The first time that I brought the Blessed Sacrament to a home-bound person, I had serious reservations.
I had avoided being a Eucharistic minister in any capacity throughout my entire adult life. In spite of knowing full well that I was no more or less a sinner than anyone at Sunday Mass, I was convinced that there was no way that I could possibly be worthy enough to take on the responsibility of participating in the Holy Community. Whenever I was attending a small Mass, or the Sacristan was searching for volunteers to fill in for a last minute no-show, I would always stand quietly and hope to avoid notice. In the case of being asked directly, I would always squirm for a way out.
So, when my mom got sick and was unable to bring the Eucharist to an elderly, home-bound man named Jack whom she had been visiting for some time, she called on her only son to cover for her. I was in my early 20s, and was in the midst of a season of infatuation with the pleasures of a worldly life. I was less than ecstatic. This isn’t to say I wasn’t flattered, and a little excited… I just wasn’t sure I was spiritually up to the task. The music I often played in my car was definitely not appropriate for driving around carrying the Host. Also, the language I tended to use towards other drivers was less than Christ-like. It wasn’t just carrying Our Lord that worried me. I was also concerned about going to a unknown place, full of unknown people, and spending some very intimate time with an unknown man who was ill and nearing the end of his life. My past experiences in nursing homes and hospitals had varied between mildly depressing to emotionally traumatizing.
I try to be a good son, so, after my mother made clear to me that there was nobody else she could ask, I agreed to cover for her, and I rushed to our parish to pick up the Host. Approaching the Tabernacle felt like running a gauntlet. I guess that stereotypical Catholic guilt came into play. As I approached the Body of Christ, I was treated to my very own mental highlight reel: every sin that I had committed recently (and some not so recently) was recalled, every impure thought and uncharitable impulse – in short, everything that I was convinced made me unworthy for this task – was brought to the forefront of my mind.
At this point, I knew that the only way out was to move forward, so I pressed on. I tried to remember what my pastor regularly used to tell me at confession when I expressed my frustration at my constant need to confess the same sins on a regular basis: “Welcome to being human.” I finally reached my destination, and was able to secure a single wafer without any apparent lightning strikes. Next stop; social awkwardness.
I pulled up to the nursing home. I was surprised at how comfortable and familiar it seemed. Maybe I was feeling relieved that I had as yet not been drawn down into Perdition, or maybe the presence of our Lord had cleared away the murk of my doubt. I made my way inside and met Jack for the first time. He was clearly quite elderly, and quite ill. He sat, slack-jawed and vacant-eyed, in a wheelchair. His wife, Fran, was also there. For this I was supremely thankful. She introduced herself, and told me a little bit about Jack. She told me that Jack’s condition was unpredictable, and that he was sometimes lucid and able to converse, while at other times he was almost completely unresponsive. Despite this fact, Jack put his hand out to shake, and caught my hand in a grip that spoke quietly of the strength of his youth. He gripped my right hand while my left hand was gripping the pix, and we were suddenly in a familiar tableau – that of the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer during mass. His hand in mine, mine in the Lord’s.
I read my parts from the book that my mom had given me, and I passed the Eucharist to Jack. He was only able to take the smallest crumb, and Fran took the remaining wafer. Again I was superbly aware of the fact that no avenging Angel had come down to smite me in the act of what I feared would be profanity. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I felt questions forming in my mind. Had I been wrong about my own worth? Or perhaps I had misunderstood the purpose of the Eucharist from the beginning.
That was the beginning. I ended up taking over for my mom, and I was blessed to have the opportunity to bring the Eucharist to Jack almost every week from that day until his death, a few short months later.
I took a few weeks to process this new experience. I was eager to continue in this ministry, but I was surprised at how deeply I had connected with a man who was capable of little communication and whom I had known for only a short while. When I was ready to continue, I emailed the coordinator. I requested a new parishioner in need of that special house call.
I have had several special friends since Jack, although none have touched me so personally, or so deeply. Some of them have moved out of state, some have regained their strength and returned to Mass under their own power. All of them have been a joy.
Somewhere along the way, I realized how silly I had been. Of course, all of us are unworthy to carry the Body of our Lord. But that is part of the beauty of this tradition that dates back to the very infancy of our Faith. Christ’s death and resurrection formed a new and ongoing covenant with humanity. Through Him, we are called to be true children of God. In Him, we are invited to once more be a nation of priests. By carrying the Holy Host to those unable to attend Mass, we are quite literally acting as Christ’s emissaries to the world. At my conversion point in this journey, I reflected on how I was acting out many of the occasions of healing that we find in scripture. Looking back, I realize that one of the people who were healed was myself.
This is my case for Communion visiting. I’m sure I’m not the only Catholic who struggles with perceived self-worth when it comes to entering into such an intimate relationship with a stranger and with the Son of God. I’m sure I’m not the only Catholic whose tastes in music aren’t always exactly a point of model faith. I’m sure I’m not the only Catholic who finds him or herself quietly (or not so quietly) cursing other drivers on the road. I am also sure that our God is merciful and that He longs for us to dine at His table. “But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
This action fulfills one of Christ’s final commands; I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:15). In carrying the Bread of Life out into the world, we can participate directly in the salvation of the human race. In carrying His Body, we are also healed.
So go! Be the physician. Be the patient. Be an instrument of Mercy. And its recipient.