By Father Ed Dougherty, MM
Dr. Chuck Dietzen was the winner of two awards at the recent Christopher Awards ceremony. One was for his memoir Pint-Sized Prophets, while the other recognized his lifelong dedication to helping children in need. In his remarks at the ceremony, Dr. Dietzen explained that the term “Pint-Sized Prophets” came from his realization that the children he treats have the capacity to connect others with God in a special way.
Dr. Dietzen grew up in a family that took in 150 foster children over the course of 20 years. As a young man, he pursued a medical career in pediatrics and got involved with physical rehabilitation for disabled children. Then, in 1997, an encounter with Mother Teresa led him to expand his mission to create a network to provide pediatric hospice care in developing countries. In Pint-Sized Prophets, Dr. Dietzen talks about returning from a trip to India and being asked by people how it went. He would say, “It was very successful. We did 26 surgeries.” Then he would add, “We’ve only got about three million to go.” Despite the enormous work that needs to be done in his field, Dr. Dietzen remains hopeful regarding the impact he is making. He writes, “We have to live in the belief that each of those 26 children might reach 26 others, and those 26 might touch 26 more…It’s the way that the ripple effect that Mother Teresa always talked about becomes real. The number of people helping others gets higher and higher, and that’s how we heal our world.”
Dr. Dietzen’s perspective is informed by his appreciation for the spirituality of the children he serves. He says, “When you allow yourself to get close enough to these kids, your heart will be broken and, at the same time, healed…They are incredible souls who were sent here to make us better, to make us more compassionate, more kind, more human.”
It is amazing to think that our hearts can be “broken and, at the same time, healed” by a single experience. But it is in the process of meeting others in their suffering and allowing ourselves to feel their pain that we open our hearts to the compassion of Christ. And when we experience this compassion, we find healing for the soul.
Christ becomes present in a profound way when one person reaches out to another in need. In describing the greeting that awaits the faithful servant, Christ says, “Truly I tell you whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25: 40). But those who are suffering must also open their hearts to others in order for the dynamic of healing to take place. This is the shared gift that Dr. Dietzen talks about. When his patients open their hearts to his kindness, he experiences a personal interaction with Christ. And when he acts with compassion to help them, they realize Christ’s presence more fully in their own lives.
In her mystical poetry, St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Christ has no body but yours,/ No hands, no feet on earth but yours,/ Yours are the eyes with which he looks/ Compassion on this world….” Christ wants to work through us to reach out to the person in need, and it is in this way that the healer and the sufferer meet and find healing together in Christ.