It was his First Communion. It was his Last Communion. It was his only Holy Communion.
Years ago, when I was chaplain at Northridge Prep, I received a phone call from a friend in Boston. We hadn’t spoken in 20 years, and he said, “Father, could you please visit my friend? He’s down at the University of Chicago in the hospital, and I think he’s dying. He needs to see a priest.”
The University of Chicago Hospital is difficult to get to, on the South Side of Chicago. I asked, “Has he asked for a priest?”
My friend said, “No, he hasn’t asked. But he needs to see a priest.”
“Is he Catholic?”
“No… but he needs to see a priest.”
Okay, I decided. “I’ll do my best.”
The next day I was driving to Indiana to go to a retreat, so I stopped by the University of Chicago. I checked in his room, and he wasn’t there. A week went by, and he was transferred to a rehab facility in the northern suburbs – much closer! – and I came that Friday evening to meet this man. His room was dark, his complexion was dark.
I said, “Hi, my name’s Father Rocky, I’m a friend of your friend and he asked that I come see you. I’m a Catholic priest. Can I come in?”
He said, “Sure. Come in.”
We got to know each other, and I learned that he was waiting for a liver transplant. He had lived a life that he regretted, and he thought that it was his own darn fault that he needed a liver. He didn’t think he was worthy of a new liver, because someone else had to die for him to get it.
I realized the situation was pretty dire, and he was very sad, down, and fearful. And so I said, “I’m a Catholic priest. Do you believe in God?”
“Yes, I believe in God.”
“What’s your religion?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know. We never really practiced.”
“Were you baptized?”
“I think so.”
“Do you have any relatives here?”
He was all alone. “Well,” I said, “you’re in danger of death. As a Catholic priest, I can offer you some Sacraments. I can offer you the Sacrament of Confession, you can confess your all your sins and be forgiven; I can offer you the Anointing of the Sick, which can give you peace of mind and soul, and maybe even restore your physical strength; and I can give you Holy Communion, which is Jesus Christ Himself, present in the Holy Eucharist. Would you like that?”
He said, “Oh, I’d really like that.”
I heard his confession. I anointed him. I brought out the Holy Eucharist and raised it before his eyes. “This is the Body of Christ.”
His eyes got as big as silver dollars. And he received Holy Communion. It was his First Communion. It was his Last Communion. It was his only Communion. As I gathered up my articles to leave, I said to him, “You’re in God’s hands now.”
And then he said something I will never forget. “And what good hands those are.”
It was an amazing transformation in just twenty minutes. From dark thoughts and fearful thoughts, from self-incrimination to complete peace.
Two weeks later, I was in Mexico for a service project when I got the news he’d passed away. I knew he went to Heaven.
This is why we’re having Eucharistic processions all the way leading up to the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. I’m going to be there, and I hope I’ll see you there too. Let’s all show up for Jesus!
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