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The Incarnation & Health Care as Ministry

  • Season: Season 1
  • Posted On:
  • Featuring: Sean Collins & Rev. Denise Hess

There is a long tradition of faith-based healthcare. On this Christmas episode — filled with music, poetry, and conversation — we ask: How has the belief that God became human in the flesh inspire care for people and their bodies?

Episode Notes


The Rev. Denise Hess of the Supportive Care Coalition  (now part of the Catholic Health Association) joins host Seán Collins in a reflection on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation and the ways it has inspired centuries of healthcare. They talk about the example of Jesus-as-healer, the crucial role women have served in promoting healthcare ministries, and the place suffering plays in our understanding of caring for the whole person.

They are accompanied throughout the hour by three musicians who perform original arrangements of traditional carols: Gabe Miller, violin and arranger; Elijah Cole, guitar; and Nathan Pence, bass. 

"Good is the Flesh"

by Brian Wren

Good is the flesh that the Word has become,    

good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,    

good is the feeding, caressing and rest,    

good is the body for knowing the world,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body for knowing the world,    

sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,    

feeling, perceiving, within and around,    

good is the body, from cradle to grave,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body, from cradle to grave,    

growing and aging, arousing, impaired,    

happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,    

good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,    

longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,    

glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,    

good is the body, for good and for God,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Samaritanus bonus (excerpt)

by Pope Francis

"At work here is a contemplative gaze that beholds in one’s own existence and that of others a unique and unrepeatable wonder, received and welcomed as a gift. This is the gaze of the one who does not pretend to take possession of the reality of life but welcomes it as it is, with its difficulties and sufferings, and, guided by faith, finds in illness the readiness to abandon oneself to the Lord of life who is manifest therein."

"A Blessing for the New Baby"

by Luci Shaw

Lightly as a falling star, immense, may you

drop into the body of the pure young girl like a seed

into its furrow, entering your narrow home under the shadow

of Gabriel’s feathers. May your flesh shape itself within her,

swelling her with shame and glory. May her belly grow

round as a small planet, a bowl of golden fruit.

When you suck in your first breath, and your loud cries

echo through the cave (blessings on you, little howler!),

may Mary adorn you with tears and caresses like ribbons,

her face glowing, a moon among stars. At her breasts,

may you drink the milk of mortality that transforms you,

even more, into one of your own creatures.

And now, as the night of this world folds you in

its brutal frost (the barnyard smell strong as sin),

and as Joseph, weary with unwelcome and relief, his hands

bloody from your birth, spreads his thin cloak

around you both, we doubly bless you, Baby,

as you are acquainted, for the first time, with our grief.

"Journey of the Magi"

by T.S. Eliot

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Rev. Denise Hess, MDiv, BCC-PCHAC

Supportive Care Coalition 

Catholic Health Association of the United States

for further reading:

Incarnate Grace: Perspectives on the Ministry of Catholic Health Care

ed. Fr. Charles Bouchard, OP, STD

Listen to the playlist from today's episode on SoundCloud. 

  • Seán Collins is the host and a producer of the Hear Me Now Podcast, a production of the Providence Institute for Human Caring. He is a veteran public radio producer, having spent more than 20 years at NPR where he led a team that produced the network's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. Collins is a former Benedictine monk.

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  • Gabe Miller
  • Elijah Cole
  • Seán Collins
  • Rev. Denise Hess
  • Nathan Pence


  • healthcare
  • music
  • poetry
  • ministry
  • incarnation
  • Christmas