms to the Poor

Through my ministry, I had the privilege to deliver Christmas gift bags to the many seniors I visit every month for blood pressure screenings. Around Christmastime each year, women from local Baltimore churches donate gift bags filled with simple personal hygiene products, laundry and dish detergent, and hand-knit scarves. For many of the residents, this may be the only Christmas present they receive. When I told them they could keep the entire bag of gifts, the look on their faces was humbling. The gratitude and appreciation they expressed was inspiring; this simple, unexpected gift bag brought them so much joy. One woman actually came back down from her apartment after leaving with her gift bag to thank us again for the things we gave her. That was an extremely powerful moment for me, because I realized how much these simple items, items most people consider a necessity, meant to the seniors. ~ Nicole Odlum


Pope Francis writes that, “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”  Please continue to remember our volunteers in your prayers as they take Pope Francis’ words to heart and strive to courageously live lives of mercy and hope.