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    A View from the Pew
    Sunday
    Mar112012

    Ministry to the Sick and Home Bound: A Fuller Sign 

    Ministry to the Sick and the Homebound: A Fuller Sign   

    After a long stint of suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, my mother died three years ago on March 12, 2009. She and my dad, a retired permanent deacon, lived in an in-law apartment connected to our family room. My dad survived my mother; he will turn 92 years old on March 27, 2012. Profoundly deaf and no longer able to walk steadily, Dad wisely surrendered his license after a brief illness and hospitalization about a month ago. Sooner is better than too late,” he stated. True that.

    Dad now depends on me and my husband Patrick for meals, laundry, cleaning services, elder law services, health care paperwork and errands. We developed a relationship with Southcoast VNA and New Bedford Coastline Elderly when Patrick and I cared for his elderly aunt and during my mother’s illness as well. We continue to utilize their excellent services. Family and friends visit and care for Dad whenever needed. Care giving takes a village and we consider ourselves wealthy in our wonderful community of compassion on his behalf.  

    Being homebound because of age or health reasons can be a desolating experience, especially for those folks like my dad who grew accustomed to daily celebrations of the Eucharist and devotions in their parish and now depend on others to keep them connected to sacramental life. As a Christian community, how do we care for the sick, the homebound and those who care for them? A legion population exists: elderly spouses who care for the other; single parents who care for a child with a long term illness; an only child who cares for two elderly parents; widows, widowers and single adults who grow old and lose vision, mobility, well being; post-surgical patients. An infinite list exists.  

    If you belong to a parish, consider the people you no longer see in the pews. Who’s missing? Who do you know that needs a meal, a visit, a phone call? Further, if you serve in one of the parish ministries as a lector, a pastoral musician, a communion minister, a minister of hospitality, a server, how do you exercise Christian responsibility after the blessing and dismissal at Sunday worship?  How does a Christian community minister to those who live on the periphery? Intercessory prayers alone within a Eucharistic celebration just do not cut it. How can we become a fuller sign of Eucharist as we become the body and blood of Christ when we leave the church parking lot?

    In the history of the church, we see that people who assumed liturgical responsibilities assisted in their particular roles after the celebration of Eucharist. Deacons assisted the church in matters of charity and social concerns. The people who proclaimed the gospel and led intercessory prayer embodied those aspects of prayer, knowing who need to be prayer for because of their particular ministry to the poor and the marginalized, the sick and those who care for them, those who died. The people who served as readers also served as catechists outside the liturgy and taught the word of God through faith sharing and study groups. Music ministers took liturgical psalmody into people’s homes, believing that music can sometimes be a potent as any medicine. Gospel action with integrity in the middle of the marketplace speaks volumes to people beyond words.  

    I began A View from the Pew nine months ago. In all of the parishes that I visited, I only witnessed one dismissal of communion ministers sent from worship into service to bring Eucharist to the homebound. Perhaps the sending forth of commissioned extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist occurred at a different liturgy than the one I attended. However, I did not see that particular ministry to the sick and homebound listed in a majority of the bulletins I read. Nor did I hear any announcement or invitation to inform the parish of someone’s illness and a desire to welcome a visit from an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist in their home on a weekly basis. That’s not a judgment; that’s an observation. Ministry to the sick and homebound includes prayer, scripture reading, reflection on the scriptures, and the rite of distribution of communion as an extension of the Sunday liturgy. To people like my dad, that would mean the world. Can you imagine the pastoral outreach if every parish developed this ministry? Can you envision a spiritual, theological and practical preparation for communion ministers to fulfill this beautiful ecclesial corporal work of mercy?

     In October, the Catholic Church will celebrate the opening of The Second Vatican Council, which envisioned full, conscious and active participation of the Christian community within worship and a renewal of Christian action as an outcome of the source and summit of the celebration of Eucharist. I think that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what the council imagined. Yes, the liturgy moved from Latin to the vernacular. Lay ecclesial ministry found an active role within a Eucharistic celebration. And yes, priest, deacon and the assembly dialogue within the rites. But do we engage the rites beyond the liturgy, intentionally living as a fuller sign of how we are changed and made different through our involvement as Eucharist for others?  

    We are what we eat. In this case, we might say that we are who we eat. As we approach Triduum and Holy Thursday: The Lord’s Supper, keep in mind Jesus’ mandatum to serve one another and share his body and blood as his body and blood. We could change the world if we got this one right. One consideration may be to begin a robust ministry to the sick and homebound. What’s stopping you from developing a strategic plan to become a fuller sign of who we are as disciples of Jesus?