Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Oh, yes, please!" A Reflection by Fr. David

One woman, sitting in her wheelchair with her head on the table, seemed fast asleep. When I gently laid my hand on her shoulder to ask her if she would like to be anointed, she raised her head, beamed a huge smile, and said, "Oh, yes, please!" One man could barely talk, but when it came time to receive Communion, he opened his mouth wide. One woman thanked me; another burst into tears. It was just another service at the Cedars Nursing Home.

Once a month Mother Kathleen or I celebrate the Holy Eucharist and offer anointing to the residents there. It is part of the wonderful Nursing Homes Swing ministry started by Jackie and Bob Hostage some years ago. (After every service, local musicians play jazz or other favorites for those present.) The first Wednesday of the month always comes around fast, and sometimes it feels like a challenge fitting this service in, but I am always glad I went, because I am always reminded of God's love and grace in remarkable ways.

Most of the 20 or so people who come to the Eucharist are not very responsive; some of them seem to sleep through the whole thing. I offer a brief homily each time, and each time wonder if anyone actually heard it. But always the sacramental presence of God moves me: the residents want to be anointed and prayed for; they want to receive the Body of Christ. And when it happens, I see God in these people whose bodies are frail and whose minds are dimming. Part of this speaks to the power of liturgy: words prayed over a lifetime sink deep into our souls. On any given month, maybe a handful of people will offer the written responses, but then almost everyone will join in for the Lord's Prayer: it's like that prayer has become ingrained in them and one with them. And part of this speaks to the power of touch: when I anoint people and lay my hands on them, they so often respond with warmth and gratitude. All of us, after all, crave loving touch, no matter how old or diseased or confused we might be.

But what makes the biggest impression on me is the sense of the Holy Spirit living in these people. That Spirit clearly moves deep within them, animating their own spirits and making them fully human even when their bodies and minds are incapacitated. It is too easy in our society to dismiss or ignore the elderly or infirm, too easy to view those with Alzheimer's or dementia as somehow less than human. But every time I go to the Cedars, God reminds me of just how human we all are, and how connected to God we all are, always.

I need to remember that. And I confess that part of my motivation is selfish: I hope that if and when I find myself in a wheelchair someday, unable to care for myself or even remember my name, that someone will come and touch me with holy oil and feed me Christ and remind the spirit deep within me that I am still God's beloved — and precious in his sight.

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