This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week’s archives. Here is the sixteenth step:
(16) To visit the sick (cf Mt 25:36).
The difficulty in visiting the sick is usually not their illness but rather something within ourselves that likes to hide from our own mortality. The sick too often remind us of the shortness of our own life and the transitory nature of our pilgrimage on this earth.
I remember as a young man that I would visit a young woman in a nursing home and bring her communion once a week. She was a few years older than I was at the time but was dying of terminal cancer. All of her hair had been shaved and she often wore a wig to hide the fact.
At first the smells of the nursing home and the lingering feeling of death, made the short trip to the nursing home a very difficult one for me to make. I would often speak to the young woman, whose name was Pearl, about the possibility of healing etc.—I realized all of which made me feel better—she just brushed off these comments.
Our conversations were often one sided even though we spoke to each other. She confessed that until she had been ill that she had not thought much about God, and claimed to have been a magnificent sinner. Once she even pulled out a photo of her before the cancer, only a few years before, that showed a vivacious beautiful woman laughing with her friends. Now clutching a crucifix, her constant companion in her bed of pain she smiled and said that she had accepted death.
I will never be able to measure the effect that my weekly visits with Pearl have had on my life or for that matter what continued influence she has on my life even now. Only in Heaven can I hope for a true accounting of this. But I do know that the image of her in her bed of pain clutching that crucifix remains with me even now. Like a mirror held up to the moments of my life—each event is measured by how well I use my time here.
I have visited the sick many times in my life, usually out of obligation. The reluctance, and hesitation to set out on those journeys remains. It seems that we are reluctant to meet a side of the other that we fear to meet within ourselves. We fear seeing ourselves as we really are.
Visiting the sick is a holy activity. We should bring the healing of Christ to those who are ill, and we should commend them to our prayers, as well as asking their prayers.
When I left to go to school, Pearl often wrote to me in the months before she died. She called me her “angel,” saying that I often appeared to her by her bedside. The fact was that she was my angel, a messenger from God pointing to the truth of the fleeting nature of this life and to the crucifix that she clutched to like a life preserver, to the Savior who has the power to save us