I've just been appointed Spiritual Director to a group that gives Pastoral Care to the Sick. Helping me in this much needed ministry is a group of dedicated and prayerful lay people who visit the sick and the home bound, pray with them, and help to distribute Holy Communion. I go with them to two of the homes for the aged located nearby. My first visit there last month left me with a great sense of what I would call usefulness in uselessness.
In many of the ministries that I am a Spiritual Director to, I am required from time to time, to provide spiritual input and hence, directorship. I am tasked to guide, to help to pave the way for these groups towards a direction and goal of being Christ to the world in their various ways. One of the most important tasks of any priest is to be able to break the Word of God into smaller, easier digestible ‘pieces’ at each Mass, so that the faithful can come away from the Eucharistic celebration enabled to integrate the Word of God into their often hectic and busy lives. There is quite a lot of reflection, thinking and yes, even planning, in the active life of a priest. In a way, it does make us ‘useful’, and we do use our God-given talents and skills, and sometimes, those we minister to actually may get touched by what we say and do, and come up to us and give us words of encouragement. These would be days when we get that proverbial ‘shot in the arm’. We feel useful.
In this “Pastoral Care to the Sick” ministry, I go to these homes where the people are often unable to respond to my words and prayers. They are elderly, most are frail, immobile, and sometimes, speak only in dialects that I am not conversant in. I bring the Sacred Host with me, and in a simple liturgical setting, give them Holy Communion. I pray with them, and I like to lay my hands on them, assuring them of my prayers and God’s blessings. At these moments, I realize that all that I can say, all the theological and spiritual reflections that I may be capable of, and most of my personal skills and talents are rather redundant. I can see that what they need most is my presence and the physical touches that assure them of their being loved.
This is not the only time I minister to the sick and the aged, but when I do, I invariably get this insight - that there is a part of us that longs to be appreciated and loved and I daresay, even admired, for all the good things that we can do. For our usefulness. And this is not just for priests. It applies for every human being. But it is at moments like these, when it is not our skills and talents that are required, but our presence, that we get jolted to get a reality check about what really is important in life. And it has often nothing to do with what we can do. It has to do with who we are.
And when we see that it is alright to be useless, we will begin to take ourselves far less seriously for what we can do, what we own, what we possess, and far more seriously for who we are for one another.
At these moments, it helps me greatly to look with renewed eyes at Calvary and what happened there some 2000 years ago. Jesus’ most significant act was when he died for us. Isn’t it often deemed that dying is one of life’s most useless acts? All of us fight tooth and nail to put that act as far from us as possible. So here is the strange irony that stands before us - the world says that you are most useful when you are mobile, active, and able to achieve things. Yet, on that crucifix, God himself became immobile, inactive, and by the world’s standards, totally unable to achieve anything. Bruised, battered, bleeding, naked and left to die. Yet, hanging there apparently useless to the world, that very act became something that gave the world new life. Uselessness became usefulness, giving us a whole new vista to appreciate our own uselessness.
For this reason, I am beginning to see that I may need this ministry far more than it needs me. I am wondering if it could be the same for you in your areas of uselessness too?