Years ago, I participated in a training program for hospital chaplains. It was some of the most challenging work I’ve ever done. Even though I couldn’t fix the situation for families or patients, I still felt the call as a Catholic to “visit the sick.” So, three times a week, I walked around a children’s hospital, paying special attention to rooms on my list marked as wanting support from the chaplain’s office. I brought the Eucharist to Catholics. Along with and flowing from the Real Presence of Jesus, I brought a loving presence to those who needed someone to help process what was happening in their lives. I do think I helped people feel a little less alone. In that environment where suffering was constant and not guaranteed to result in a happy ending, I recognized that I couldn’t possibly find hope on my own. I needed Jesus, and I relied on my relationship with God—especially praying in the Eucharistic adoration chapel in the hospital—to give me strength for the work.
Visiting the sick is an important work of mercy, but walking through the halls of a hospital is not the only way to care for those in need. Sometimes, metaphorically “visiting the sick” means walking through the halls of our government, where patient beds are replaced with executive desks. Rather than looking at a person dealing with a life-changing illness, I have begun looking at those in positions of power (who are facing the “sickness” of greed or hopelessness) and offering them God’s mercy.
These days, I work in interfaith advocacy. As noted by Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, “The promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply” (no. 28a). I visit lawmakers and encourage them to stand up for justice and those forgotten by society. Legislative advocacy is an important part of caring for those in need. When we talk to legislators, we bring a vision of the world as it could be, a vision of the Kingdom of God. Many lawmakers are stuck in the “world as it is,” a vision that is limited by a world-weary sickness. Some are blinded by greed, and some are stuck in a malaise of hopelessness. A visit from a person of faith, inviting hope and love into the room, can make a world of difference. These visits can offer visions of a better future, where we live out the Kingdom of God. On the best days, I get to connect with legislators on our shared values—or even our shared faith. I affirm our mutual work in creating a more just society as we try to do God’s will on earth.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. Just as disease runs rampant in the human body, and we don’t always have a cure, sometimes positive change in social policy feels out of reach. The halls of power can feel hopeless for creating a new world because of entrenched ideologies or partisanship. Just as I did in my hospital chaplain days, I rely on the strength and the grace of the Eucharist to keep me going.
The other day, I was visiting legislators at a state capitol building to discuss the need for paid sick days for every worker in the state. I was told over and over again by these lawmakers that they would never support such an idea—the cost would be exorbitant for employers, and that outweighed both the need and the societal benefit.
Similarly, my coworkers and I spoke at a committee hearing about expanding healthcare coverage to children who are undocumented immigrants. One lawmaker said that would be a “slippery slope,” and my colleague asked the question, “A slippery slope to what?”
Especially on these hard days, the Eucharist is a necessary place for me to find sustenance as I continue to do this work. Carving time out for silent reflection with the True Presence of Jesus at my parish allows me to bring the struggles and the sickness of the world to the Lord. Receiving the Eucharist at Mass rejuvenates me to continue sowing the seeds of the Kingdom. As so many Psalms share, people in our world are crying out, asking how long it will be before God brings his justice to the land. In Masses for the dead, the priest might pray, “[In your kingdom] we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.” In the interim, we have the privilege of serving as God’s hands and feet. God’s “Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect” (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, no. 31). We can bring comfort to the physically sick, and we can stand and offer hope and healing to those who are sick in spirit. We can work to see that the sick are taken care of and loved, exactly where they are.
When I invite God into my work with me, I don’t become a doctor, nor do I become a benevolent dictator. What I do find is more peace and grace to carry on. Those whom I visit find hope, despite their circumstances.
It is absolutely necessary to visit the sick around us: the physically ill, the mentally ill, and the spiritually ill. Sickness in any form can bring hopelessness—in those very places, we are called to be present and offer the hope and love of Christ. Through us, Jesus comes to those who are suffering. Just like in the Gospel story of the man who was born blind (John 9:1-41) our Savior sees the needs of those around him and responds. He visits the sick, and we are called to do the same. And just like the man born blind, we go to the Eucharist to allow Jesus to visit us and heal us. We rely on Christ’s presence to heal our spirits and give us hope as we “open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter” (Spe Salvi, no. 35).