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Inside the Hospice: Oil and Water

by Fr Peter-Michael Scott

After 27 years of priesthood, I have come to realise that nowhere is perfect, not even the hospice. Often enough stresses and strains occur between staff, and as chaplain I sometimes find myself being privileged to hear someone’s sadness or anger.

None of this is new. Amongst the Apostles, there must have been quarrels and disagreements. An obvious example is Luke 9.46, where the disciples argue as to which of them is the greatest. Perhaps there was a natural affinity between the fishermen, or those of certain ages and experience of life which excluded others in the group. Christ’s teaching about observing the plank in one’s eye before noticing the splinter in the other’s (Matthew 7.5) may have been helpful. Perhaps, when sending them out in pairs (Mark 6.7), he mixed them up a little to help them understand each other. Ultimately Jesus gave them confidence to accept their differences, to be more humble and work together.

It is often in opening oneself up to try and understand someone else, that a sense of peace or agreement can be made. This is not easy. In the hospice there are policies and procedures which protect staff but are also designed to encourage mediation and resolution. In my seminary days, our excellent spiritual director use to remind us that God’s creation sometimes gives clues as to how to live with others. He reminded us that oil and water can never mix, but rest side by side, almost with silent respect, and that is what we must do.

Pope Francis, in his beautiful exhortation on holiness states ‘if we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority, we can actually help them and stop wasting our energy on useless complaining. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux tells us that “perfect charity consists in putting up with others’ mistakes and not being scandalised by their faults”’; a lovely way of echoing that we respect oil if we are water, or we respect water if we are oil.

Pope Francis also writes ‘in the Gospel of Luke we do not hear the words “Be perfect”, but rather “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”’ Just as I thought, no institution is totally perfect, but we can strive to be merciful.

Please pray for the patients, staff, volunteers and sisters of St Joseph’s Hospice.