Contagious Grace

As a Eucharistic minister, I can attest to the restorative power of prayer we bring with us—whether spoken from scripture or straight from one’s heart. We visit mostly older people who can no longer visit their church to pray and to receive the Eucharist. Eucharistic ministers are graced and privileged to bring these things to them.

So imagine having those graces taken away not once, not twice, but THREE times. That happened to one elderly gentleman I serve. Now well into his 90s, his hearing and eyesight are almost gone. That alone made him a shut-in at home. But then the pandemic hit, and I was no longer permitted to take the Eucharist to him or read him the Sunday readings. Eventually, those restrictions started being lifted, but this gentleman’s family decided he needed the help of an assisted-living facility—which continued those restrictions, “for safety’s sake.”

I know the pain this must have caused “Frank,” because I’ve vicariously experienced his joy at hearing the word of God and receiving the body of Christ.  It brought him to tears. He always thanked me for bringing him those comforts, but I’m the one who should be thanking him—because seeing their effect on his heart brings comfort to mine.

The concentrated power of God’s word is depicted in the readings for this Sunday’s mass. In the first reading (Ez 17:22-24), the word of God is likened to the tiny shoot of a giant cedar, and in the gospel (Mk 4:26-34), to a tiny mustard seed that, when planted, grows to the size of God’s Kingdom—offering a home to anyone seeking its shelter.

I experienced those comforts of home again recently when I got a call from Frank’s son. He asked if I’ve been vaccinated for Covid yet. Yes, I said, why? “Because my father is asking for you to visit him again, and they’ll only allow visitors who’ve been fully vaccinated. Those two shots I received turned into the boosters needed to help both Frank and me feel the comforts of God’s Kingdom again.

I know this Sunday’s second reading from Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:6-10) will resonate loudly in Frank’s failing ears, because it echoes some of his feelings from this past year:

Although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.

I welcome you to meditate on the power of prayer that Frank reinforced in me. You may even find it for yourself in your own hometown’s places of prayer, where it isn’t unusual to find elderly neighbors kneeling or sitting in quietly-spoken prayer. Pope Francis recently testified to the power of witnessing the kingdom of God at work in their hearts:

These practitioners of humble prayer are often the great intercessors in parishes: they are the oaks that from year to year spread their branches to offer shade to the greatest number of people.

Frank has helped my failing eyes rediscover and reposition in my own heart the comforts of God’s Kingdom. I trust that sharing those graces with you here will inspire in your heart the contagious courage Paul promised so you can feel and share those graces with others.

–Tom Andel

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