For reasons still unbeknown to me, my former pastor asked me if I would consider being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion only about a year after I returned to the Church. I said yes but I had some reservations about how worthy I was for this privilege. "No one is worthy" another priest told me, "but so long as you never start to think that you are, you can do it." In our parish, only one EMHC is ever used at a time at Mass and our principal function is to bring Holy Communion to the sick and home bound of the parish. When my first three-year term came to an end, I decided I no longer wanted to assist at Mass. I was a always a nervous wreck and I found myself constantly frustrated with the way people presented themselves to receive the Lord. There was the little girl still wearing filthy gloves who wanted to receive in the hand. There was the woman who insisted on receiving in her hands but never kept them flat, causing the Sacred host to slide down her hand and nearly onto the floor. I was much more comfortable with making home calls and our next pastor agreed that I could limit myself to that duty.
I never make home visits without first going to Confession, even if I don't feel the need. The time when I am carrying The Lord is not only a great privilege but also a great opportunity for personal adoration. I would never for a moment compare myself in any way to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but I sometimes think that I have been given the unique privilege of knowing what it's like to carry Jesus. I have to constantly remind myself and occasionally, when my mind wanders to some mundane thought, like what I'm going to make for dinner when I return home, I make every apology for my lack of attention and devotion.
Some of the homes I have visited left me feeling frustrated. One woman did not open the door, did not answer her phone, yet, after she thought I had left her building, came out of the elevator headed out the door to smoke. I was nearly livid. Never mind the disregard for me. How disrespectful toward Our Lord! Nothing is worse than taking the Lord into a house full of smoke. Still, some of my ladies and gents are helpless victims of their circumstances and allowances have to be made. They can't help it if their children think it's too much trouble to take them to Mass but it's no problem to take them to the casinos. I kid you not.
A few weeks ago, the coordinator of the EMHC's at my church called and asked if I would be willing to take another person. I agreed, even though the call would be a bit out of my way. I arrived at the building at the designated hour and met my new lady for the first time. She was one of the most pathetic little creatures I have encountered in a long time. Hobbled by arthritis, she could barely make it to the door with her walker. It was a great effort for her to be able to settle into her chair. She thought that she should remain standing to receive, but I insisted that she sit.
After the ritual prescribed by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for home calls, I talked to the elderly woman for a little bit and accepted her profuse thanks for visiting her. I assured her I would be coming to visit her every month. I was a little confused about whether she was actually a member of our parish or another one, and she quickly corrected me. "I've only been this bad for about a year, honey. A year ago, I was still going to Mass every morning. You don't know how much that means to me." I was very touched.
Sometimes, I admit that I don't always feel like going out on my calls. The weather might not be the best, or I might have to decline an invitation to do something else, but then I have visits like the one tonight and I think of how sinful I am. I know how I feel if I can't get to Mass every day. I can only imagine what it must be like to be home bound and not be able to go at all. Some of the people I visit don't even clear a space for me to lay the pyx containing Our Lord, but this poor hobbled old woman managed to make one on a table with a crucifix, a statue of Mary with the Christ Child and a painting of the Sacred Heart. "I should have lit a candle", she told me. No one in four years of making calls has ever suggested lighting a candle for reception of Holy Communion. Sometimes, it's a struggle to get people to turn off the television. As I was leaving, my new lady asked me if I could find her prayer books on the little table she had set up next to her chair. "I want to say after-Communion prayers once you leave," she told me.
As a layperson, I feel an enormous burden in carrying the Lord on my person and giving Him to the sick and home bound. I admit that I was looking forward to the end of my second and final term, but then I met this endearing little old woman, who is nearly all alone in the world and barely able to get around, and the thought that my visit will mean so much to her made me ashamed of myself. "I'm 87, honey," she told me. "At this point, I'm living life day to day." I kept thinking of what she said as I walked home, alone since she was my last stop. I wondered what I had done to earn such an awesome opportunity to bring comfort and joy to this frail but faithful little old woman. I hope that someday, if I find myself in a situation like she is in, the Lord will see fit to send someone to bring Him to me in my infirmity.