November is the month in the Church when we remember and pray for the dead. The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints to celebrate the men and women who have gone before us and who pray for us from Heaven. Then All Souls is on the 2nd, which is dedicated to the dead and most especially those souls in Purgatory. My parish has had a major influx of priests this year. This summer we had a different priest each weekend because our priest was very ill. A very good friend of mine died in July and I needed to have a Mass said for the baby we lost in February. It happened that this past weekend is when those Masses were said.
In the middle of all of this, I quite unexpectedly had my first duty as a Eucharistic Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) to the sick in the hospital. I have had this ministry since June, but I live in an area that is only 2% Catholic so there have not been any Catholics in the hospital on my weekends. I was surprised to be called to this ministry. I prayed and genuinely asked The Lord if he was serious. Me? I am not exactly the confident type that likes to walk into complete strangers’ hospital rooms. I am also very sensitive and struggle greatly with fears of death. After intense prayer, I felt like He was surely calling me to minister to the sick.
I was a relief worker, so I have been around extreme suffering, but nothing could prepare me for what I experienced this past Saturday evening. The first family that I saw were in good spirits. It made it easy for me. I was nervous and unsure of myself. There was a woman who was ill, her husband, and their son present. The husband needed to get on the road because he did not like to drive in the dark. I did the short version of prayers. It went well. The gentleman gave me a tip and that surprised me greatly. I promptly put it in the basket at Mass on Sunday.
The second family I went to was completely different. First, they were in the hospital room directly across the room my 2 year old was in in August. They were an elderly couple. The woman barely spoke English and suffered from dementia. The husband was trying to explain to his wife that I was there to pray with them and give them Holy Communion. She spoke in German. Eventually we calmed her down and I began. I only had one host left because there had been 3 people in the previous room and I had only brought 4. I had to break it in half. As I did so, a voice clear as day in my head said, “You should not be doing this, you are a woman.” I struggle with being an EMHC because my husband and I are more traditional, but I know that I am called to this ministry.
I wasn’t expecting attacks from the enemy. I should have been. Given that I am directly confronting suffering and bringing Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity given out for us. It solidified my belief that I need to wear a scapular. Our Lord is not going to question me in a moment I am ministering to His sick. He is not going to accuse me. I should probably take holy water with me next time too. To be quite honest, it took it out of me. I was exhausted by the end. For those who don’t believe in the Devil, you know him when you hear him, trust me. He is usually much more subtle and operates in temptations, but occasionally, he comes out in force.
This couple desperately needed Holy Eucharist. The gentleman was 91 and struggling mightily with his wife’s illness. He felt alone. His wife was confused and in tremendous pain. He began to tell me about his life. He has truly suffered. He was in the Nazi Navy and had survived his U-boat being sunk by a US ship. He was rescued by a US Navy Destroyer and brought to a POW internment camp in the US, where he stayed for 4 years. After the war ended he went back to Germany and to his wife. Even after all he had endured he wanted to live in the US. After a few years he was able to get a job in Virginia and he and his wife emigrated. His wife has been ill for 20 years. He did not know what to do. He did not want her alone in a nursing home. So this elderly man was trying to care for his sick wife on his own. It reminded me how the fringes of our society (as Pope Francis talks about) are the unborn and the elderly. It made me deeply sad.
Even with all of his suffering, he always trusts in the “Good Lord” as he referred to Our Lord. I stood and listened to him, amazed by his life story. He gave me a hug. Even though it was hard, this is clearly where Our Lord wanted me. I am a Navy Vet myself and I happily listened to him talk. He thanked me in German and I returned with “you’re welcome” in German; one of the three words I know of German. His wife told me “good-bye” in German, as did he, and I returned the German. If there is one thing I learned living in Europe and being a linguist, even if you do not know a language, people greatly appreciate you trying their native tongue.
I left and met my husband and daughter for dinner. I was emotionally drained and my heart hurt for that suffering couple. I have seriously prayed for them and the other family every day since. Being an EMHC to the sick is going directly to the foot of the Cross. It is meeting people in their affliction and brokenness. For those few minutes, I share in that pain and bring them the only help available: Our Lord in His Real Presence. It is a humbling experience. I feel wholly unworthy and truth be told, I walked out of the hospital unsure that this is where God wanted me. Given that my response has been prayer, I think that this is where He wants me, but it is a very hard ministry.
The Lord calls us out of our comfort zone to serve him. I have not gone into the deep of other people’s suffering since my 9-11 relief work days. I never expected to be called back in after all I endured in the years that followed. I may not fully understand what He is up to in my life right now, but he is also healing my own brokenness in some way. And so I will persevere and continue to bring Him to those in need.
What are some ways Our Lord has called you into the deep?
2 Replies to “The Foot of the Cross”
Thanks for your article. I enjoyed reading it because I too am EHMC at a local hospital. I am a volunteer working for a wonderful woman who manages the program at our local university hospital (not Catholic). We have a larger Catholic population where I live and I will take Communion to 20-30 people which is one quarter of those who receive Communion at this hospital. While it is a larger program, each patient (and their families) are individuals with unique circumstances. Before my visits, I kneel down in front of the tabernacle and ask Jesus to work through me. After my visits I hold the pyx in my hand and read through my completed list of names, praying for each one and their families. You must not doubt your calling or your ability to do this amazing ministry. You will have tough days but you will have people who need you and change their attitude when you come into their room. You are holding hands with Jesus while you work and bringing others love and compassion they need. Both men and women are called to this ministry, and both are needed vitally.
Thanks, John! I know that I am called to this ministry and sometimes I will have to battle attacks. It is a part of the process. It is a blessing even though it is difficult. God bless you!