LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
When you love a Catholic whose earthly journey is coming to an end: CALL A PRIEST!
When you work in the medical field or when you are caring for an elderly Disciple of Christ in a nursing home, take ownership of the duty and honor you have been given and pay attention to what that faithful person of God needs: CALL A PRIEST! Understand that for a believer it goes beyond what the body requires and at that point no one can help him but a priest. Remember this: There are no dress rehearsals in death...no second chances. So when you love a Catholic one way to show that love is to acknowledge his faith and understand what The Catholic Church teaches then CALL A PRIEST before it is too late.
Think of my words as an alarm sounding! Think of them as a piercing alert that will be followed by clear instructions. Or think of them as something like gong that breaks the silence to wake you up and get you to PAY ATTENTION to the needs of the dying Catholic and his soul.
If you love a Catholic you owe him that much. The spiritual needs of the sick and the dying at this point supersede all else and "the dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace." (CCC, no.2299) The guardians of the sick and dying have a responsibility to their charges to provide the prayer that is necessary, and they"must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God." (CCC, no. 2299)
There is no way around this. If the Catholic's needs are forgotten, dismissed or ignored as he is dying, if his spiritual necessities are overlooked simply because the caregiver isn't a believer, isn't Christian, or isn't in agreement... then that is neglectful in its intent. And I say this because I have seen this; and I want to talk about it so that there are no more forgotten Catholics who leave this planet with an “un-punched” ticket.
Families and health care providers are obligated to do what is right for the dying Catholic and that begins with understanding his faith. It begins with having a dialogue with the Catholic to learn what he would like done, as well as what he needs done. I have been in hospital settings where a nurse, when questioned about calling a priest responded: "Well... we’ll get to that tomorrow I’m sure." (Tomorrow! If her house was burning down would she look for a bucket of water tomorrow?) I have also heard of healthcare facilities calling for a priest to come after the person has died. ("Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." ) Remember, sacraments can only be celebrated by the living!
Caregivers must be empathetic to the urgency of a dying Catholic's plight. But how does a person who does not believe in God find that empathy? Try this: If your home was on fire, if your house was burning down and you had less than two minutes to take what was most important to you, ...think of how might you feel? Remember that those feelings of panic and uncertainty are multiplied and heightened for the dying Catholic who believes with all his heart in the promises of
Christ. He needs your help to get ready....
The Catholic’s affairs must be in order and that means he must participate in The Sacrament of The Sick and Dying. He must participate in reconciliation, which can only be celebrated when a person still has the ability to communicate. More importantly, receiving communion as viaticum, which is what Last Rites are, is only possible while a person is still able to swallow, even if only a small piece of the Body of Christ, or a drop of his Precious Blood.
My prayer is that everyone reading this essay realizes something they hadn't thought much about before and remembers to always call a priest for the sick or dying Catholic.
Sunday morning, our small, quaint, usually joy filled Catholic Church in Grand Gorge, NY, was filled with many grieving parishioners. Women wept and men cast their eyes down, as men do in such moments, as our pastor shared the sad news of the untimely passing of our friend and fellow disciple, Dave Martin. Dave lived in the house directly across the street from St. Philip Neri, he greeted each day by gazing out his window at our church, and he was pleased. It was a dwelling that Dave knew well having been Baptized at its font and he considered “this” church his second home.
As Fr. Cambi spoke, I glanced over at the pew that was Dave’s place in our congregation and I could almost see him standing there in his St. Philip Neri “Got Faith?” T-shirt, and Levys with that ornate black belt that he always wore. For a long time Dave had a little girl with him who resembled Cindy Lou Hoo. She was his companion in Christ. She was his gift to God and to God’s people each Sunday. She was his granddaughter, Briell. And that little girl reminded us not only of how beautiful innocence is, but also how we need to restore or cultivate more of her child-like nature in ourselves. But, alas, the little girl moved away, so her place beside “Pa-pa” was vacant, and one could sense how much he missed her...how much we all missed her.
I mention Dave’s black belt because it was an unusual belt; as unusual as the man who wore it. I recognize now that, for me, it has become a symbol of this friend I met in Church. The years had distressed the strip of black leather. It was not pretty, but it was soft and had great character…like Dave. The belt was strong and durable and constant… like Dave. It was adorned with several silver conchae that were scuffed and chinked from life’s wear and tear, but still gleamed and reflected Light…like Dave. It was a cool-looking belt, and I had wanted it for myself for years. Dave was a cool guy, and had a quality about him that I wanted for myself as well: It was a joyful generosity that came from his 100 percent certainty that he was a child of God.
I walked the Rail Trail, past the cow fields, and through the mountain corridors of Upstate New York this morning and I asked myself this question: "Am I in love with Jesus?"
There is a lot talk about falling in love with Christ in Church and at spiritual trainings because, as I am told, that is the ultimate goal of a true disciple. As I walked on, I noticed spider webs that were cast like fishing nets in the branches of young saplings, illuminated by the culmination of early morning light and dew, and I identify my feelings for God: I know I am humble in the presence of our Lord; I believe in God enough to request that He “help my unbelief”; I honor and respect the Trinity; I admire and want to protect the God/Man called Jesus.... But am I in love with Him? No, I don't think so...at least not yet.
I had a dialogue with myself, considering this question and trying to discern what it meant to be in love with God. I began by identifying the prescription for being in love - something I have never done before because, too often, I just “fell”. Then, I reasoned that my lack of true devotion to God was based on my limited human-ness and I began to convince myself that if I am not in love with God, it is because we have never met!
Certainly, I have fallen in love with other men that I have never met, their reputations being enough. In my old life I was enamored with the writer, Henry Miller. I came to admire him - so much so, that I wanted to be reincarnated as the American author who was known as the pioneer of a type of autobiographical novel that involved character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, sex, surrealist free association and mysticism. I often imagined what it would be like to take a walk with him, spend the evening in a pub with him, cook a meal for him, catch him misbehaving… watch him at his desk writing. I found myself searching for any information I could find about his life. I collected and read the words he wrote, studied his drawings, familiarized myself with memoirs written by his friends and associates, and I coveted the lilt in his voice captured in ancient recorded interviews. It was clear I had fallen for this man whom I had never met, a man who had died before I had even read the title of his famed novel, "Tropic of Cancer," aloud. Is this what causes one to fall in love? An insatiable curiosity? A fascination? An admiration? An attraction to qualities seen in another that one recognizes and appreciates in oneself? Lovable traits and characteristics that may go under-developed in you but are beaming from beloved?
And then, there was my preoccupation with the mystic, writer and Catholic priest, Thomas Merton. (I see Merton as Miller’s twin, if it were not for Merton’s open invitation to God. In "The Seven Story Mountain," Merton writes: “All I knew was that I wanted grace…and that I was helpless without God. It seemed that every step I took carried me painfully forward under a burden of desires….”) I read books by and about Merton. I studied photographs of him and I listen to his lectures, repeatedly, teasing out Merton 's own particular kind of brilliance. I chased after Thomas Merton in much the same fashion as I had Henry Miller. Merton died when I was 5 and not yet reading full sentences.
I mention Miller and Merton in contrast to my heretofore inability to fall in love with Jesus because my feelings for these “perfect strangers,” ironically, refute my explanation or defense: I never met Him!
I am thinking more about the task, no…the process…no… the act of falling in love with Jesus, the God/Man and I have come up with this: The obstacle to my pursuing Jesus as I have Merton and Miller, for example, may be the seemingly “un-godly” sexual implications involved with falling in love with God. That unspoken and understood place where lovers travel together to, seems inappropriate and wrong when Jesus is identified as the Beloved. Til now, for me, being in love has culminated with a union between lovers. I'm wondering: How is that possible for me to achieve? And must true love be realized only through the conjoining of the two who love? I am pondering all of this in my heart and I am realizing that a fear of intimacy and the surrendering what I know I want are the obstacles that keep me from a personal relationship with Christ.
I leave you with these questions to ponder as well and I ask you to apply the practices you exhibited the last time you fell in love as you turn toward God.