At the beginning of last week I found myself with a group of others, blessing and dedicating a memorial plaque positioned on the wall of Aldi’s here in the town. Before Aldi’s stood there, there was a solid red sand-stone building in its place. It had in recent times been the site of Cambuslang College but it also been in past been the place where Trinity High School was, St Bride’s Secondary and of course in the first times, Gateside School.
The School was built in 1914, it was to be known as Gateside School, but before it opened the Government requisitioned it as a hospital for people who would be injured in the forthcoming war. The close proximity of the railway line meant also that a dedicated platform for the trains bringing the sick and injured was created giving easy access to the hospital. Hospital trains bringing and bearing the soldiers were also given precedence over any other train on the line, nothing was to impede them.
Over the years, countless men from the armed forces were looked after there. Some were to return to civilian life injured and carrying disabilities. Others succumbed to their illnesses, there are a number of graves at Westburn cemetery of solders who died in the hospital and even one grave of a German soldier who was looked after in the Cambuslang Hospital.
Today we think of those injured men and the people who cared for them. In thinking of them, with their wounds and their injuries, there is something there that tells us of the reality of war – it is not about glory and victory it is about death and destruction. In thinking of those men today there is great pride too that in our town there was place of healing for these broken men.
Pope Francis has described the Church exactly in these same terms. Not as a boat slicing its way through the waters going at high speed to reach its destination, to a heavenly city; nor as a mighty rock on which people can build securely. But rather in these terms, like a field hospital after a battle. A place where the wounded might come. A place of refuge where the broken might rest. A place where wounds can be healed.
The image lends to chaotic scenes, people panicking, wounds beings staunched, moans and groans of the sick. The image conjures up blood and guts, people blinded by gas, people lost limbs, people sickly and in the death throws. Tis is an image that lends itself to the Church in the world, deeply embedded in its troubles.
The Church is to be like a field hospital, he says, after battle – a place of refuge, a place where all are injured and broken are taken, a place where wounds might be healed. A place where the suffering are taken care of.
Here, the Pope wants to say, we are all wounded. Here we are all injured. Here we are all sick. Here we all limp along. Here we are all needing a helping hand. Here our doors are opened to all people who are like us.
The Church is not a place for people who have got the answers, the self assured, the self righteous, the self satisfied. People who build their life on certainties.
Here is a place for people who are wounded, broken and in need of the healing medicine of grace.
It’s a million miles from other images that we have known, where waves might crash but the Church stands firm, or like a ship tossed on the seas but which is unsinkable. The Church is primarily a place for the wounded and broken who are in need of healing, mercy , compassion and grace.
St Paul describes himself as a sick man in the first reading of mass. A man who has a thorn in his flesh. We are left to wonder what that thorn might be – some physical ailment, some mental torture, some moral weakness, some uncertainty he carries in his heart. He is not a well man, this man who seems so certain always shows himself as wounded, vulnerable and broken.
The first reason that the Church exists is for all people who are unwell, weak, not strong, the broken. Jesus says: “it is not the healthy who need the doctor but those who are sick”. Here is the place that wounds can be bound up, here is the place where you can rest awhile, here is the place where you can be better. The Church like any field hospital after a war, after the battle and conflict, it is where the wounded many be taken.
Even the Lord seems weak in the Gospel today. His towns-folk reject him. He is weak and wounded himself. It is exactly this, he comes to bear our burden , share in our pain, he comes to be one like us, wounded like us, in need of healing like us.
The Church is not the place of the certain, it is the place of the wounded. Here there is the smell of suppurating wounds. Here people bear the burdens of long illness, thorns in their flesh, if you like. Here people need to be carried by others, looked after by others. Here we are all sick and in need of healing medicine of God’s grace.