By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
We are Sunday morning visitors.
Our work is not well known.
It is not like the food pantry, or Harvest Kitchen, or St. Vincent de Paul at our busy parish, St. Kevin. Our work is not so high profile.
We call upon the homebound and the elderly. We come bearing a gift.
Recently, explaining what it is we do to a friend who drove me on my rounds that particular Sunday, I made a secular comparison.
“Think of it as a meals on wheels program,” I said to my friend, who is not Catholic but who is a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. “Think of the nourishment that we bring in a spiritual context.”
He got the picture.
I was back on the route yesterday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
I look forward to meeting the folks on the list. Yesterday there were six stops to make. Some Sundays there are fewer, some there are more.
The visits are informal. We talk about things like: faith, how they are feeling, what’s new in their lives, what’s going on in town, what’s ahead for the rest of their day, memories and more. But yesterday was special being so close to Christmas. Where will they spend the holidays, with whom and what’s for dinner, will be some of the things that will come up.
Dorothy, who still lives in her own home, told me about a health issue that required a visit to the emergency room two weeks prior. She says she is better now, but a little leery about walking distances without support. She was festive in a holiday-theme sweater with a cheerful decoration. She’s looking forward to Christmas dinner with her son and his family. They will be together Monday.
We say the Lord’s Prayer. She closes her eyes and clasps her hands, fingers pointed heavenward, devoutly. She says the words slowly and with feeling. After she consumes the sacred host, she clasps her hands again and says a silent prayer. There is peace on her face.
Jeanette is seated in the living room of the always neat and tidy second floor apartment that is home. Because of health issues, she rarely leaves the apartment.
She wears her faith on her sleeve, with religious symbols and images on display in the apartment. She is proud of her faith.
Her daughter is with her, but her son has stepped out.
They will have a “low-key” Christmas, her daughter has a busy work schedule ahead, they said.
She is pre-occupied this Sunday morning. Her daughter says she has a cataract and some blurred vision and it weighs on her mind.
Jeanette is one to always remember others in her prayers. She has special prayer intentions that are important to her.
We say the Confiteor, both mother and daughter know the words by memory. They say them solemnly. Jeanette receives Holy Communion, her daughter does not.
I don’t get away without Jeanette reminding me my family is always in her prayers.
God bless you, I say silently.
Marcel and Heather are a long-married couple. She is getting mobile again after a fall earlier in the year and a bad break that necessitated a lengthy rehabilitation in a specialized care facility.
He comes from a francophone background. She is Scottish. I love the traces of their respective heritages in their speech. Hers is more pronounced.
We share some light-hearted banter. They will have Christmas dinner with their son and his family. Turkey will be the main course. There will be gravy and mashed potatoes and other trimmings. Heather says she’s not partial to mashed, she prefers small roasted potatoes. Marcel assures me he’s not fussy, he comes from a family of 12 and one could not be fussy in those circumstances and he isn’t to this day.
They always stand during prayers. The words come easily to them, even to Heather who told me she had a stroke some years ago and struggles with speech from time to time.
They have said on occasion these Sunday morning visits are the highlight of their day. They look forward to welcoming Jesus into their home and their hearts. ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ I pray silently.
Two of the regulars on the route are not at home when I call. Maria is elderly – in her mid-80s – and Italian. She says little until we come to the Lord’s Prayer and she hears the opening words, “Pater Noster” (Latin) some mornings, or “Nostro Padre” (Italian) on others. She takes the cue and joins in, saying the prayer so joyfully. Barbara, the other absentee, has told me on many occasions that she loves the faith. When she says the prayers she does so loudly and with great feeling, no shrinking violet here!
Barbara is blessed when it comes to spontaneous prayer.
She makes it a point to send visitors on their way with something like: “Lord, bless my brothers and sisters that come to visit us.They bring Christian fellowship and Holy Communion to those of us who cannot join in at the church. Bless them and their extended families. Keep them safe on the roads. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
A miniature, artificial tree stands tall on the coffee table in Helga’s living room. Though it’s mid-morning, the lights already are on adding a gentle seasonal glow to the surroundings.
Helga will have dinner with one of her sons and his family on Christmas day, and with the other son and his family the next day. She thinks turkey and ham will be on the Christmas dinner table.
Last year she spent several weeks in hospital leading up to Christmas and was discharged shortly before the holy day. This year, she says, she is healthy and happy and nothing is going to get in the way. Nothing. She is resolute. She is 85.
Her eyes light up when I ask what the celebrations will be like. Helga takes great delight telling me she likes to sing and does so after Christmas dinner, a granddaughter accompanying her on piano. She says she sings Silent Night in English and in the German, Stille Nacht. She also sings other German carols.
I give her the sacred host and after consuming, Helga takes a few moments to say a silent prayer. We close with short blessings and I get up to leave. But then she stops me and asks me to linger for a few moments.
She breaks into song. It is Stille Nacht. It is beautifully done.
I am overwhelmed. I came with the gift of Jesus for her and leave with the gift of his holy birth in song. We Sunday morning visitors are so blessed.
Note to readers: Names of parishioners visited are pseudonyms.
Our St. Kevin Sunday morning visiting team – Philomena Presti, Randy Lallouet, Sandra Gaudet, Nancy Riou (home visits), Maria Maletta and Juan Hrepic (Seasons Welland) and Teresa Havran. Bonnie Vaddacchino is a hospital visitor though not necessarily Sunday mornings.