Throwback Thursday: Bringing the Love of Christ to Our Sisters and Brothers in Need

Visiting the Sick, by Gege workshop

Through our works of mercy, care and compassion, each of us can make the love of Jesus Christ present in our world.  One way of sharing the Gospel that is much appreciated, but which often goes quietly unnoticed except by those who are touched by it, is the Church’s ministry to those persons who are homebound or living in a care-giving facility due to sickness, infirmity, injury, age or other debilitating condition.

Being limited in what we can do is frustrating, but even worse is diminished social interaction and solitude.   Out of sight to others, there is a very real risk of feeling as if we were out of mind as well – abandoned or forgotten.  But those in this situation do not have to face the struggles of the human condition alone, without the consolation of others or, most particularly, without the sacraments.  Aware of our human frailty, Jesus Christ, the divine physician of our souls and bodies, has willed that his Church’s mission is to go out to people and bring comfort and compassion which show that we are all a part of God’s family, no one is to be excluded.

Remembering how the Lord went to meet people in need wherever they were and how Mary went in haste to Elizabeth’s home to help tend to her needs, with love the Church invites her members to go out to visit and minister to people in homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing centers, and every place that people live, especially the most vulnerable.  This ministry is made explicit in canon law, which provides that a pastor is to visit the people within his parish, sharing in their cares, anxieties and griefs, strengthening them in the Lord, and refreshing them with the sacraments (Canon 529 § 1).  In this, the pastor is assisted by lay ministers who, together with their prayers, can bring Christ in the Eucharist to the homebound and those in care-giving facilities, as well as by associate priests who can additionally hear confessions, provide an anointing, and give blessings.

In his apostolic exhortation “The Sacrament of Charity,” Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the pastoral imperative of going out and providing this spiritual assistance to those who cannot attend places of worship. “These brothers and sisters of ours should have the opportunity to receive sacramental communion frequently. In this way they can strengthen their relationship with Christ, crucified and risen, and feel fully involved in the Church’s life and mission by the offering of their sufferings in union with our Lord’s sacrifice” (58).

For such a visit by a priest, deacon or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in a special vessel called a pyx.  A liturgical rite is followed, but it is fairly brief to accommodate the possible limitations of the person receiving.  In a home, this ordinarily includes introductory rites, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of Communion and a concluding rite, while in the hospital setting, a shorter rite can be used.  If the person is unable to receive, or chooses not to, prayers may be offered instead.  Afterward would be an appropriate time for friendly socializing, showing pastoral concern and interest in their welfare.  Beyond the Eucharist, this loving action may be the greatest gift they can receive.

Another component of this ministry is the Sunday TV Mass produced by the Archdiocese of Washington.  Here, those who are unable to be physically present with a local worshipping community are given the opportunity to receive the word of God, merciful and full of love.

Those who minister to persons who are homebound or in care-giving facilities will tell you how personally rewarding it is.  However, all of the baptized share in this call to do all we can to help and show love for them.  Spending time with them, helping them with meals or housework, telephoning them – all of these provide a comfort.  Even just sending a card saying “get well” or “thinking of you” can brighten their day.

We are not bystanders in God’s plan for a world of healing, wholeness, kindness and love.  We are participants who answer Jesus’ call to meet the needs of others.