Ministry to the sick is a ministry of presence
I think all of us would agree that being ill is no fun. Being hospitalized for illness and surgery is even less fun. Illness or hospitalization can bring with them all sorts of stress. We wonder if we will ever feel better. We think about our mortality. Times of illness can bring out some of our deepest emotions and we can sometimes say things to others – especially to hospital staff, family members and friends – in ways that we might never otherwise speak. Illness is no easy experience because it makes us vulnerable on so many levels.
Times of illness can also make it difficult for us to pray. It’s not that we don’t realize the need for prayer – but being sick and tired can make it difficult for any of us to find the words for prayer. When it becomes difficult to pray, we can easily feel isolated from God. If we feel isolated from God, we can also feel isolated from the Church and the human community which it represents. Times of illness – especially times of chronic or severe illness – can make us feel very much alone, even when there might be others nearby.
Through my years of priestly ministry, I have come to understand that one of the most valuable forms of ministry that I can offer is visiting those who are hospitalized or homebound. What I have discovered is that most often all I have to do is show up. Jesus will take it from there.
Although I have my Oil of the Sick with me as well as the Eucharist, quite often just knocking on the door and entering the room where someone is sick can be enough to bring them a sense of peace and connectedness. With a simple greeting and a few words of prayer and brief conversation, Jesus enters the room and makes his way into the situation faced by the one who is homebound or hospitalized. The sign of the cross traced on a forehead and hands upraised in prayer can break down the layers of isolation felt by the person, providing a necessary sense of being part of the human community, the family of God, the Church.
As our parish populations continue to age, ministry to the homebound and hospitalized is becoming ever more critical. Family structures are not the same as they once were. It is not uncommon for adult children to have moved away and for family supports to be less tangible. Technology such as cell phones helps, but it is increasingly more common for our older parishioners to live alone. At the same time, members of our parish communities can offer invaluable support by visiting and praying with those who are hospitalized or homebound. This kind of ministry usually requires a little bit of training, but most of all it requires the gift of our time, our faith and our willingness to just show up. Jesus can take it from there.
And so, our journey in FAITH continues.