What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: March 15, 2007
Sickness is a recurring theme in each of the four Gospels. The Lord Jesus encountered all types of people with illnesses—Jewish people, Roman and Greek people, people who had sick children, people with sicknesses that had defied all of the skills of the doctors and physicians of the age. Sickness in the Gospels is a metaphor for sin. The presence of a sickness was an occasion for Jesus to demonstrate His power over sin and death. And He still works those signs for us and even through us even today.
In the past few weeks, I have visited a number of people in the hospital. Each occasion has been a grace for me—much more so perhaps than for the people I was privileged to visit. Sickness is a consequence of original sin, and as such it is both frightening and unavoidable. When the Archbishop visits someone in the hospital, I usually receive a number of knowing glances: “Isn’t that the Catholic Archbishop?” Occasionally people will greet me; other times they will simply smile in recognition. On a few occasions, they will ask me to stop by and visit some member of their family or a friend who might be hospitalized. I am always happy to accommodate their request since an important part of my ministry is to comfort the sick. It is one of the reasons that I became a priest because I want to try to continue Jesus’ ministry of consoling those who are sick.
It is a great help to me to be notified of the presence of a person who might be helped by a visit, a note or a prayer from the Archbishop.
Father Kevin Peek afforded me such assistance last week when he alerted my office to the presence of two of the young men who were injured in the terrible bus crash that happened here in Atlanta two weeks ago. I cannot tell you how privileged I felt to be able to console those two families and to offer a prayer over those young men. I was very proud of Kevin for his tender compassionate priestly ministry to those families. Jesus was busy healing them through the ministry they received here in Atlanta. I know that many local Atlanta families extended hospitality and assistance to the families of some of those injured students. Many of our local businesses offered the courtesy of their services gratis for these families. There were all types of kindheartedness that these people found here in Atlanta in the face of their terrible losses and injuries. Christ Himself was active and present in each gesture of attention and comfort given to these young men and to their families.
We are at our best when we comfort and care for those who are sick or injured and console the families who bear the burden of the sorrow of the suffering of their loved ones. Occasionally because of the laws of our country that restrict information about those who are in the hospital, we might not even know that a neighbor, a parishioner, even a friend is in the hospital. HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a law that safeguards the privacy of people in regard to their medical records and circumstances. Like so many other laws, its good purpose also imposes a negative consequence because it may conceal the sickness or hospitalization of a friend who might deeply appreciate a visit, a card, a telephone call to assure them that they are in our prayers.
I would like to remind our parishes that they should regularly include a bulletin notice that urges people to inform the parish when they or a family member might be facing an illness or a visit to the hospital. If a parish has an organized ministry to the sick and homebound, they should also notify the people who receive visits from those ministers to keep the parish informed when they may be a patient in the hospital.
Christ still seeks out the sick and wants to comfort them through our visits, our prayers, our cards and notes even today.