Blessings Enough to Go Around: Ministry holds both ordinary and extraordinary moments of grace


By MIKE BARRETT

This article appears in the July 2014 issue of Celebration. Fr. Mike Barrett is pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Milwaukee. Write to him at frmike@olghparish.org.

Illustration by Julie LonnemanI was called to an assisted living facility to provide end-of-life care for a woman whose daughter has faithfully served at her mom’s bedside in a 24/7 capacity for nearly a year. It is fair to say these are the wounded out on that battlefield of life about whom Pope Francis speaks regularly and eloquently.

After anointing the dying woman, I carefully stripped off my mask, gown and latex gloves, as prescribed by clinical procedure. So careful was I to do it correctly that I peeled the whole vesture of contamination into a wad, which, unbeknownst to me, thus enfolded the small container of oil I have used to anoint the sick during my 37 plus years of ministry.

At another sick call two days later, I discovered my loss. Fumbling for my missing oil, I fell short of the required form and matter of the sacrament of the sick and prayed earnestly over a gentleman who took consolation in my lavish laying on of hands as well as being crossed on the forehead with my dry thumb.

In that same week, I visited a woman who had just received word that an immediate progression of events would lead to her heart valve procedure, extended rehab in a care center and placement into assisted living. All this upon the 50th anniversary of ownership of her home, now to be vacated and sold.

In deep grief, she asked that I bless her home, each room of it, yes, basement and upstairs, too. As I walked through the house with made-at-her-home holy water contained by a coffee mug, her words echoed in my mind: “There, now the house will be set for the new owners.”

This pious, beautifully devout lady had great concern for future occupants, perhaps not realizing that her thoughtful and generous spirit had already filled the home of her soul with an abiding peace upon her house and all who would dwell therein.

Come Sunday, I forgot that I had instructed a young family to “just bring your statue for blessing next week and I’ll take care of it.” As I processed down the aisle, this family had gathered into a center aisle pew with a 4-foot-high statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe protruding from the bench. How proudly and boldly they came for the Eucharist with “Our Lady” in tow. At announcement time, I asked them to come forward as we blessed their statue for home use, explaining that Mary is the one “who comes forth as a morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the stars.” This colorful statue — outlined by the bright gold and yellow sunbeams radiating from Our Lady’s long, dark blue robe — set this family and the assembly aglow, even without mentioning its biblical roots from the Book of Revelation.

In the pastoral ministry, we all field requests to bless something or someone many times each week. The dying woman’s daughter had blessed her mom many times per day with deliberate, generous acts of care and charity, serving as a font of blessing and pastoral minister perhaps without even knowing it.

The faithful elderly woman who faced yet another turn in the direction of her life was resolute in blessing the tenuous ground she stood on and those who followed after her.

The young family asking their priest to bless their sacred object in reality blessed me with inclusion into their home and spiritual lives.

Did a dying woman, a house, a statue receive any grace through these blessings? Grace, gratia, is free; it is a gift. But in effect, every request to bestow a blessing becomes an opening, a window, a mirror for redoubling God’s grace in our lives of ministry and in the lives and events of the faithful.

By such experiences, I am moved to the depths and blessed by love that never quits, by real surrender to God’s holy will, and by family faith lived outside the sacristy.

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