Thursday, August 12, 2010

Florence Nighingale: Nursing as Calling


I write this post from my mother's bedside. She is in a nursing home run by the nuns of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a nursing order in the Dominican tradition. They are called to tend to those dying from cancer.

Florence Nightingale believed she was called to the sick and dying. But in her day, nursing was relegated to prostitutes and substance abusers. For Florence, she saw the dignity of God in each suffering soul she ministered to. Today's hospitals owe much to the reforms Florence initiated.

But what I often see missing in our Christan life is the celebration of acts of mercy to the sick and suffering. What the nuns are teaching me, and what Jesus has taught already, is how serving the poor allows Christ to serve us through them. Florence saw nursing as a noble profession in a day when women who lived on and off the street were demanded to care for those deemed untouchable by disease and accident. Today we now have men in nursing and expect a professionalism once reserved for doctors. But what can't be reserved is mercy. The God we worship is a merciful God. Let us be merciful to all who suffer in our day!

Life-giving God, you alone have power over life and death, over health and sickness: Give power, wisdom, and gentleness to those who follow the lead of Florence Nightingale, that they, bearing with them your presence, may not only heal but bless, and shine as lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear; through Jesus Christ, the healer of body and soul, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen