The call to assist the dying is more than a career but a vocation. Pastoral Thanatology encompasses the essence of care of the dying by combining the psychology of the dying with a pastoral and theological care. This care follows the path of scripture and the teachings of Christ in caring for the dying by not only giving the proper attention to physical needs but to also spiritual needs. The care given by pastoral givers in nursing homes, counseling centers and hospitals parallels the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. These seven works care for the physical needs of one’s neighbor and are scripturally based off the teachings and words of Christ.
Pastoral Care and the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy
One of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy actually is to care actually to care or visit the sick. In that care, one does not only perform their duties but also answer a vocational call of service to their fellow man. Within the visitation or care of the sick, one finds themselves performing other acts of mercy which include giving drink, food, and clothing the naked. These are all actions Christ asks from his followers when he told his apostles and disciples that when you do these acts for the least of my brethren then you do it for me. Whilecare of the dying goes beyond the mere physical and even goes to the point of the Spiritual works of mercy where comfort and counsel become imperative, one cannot deny the sacred calling of nurses and other health care administers who take a simple chore and turn into an action of Christian excellence. These physical acts of mercy benefit all and should be cultivated as habitual actions of virtue within the soul of the caregiver. Through this, his or her actions will shine through and give the comfort and love the dying patient needs. Below are a list of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. To feed the hungry. To give drink to the thirsty. To clothe the naked. To give shelter to the homeless. To visit the imprisoned. To visit the sick. To bury the dead As one can see these simple seven acts of charity are actions that all Christians should undertake in their social obligations to the world. Yet what an excellent opportunity is presented for someone in pastoral care giving situation to practice these actions and share the love of God with the dying. While these initial actions are merely at the physical level and the spiritual acts and last rites remain the most important element to the dying, one cannot still neglect the physical needs of a human being. Our nature is comprised of spirit and flesh and God commands his people to respect both elements with love and dignity.
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C