Recently I got a copy of a letter written to one of our priests in the Archdiocese. It described how powerfully a small act of reaching out can lead to great effects in the lives of others. This priest was praised for a hospital visit in 2003 and the fruits that came from it. Each time I read the letter, a tear comes to my eye as the story is retold. Here are some major excerpts from this letter:
This letter is many years in coming, and I must first apologize that it has taken me this long to write to you. The Holy Spirit has been nudging me for a while… Background: My mother had been a practicing Catholic in her first marriage but when divorced, she left the Catholic Church. Based on her self-deprecating nature, I suspect it was because she no longer felt worthy to be a Catholic. I am from her second marriage.
I believe it was 2003 the first time I called you to the hospital to minister to my mother. … When I got to the hospital the day after she was admitted, I notice that she was rubbing two fingers together on one hand. She still couldn’t speak or open her eyes at this point. I called her sister, my aunt … (who) told me to get my mom a set of rosary beads. I went to the hospital gift shop and picked out a set. I brought them up to the hospital room and when I placed them in my mother’s hand, she immediately traced the beads down to the crucifix and then began slowly moving up the rosary. It was the most beautiful, poignant moment. I can still close my eyes and see her with the rosary so clearly. I then called the parish and asked if a priest could come over to the hospital to see my mom. You came within the hour, and I made, what was unbeknownst to me at the time, a very significant request. I asked you to pray the rosary so Mom could hear you. You didn’t bat an eye; you launched right into the rosary. It’s as if you knew that praying the rosary would provide her the most comfort.
That day in the hospital began a ministry that lasted four years. … I don’t believe you missed a week coming to see her in all those years. I think it’s important to mention that she never was able to attend Mass and as far as I know, she never contributed any money to your parish. However, you never let that stop you from coming to see her. You knew she needed you, and you knew she needed assurance of God’s forgiveness. You laughed with her, you cried with her, you loved her when she didn’t feel like she deserved love. For that alone, my entire family and I are forever in your debt. You gave her peace and therefore, you eased her pain and suffering when she needed it most.
As a result of your ministry, some wonderful things have happened in our family:
1. My oldest brother gave up smoking and drinking and is a much happier man today.
2. My brother has been attending your parish for the past couple of months and feels that he is on his own spiritual journey.
3. I am being confirmed into the Catholic Church next month here in Louisville.
We can never thank you enough for all you did for our mother. .. Thank you from the deepest part of my heart for the glimpse of what it means to be Catholic…I am looking forward to my own confirmation and to beginning my service in the Catholic Church.
This blessed priest simply reached out. He put into practice the “art of accompaniment,” which I described in my first presidential address to the U.S. Bishops last month. Here is what I said:
“And because, as St. John Paul II put it, ‘the Church is a home and a family for everyone, especially those who labor and are heavy laden’, we must especially seek out those who suffer under the weight of the difficulties faced by families today, remembering to see the person first, walking with them and pointing the way toward God.
We all strive to be faithful pastors, so we know what this looks like. Think of the home visits we’ve all done in parishes. When I’d come to someone’s home, I wouldn’t start by telling them how I’d rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn’t begin by giving them a list of rules to follow.
Instead I’d first spend time with them, trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts. I’d acknowledge that, like them, I was in the process of conversion toward greater holiness. I would then invite them to follow Christ, and I’d offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way. Such an approach isn’t in opposition to Church teachings; it’s an affirmation of them. Our call as bishops is to bring the Good News to others as true missionary disciples, inspiring them to go forth and do the same.”
Such a powerful witness beginning with a simple hospital visit! Often one does not get to see the fruits of a seed planted. This letter gives testimony to the ways in which Jesus moves hearts today as He has done in every age of the Church.