When I lived in Alaska, I was an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to the homebound. Looking back, I’m rather amazed that I volunteered for this task, which often took me on ice-clogged roads that meandered haphazardly into the snowy hillsides of Anchorage.
The years have turned me into a much more timid driver.
But I’m so glad for the memory of that parish ministry. Sometimes I look back at the people our little group served and I recall what a privilege it was to be able to bring the body of Christ to people on Sunday morning.
One man we visited had a rare disease that kept him in chronic, intense pain. Only middle-aged, he spent his days sequestered in a dark bedroom. Apparently, even bright light hurt, and when I entered his room, the only thing keeping the darkness at bay was light streaming softly in from the adjacent bathroom.
When he died, the priest who officiated at his funeral said he had never ministered to anyone who suffered as much.
I can only hope that the Eucharist, provided by me and other parishioners, buoyed him in that dreadful pain.
Another place on our rounds was a small assisted living home, licensed for five people. The little house was immaculate, and when I arrived, the ladies would be gathered around the dining table getting their nails done or having their hair fixed in anticipation of Sunday family visitors.
I will never forget Daisy, who lived there, because she always welcomed the Eucharist with such devotion. “Jesus … Jesus,” she would mumble softly with her eyes closed after receiving Communion, as if engaged in an intense private reverie.
Not everyone was so devout or so personally inspiring. We trudged up to dirty houses and places where our arrival was greeted as of no more consequence than the paperboy’s. We spent much time at a house that reeked of tobacco smoke, where filled ashtrays competed with an oxygen tank amid the clutter.
“If anyone starts to light up, we’re out the door,” we promised one another.
But no one welcomed our visits more than the lady of that house. When our group would meet monthly to assign tasks, we would talk about her need. Yes, we came to bring the body of Christ, but we realized we also came as the body of Christ, and it was our presence that she craved.
This is the time of year when most parishes are gearing up for ministry sign-ups. I just visited a parish where the priest was begging for 50 more faith formation volunteers. At another parish, I saw tables full of sign-ups for the fall festival.
Our parishes are the place where the church lives. Sometimes, we go to Sunday Mass as if we have blinders on. We slip in and out with hardly a greeting to anyone. We merely go through the paces.
I can just about guarantee you that if you become involved in a parish ministry, this attitude toward your church home will be changed and enlivened. That old saying — I got so much more out of it than I gave — will be true for you. You will meet wonderful, spirit-filled people and make deeper friendships. You will be inspired.
Choose a ministry that calls to you. Maybe you’re not the catechetical type, or maybe a Sunday morning trek up an icy hillside road doesn’t appeal. Pray about it. Every parish has a multitude of needs and opportunities to become the body of Christ to someone. You won’t be sorry.
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