Field Hospital on the Edge of the Battlefield — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Field Hospital on the Edge of the Battlefield

Contemplation in Action: Week 1

Field Hospital on the Edge of the Battlefield
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Francis of Assisi taught us the importance of living close to the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts in society. The outer poverty, injustice, and absurdity around us mirror our own inner poverty, injustice, and absurdity. The poor man or woman outside is an invitation to the poor man or woman inside. As you nurture compassion and sympathy for the brokenness of things, encounter the visible icon of the painful mystery in “the little ones,” build bridges between the inner and outer, learn to move between action and contemplation, then you’ll find compassion and sympathy for the brokenness within yourself.

Each time I was recovering from cancer, I had to sit with my own broken absurdity as I’ve done with others at the jail or hospital or sick bed. The suffering person’s poverty is visible and extraverted; mine is invisible and interior, but just as real. I think that’s why Jesus said we have to recognize Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. It was for our redemption, our liberation, our healing—not just to “help” others and put a check on our spiritual resume.

I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours.

Thomas, the doubting apostle, wanted to figure things out in his head. He had done too much inner work, too much analyzing and explaining. He always needed more data before he could make a move. Then Jesus told Thomas he must put his finger inside the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side (John 20:27). Then and only then did Thomas begin to understand what faith is all about.

Pope Francis is encouraging a church of doubting Thomases when he tells us that “the church seems like a field hospital” [1] on the edge of the battlefield (as opposed to a country club of saved people) and the “clergy should smell like their sheep” (rather than thinking they smell better). [2] If this could happen, it would change just about everything that we have called church up to now.

Gateway to Silence:
Be still and still moving.

[1] Pope Francis, Address to members of the Focolare Movement on September 26, 2014. See full text at
[2] Pope Francis, With the Smell of the Sheep: Pope Francis Speaks to Priests, Bishops, and other Shepherds (Orbis Books: 2017).

Adapted and updated from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 108-110.

Image Credit: The Incredulity of Thomas (detail), painted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio between 1601 and 1602. Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam, Germany.
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