So I’m visiting a shut-in at the nursing home, and, as occasionally when I come I find her in the dining hall waiting for her supper, I must first wheel her back to her room, give her the Sacrament, and then wheel her back. On the way, I notice that there is another woman sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway, muttering something barely audible, but which I can determine to be a distress cry of sorts. Such cries are not uncommon in a nursing home, and usually come from people experiencing various stages of dementia. I noticed that she held a rosary in her hand, and when she caught my eye, she addressed me as “Father,” and, I was able to ascertain, was pleading with me for some kind of help. The look in her eyes was expectant, though she had never seen me before. But she knew from my attire that I was a representative of her God, and that was enough.
As an aside, I dare say that she would not have known this had I been dressed as a nursing home administrator or other suited professional.
Now, what does one do in such a case? People in such a state are, I repeat, generally victims of Alzheimer’s or at least of limited or confused mental capacity, which, it may be assumed, is a large part of the reason for their perceived distress. It is truly pitiful to see, and though I’ve seen it too many times to count, nevertheless I find myself troubled. Of course I cannot expect that this patient’s stress will be relieved by anything I can do, and for that matter I’m tending to someone else right now, but . . .
She has likely been trained to expect a blessing from her priest. She is Roman Catholic, and she likely knows that a blessing from a priest is to be desired, and comes, ultimately, from Christ. Say what you want about the salient differences we have with the Church of Rome, on this matter their methods of catechesis are superior to ours. At least their results are.
Poor woman! She is in distress, but she doesn’t understand the nature of the distress, as she is in no condition to be rational. But this much she knows: she wants a blessing from a priest, and, for all I know, perhaps that is all she wants.
Some would scoff at this, no doubt. Does she now know she can go directly to Jesus, and needs no priest? Such flippant indignation is born of hypocrisy, as far as I’m concerned, for those who express it would themselves likely be unable to ‘go directly to Jesus’ for relief, were they to be found in such a limited mental capacity.
So instinctively I paused on the way. My own parishioner, who also suffers from a bit of confusion, probably did not even notice or care that her route back to the dinner table would here be met with a four second delay. I paused in my tracks, and leaned over to the other, distressed woman, extended my hand, and quietly said to her, “The blessing of Almighty God be upon you,” as I placed my hand on her forehead and made the sign of the cross.
I thought I detected an expression of relief on her face as I turned and continued on my way. I hope so, certainly. What I know is that it is a good thing for a faithful parishioner to learn to seek a blessing from the priest, and to see it as a blessing from God.