Saturday, May 29, 2010


Pentecost Sunday saw me playing the role of the Grim Reaper.  At six o'clock in the morning, I was just getting out of bed to unlock the Cathedral when the phone rang and I was greeted with words I never like to hear.  'Hello, this is Rob, the Hospital Coordinator.  We have just had an unexpected death and the family has requested to see a priest."  I quickly splashed some water on my face, guzzled some mouthwash and unlocked the Church.  I went to the hospital, prayed with the family, and then made my way back to the Cathedral for the early Mass.

The rest of the day was a drudgery.  Scheduled for four Masses (two with the Bishop), I was tired.  Among these Masses, I was expected to attend the graduation Mass for the local Catholic High School, which was to occur on the opposite side of town.  Before heading to the graduation, I stopped at the hospital.  "Praised be Jesus," I said to myself upon discovering the no one had requested anointing or a visit that day.  Fifteen minutes later I was approaching the Church where graduation was to occur when the phone rang.  "Hello, this is Rob, the Hospital Coordinator.  We have just had an unexpected death."  I turned around, and called Fr. Mike to tell him that they would have to find someone to distribute Holy Communion in my place at the Mass.  In another fifteen minutes, I was back at the Hospital.

It is my practice, before entering the room where someone had died to collect as much information as possible from the nurses.  The deceased was ninety-four and had no family in town.  Neighbors from his community has brought him to the hospital some days earlier.  I entered the room, and these same neighbors were still there.  "Are any of you Catholic?" I asked.  A woman nodded her head that she was.  "Good,"  I said, "Please join me in this prayer by making the responses."

Almost always, before saying much to the family, I pray the prayers for the dead.  This helps to bring about a sense of calm and comforts the people somewhat before asking them to talk to me.  We prayed the Church's prayers for the dead, and when I had finished, I spoke to those gathered.

"I understand that none of you are directly related to James."

"No, Father.  His only son is coming from Oklahoma."

"How do you know James?"

"Oh, he lives in our neighborhood.  His wife died a couple of years ago.  We have been looking in on him from time to time since then.  We brought him in a few days ago.  His heart was failing."

"He Knew he was dying?"

"Oh Yes, he was ready to go.  But I didn't want him to die alone, so we have all been taking turns being here with him."
"Was he Catholic?"

"No, but we felt like someone should come and pray.  I'm Catholic so I called you."

I thought this was absolutely beautiful.  In a world where people often never speak to their neighbors, this small group had gathered around an old man from their neighborhood and helped him die in peace.  The deceased was not a religious man, but those who cared for him had the good sense to call a priest to pray for his soul after death.  They had previously helped him to make his funeral arrangements, and before leaving they would gather his affects and take them home to be collected by the man's son at a later date.  We let ourselves get so busy, and we spend so much time being afraid of the people around us.  As a result, we sometimes fail to meet our obvious Christian responsibilities.  Would that we were all so generous to the needy in our own neighborhoods.

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