Elderly or homebound can still participate in parish life
At one time in my life, I volunteered to bring the Eucharist to homebound parishioners directly from Sunday Mass. I would arrive at the person’s house with the consecrated hosts cradled in my pyx. We would read the Gospel of the day and pray the Our Father together before the person received Communion. Afterward, we might visit for a few minutes before I moved on to the next place. It was a ministry that I enjoyed because, over time, I got to know some of the elderly parishioners very well — people I probably never would have met otherwise. I would hear about their younger days in parish life, and they would eagerly look to me for current information from the outside world. It was a privilege to bring Christ into their homes in that way, and to in return recognize Christ in them. The church’s concern for our elderly and infirm is a blessing that has continued through the millennia since Jesus and the apostles.
However, being homebound also has its dark side. The people I visited were usually very lonely. They often felt alienated from family, friends, daily activities and parish life. Sometimes, even God could feel far away. Receiving the Eucharist weekly can help strengthen faith in God’s presence, but it's easy for the homebound to still feel separated from the church or from purposeful living. The pandemic shutdown gave the world insight into what homebound parishioners experience every day. Livestreamed Masses and Zoom spiritual direction help, but technology cannot replace the tangible reality of living our faith, gathering in community or serving others. Elderly and homebound parishioners miss this part of life and need ways to remain connected with the church, despite age or health issues.
Due to an illness, I was once homebound for almost a year. It was difficult. I appreciated the televised Masses and reception of the Eucharist from family members on holy days. Once, my pastor even visited so I could have confession and be anointed.
Of course, I could pray on my own and stay in contact with friends through emails and text messages, but it wasn't the same. Like the homebound I used to visit, I still felt alienated from the rest of the world. I'd always been involved with my parish and it was hard to be separated so physically from church life. On one hand, I understood that I was being humbled and purified while on the receiving end of ministry; on the other hand, I longed to participate.
An opportunity arose when our pastor needed a parishioner to act as contact person for the children whose schooling is sponsored by the parish. The contact person would need to send out the birthday and holiday greetings on behalf of the parish, and share the children’s correspondence through the parish bulletin. This was something that I could certainly do! While homebound, I eagerly took on this role that connected me to parish ministry.
There are myriad ways our homebound parishioners can still participate in parish life. Depending on a person’s capabilities and talents, they can participate — at their own pace — from their home. Does the Society of St. Vincent de Paul need more mittens or blankets, or "prayer shawls" for the ill? Homebound parishioners could knit or crochet those. Do the altar linens need to be washed and ironed? Someone could drop it off at a homebound parishioner’s residence. Does the parish website need to be updated? A homebound parishioner could do that.
Through such activities, small jobs needed by the parish community can get done, and the homebound can still feel like they are a part of parish life.
Most importantly, homebound parishioners can be powerhouses of prayer. Often, they might not be strong enough to do anything physical for the church. However, they can always pray. I appreciate my pastor asking me for specific intentions to pray for in the parish. In prayer, we are all together in Christ as his body. He is the one really ministering through us. Homebound or not, that is the greatest privilege of all.
By Melissa Lesieur, OSV News.