Add this to my job description in the new normal: intermediary. In the bad old days, when a family wanted a priest to give Sacrament of the Sick to their seriously ill loved one, I would go fishing for a priest, and they often slipped out of my reach as I left voice mails and talked to gate-keeping receptionists, all the while hoping to find one before the loved one slipped out of everyone’s reach if you know what I mean. Talk about contests.
And now? An anecdote about how a family, priest and I negotiated the new waters that have come rushing before us. Let’s call the loved one Diana and her daughter Katherine and the priest Father Anthony. I first told Father Anthony the family did not want more people in the home than absolutely necessary due to the risk of bringing in you know what. They wondered if Father could do the last rites over the phone or by video conference,which some priests have been doing. “Oh no,” said Father Anthony, “I must be in person at the home, or say the prayers on their behalf in the church.” I found out that when I asked for details that the family would not be able to witness the latter in any way but would have to take his word for it. I thought to myself that would not go over too well. Bad enough to remove their participation in the sacred rite through the impersonal glow of a Zoom screen. So I said I would talk with Katherine. After I told her what seemed an unsavory forced choice,she said, “You know what? Mom’s bed is right near the window. How about if he stands outdoors by the window and does the ceremony from there?”
That is what he did, and I imagine the scene unfolding thus: Katherine told Diana, bored and worried and in bed, that her priest was coming to visit, but not in exactly the way one would expect. She was not sure what that meant, but she perked up at the news. It was a fine day and Katherine said the priest would be talking with her by her window. There he was now, with a small container with the oil, which he handed to Katherine to put on Mom at the right moment. His benedictions, loud and sure, made an arc from his mouth to the wide-open window to her ears, and her “amen” resounded through the window over to the priest’s affirming ears, and upwards, as her fear dissipated among the breezes.
These days, we are getting lots of examples of offbeat compassion.
How precious for her daughter to anoint her.
Always need to work to your advantage. Good thing the room wasn’t on the 15th floor!