Summary of Life Promises Life: Pages from the Diary of a Hospital Chaplain by Fr. Vincent Nagle

Life Promises Life: Pages from the Diary of a Hospital Chaplain 
by Fr. Vincent Nagle, 2004.

I read this book to complete an assignment for my Clinical Pastoral Education Course at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Fr. Vincent Nagle is a priest of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, which is connected with Fr. Guisanni’s Communion and Liberation movement. 

Here are some quotes I found valuable: 


“Here we are in front of the mystery of mysteries, humanly speaking. We’ve been given something which feels like it must last forever and doesn’t, a contradiction that makes an apparent lie out of everything in the world: death. And yet you see some people approach it consciously and with holiness. Lucidity is an enormous sign that they have the courage to be there. Who can face it unless they’re ready?” (52).


“There are no words that I pray which are more central for me when I enter the room of a sick person than these: “A wound that will not heal until heaven” (de Grandmaison). I want to go in broken-hearted, to share this adventure with them where everything is broken apart and only one thing can put it all back together again. I don’t want to go in and give false comfort but true hope. As much as I want to comfort, and I do what I can, that’s not the prayer I have going in. He is our comforter, but mostly He is our hope” (25).

“The point is not to make them feel better but to give them hope” (69).

“I try to point out that what is already happening is the sign that all the grace they need will be given to them. It’s amazing. You’d think that these are stupid little words, but they’re not – somehow people are dying to hear these words, and if they don’t hear them, they are filled with doubt and divided in themselves because of the impurity of their hearts” (88).


“[T]here’s nothing inherent in life that says, “– and not it’s done.” It always says more! That’s why when I see a real sense in a family that they’ve done their work and that work’s now come to completion, I think it’s only because of the certainty that God will keep His promise for something more” (55).


“I heard someone screaming so I followed the sound. I didn’t know what to do; I just remembered “solidarity.” I’m always thinking that Jesus came to suffer with us… I entered and closed the door. Then I got on my knees and started screaming with her. She screamed, “Oh God!” and I screamed, “Oh God, help her! Help her!” At least this way she knew that someone was praying with her. I was there for a long time, I don’t know how long, and a certain point she changed from “Why, oh why, God? Oh, stop, stop!” into “I offer, I offer, I offer it!” That’s the way she stayed and that’s the way she died. In the last moments of her life, despair became hope” (13).

“When someone suffers, that is the first thing they’re aware of. No one knows. That’s why I always insist that God sees you, God watches you, He knows. But our experience rebels within us…” (56).

When someone asks Fr. Nagle whether their children, who have been away from the faith for a long time, will return to the Church, he says: “On my less cowardly days, I say, “Look, this is all a mystery. All I know is that if you can offer up this sickness of yours for their redemption, in ways we can’t see it will happen. God will make it all one, as He made all things one through the suffering of His Son, to whose body you belong. I don’t know how exactly that happens, but it has happened and does happen and will happen. I think that the way for it to happen now is for you to offer up your sadness for their distance from Christ, and share it with His sadness over their distance from God and His Church…” (62).


“There’s often an idea that if you bring in doctrine, you’re being unpastoral. You’re not! Doctrine is the most pastoral thing there is. It’s the truth that saves. You have to use prudence, but in those moments, there’s nothing more pastoral than doctrine” (31).

“You learn what has an effect and what doesn’t, what words produce what results, but I swear I pray every day that I never speak a word because it’s effective but only because it expresses the truth I’ve encountered” (100-1).

Being a Hospital Chaplain

“When you come in the name of Christ, you are recognized by people who don’t otherwise have that capability” (34)… “The presence of someone who is there explicitly in the name of Christ is the recovery of meaning” (93).

“I am not here as a psychologist or for my own cleverness, but to pray with the patients and for the patients. I am here to bring them to God and bring God to them. I am here in the name of God, a sacrament of His own presence” (77).

“At the end of the day what makes a difference to those nurses about me is that I go in there for God and Jesus. They sometimes talk to me about other priests who come in and do their thing, and they say, “You do it differently.” They mean that I don’t come in as a counselor; I don’t stay with the patients in order to mediate the presence of Christ but to present it, not to dole it out by drops by to be it. It makes a difference to them, and they trust it. They want that, especially because it helps them do their work” (80).

“For her [a devoted Catholic nurse] to have me there and see me praying with the patients on my knees is like a flesh-and-blood icon through which she sees why she’s there” (83).

Fr. Nagle hands out rosaries not with the intent of the person saying the rosary (often they are too sick to say it) but because, he says, “they have a crucifix on the end of them. I say, “Look. Keep your eyes on Him. He is here.” I tape the crucifix to the bed where they can turn their head and be three inches away from it. “Look how His arms oepn. You know why His arms open like that? Because He’s not holding anything from you. He knows your struggle, and He won’t hold back anything in order to be with you so that in your struggle you can be with Him. Look at Him, keep your eyes on Him, because He sure has His heart set on you!” (90). Fr. Nagle then concludes this with saying: “What really drives me to do it is that I have to walk out of the room – I’m a sign for them too, but I can’t stay twenty-four hours a day. It kills me to go out of the room without leaving a sign, so I leave that” (90-1).

“I would never have agreed to do this work if I had thought I was going there to do something for people. I go because Christ has done something for me, and now He’s asking me to go there” (92).

“I would go in and yell at him – you hope you get it right, and sometimes you don’t – but you can’t just play patty-cake with them – this is dramatic stuff!” (103).

Administering Sacraments in the Hospital

“When you come with Christ’s sacraments, you can reach where others cannot” (36).

“The first thing I want to do with patients is to give them the comfort of the sacraments of God. I often see them start to tremble, their eyes tear up – people hold themselves together until they see the priest. It’s like your mother coming in; not exactly the same, but it touches the same depth. I say, “This is big stuff, isn’t it.” Especially if it’s a guy – he does not want to be crying! He can’t stand it that he’s crying, and I say, “This is big stuff. It touches us inside and we tremble, and sometimes we weep because it’s bigger than us. It’s like standing in front of a tidal wave. This is not a do-it-yourself project, right?” (104-5). 

Sanctifying Work

“Work is the way to remain in His love. Work is part of our reality; it’s part of the place where we meet Him. To accept work is to accept the place where I stay within the love that saves me. It’s not a question of having to get this or that done so that God’s love be known or His mercy received or His Church grow. Just to go to the hospital and move my hands and open my mouth is to embrace the reality in which I continue to live in the love of God. It is to be obedient as Christ was obedient, which was how He stayed in the Father’s love. Before, work was what I did in order to earn His love, which is an abyss. Now work is the place where I go to continue to live in His love” (70-71).


“I know from my own experience what redemption means — all of it is beautiful because now there’s nothing that’s not part of this beauty” (62).

The Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo

“The Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo is a group of priests and seminarians who met CL (Communion and Liberation) and recognized it as a way to live a great life in Jesus Christ. They saw this movement as a place where all the words of the Church become self-evident facts of everyday life, and the victory of Christ and our love becomes something you can do everywhere and always. They wanted to live their priesthood as missionaries of this charism” (47).

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