“The Eucharist is the synthesis of the entire existence of Jesus, which was a single act of love for the Father and his brothers.”
My mind was racing as I arrived at the hospital for my occasion communion visits. I always pick a morning that looks completely free, only to have life crowd in at the last moment making it seem like the absolute most inconvenient time to volunteer. On this particular morning, I needed to do unexpected child drop-off, in addition to my wife being under the weather, in addition to some work deadlines for which I was drastically behind. As I was handed the list of Catholics, I was thrilled it was only one page. To make matters better, or worse depending on your perspective, most of the rooms had a big “DO NOT ENTER” sign, alerting visitors to some contagious bug that they were trying to contain. I was making great time. I’d be out of there almost an hour early! Until I reached my last room. An elderly woman exclaimed, “Father!” I shared that I was not a priest but she was very hard of hearing. I offered her Holy Communion and was finishing my closing prayer, when her frail hand grabbed my arm tightly. “Father, please sit, please stay.” Estimating the added time to my anticipated early departure, I said sure and brought a chair close. I can be chatty, but I’m terrible with hospital small talk. I can only think to ask “how are you or when are you getting out of here?” not great questions to distract from the current situation. Then I inevitably comment on how beautiful the weather is, which is pretty much the best way to remind the patient of where she is and where she cannot be. Without knowing what to say, I asked the woman if there was someone I could get for her. “No Father, I need you. I need absolution. My son-in-law is driving me crazy.” At this point, I figured I really needed to clarify roles and expectations. I yelled “I am not a priest.” With the nurses peering in to make sure everything was ok, my host looked at me with a disappointed confusion and replied. “I guess you’ll just have to do. If you can’t hear my confession, will you hear my story? I just need you to listen.” As I held this grandmother’s hand, she recounted to me a life of great blessings and hardships, of true love and of incredible adventure. As I listened, the moment felt familiar. I realized the last time I was in this position, it was with my own grandmother, in her final days, several years before. Thirty minutes later, I had no clue or care what time it was. “I’m not scared to see God,” she said at one point squeezing my hand tightly. “I’m just scared to be alone right now.” I got up and marked her forehead with a cross, and assured her that regardless of who was in the room, she was never alone, the Lord was always present.
As I walked out of the hospital, I clasped the pyx still full of Communion close to my heart. I often reflect on the miraculous nature of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But how often do I miss the chance to give real presence? I may not be asked to give my life in body and blood, but do I recognize the invitations to sacrifice through the small moments throughout my week? Do I seek to carry other’s suffering as Christ carries mine? As we come off our celebration of Corpus Christi, might we remember to “see what we believe,” as St. Augustine encouraged us with the Eucharist, “and become what we see.”