Our full time hospital chaplain was away for a few days, so I got the call to the intensive care unit of the hospital. A man on vacation fell from a waterfall up in the hills of North Carolina and had extensive head injuries. They only gave him a few more hours to live.
They are Catholics so they called for a priest and the call came to me. What a terrible and wonderful privilege to be there at that moment when the curtain between this world and the next was so very thin. It was only the second time I have administered the last rites, and it came just a few days after attending a wonderful ordination and taking my first baptisms as a Catholic priest.
Somehow the three events along with hearing confessions in my usual Wednesday evening slot have hit me between the eyes both with the extraordinary graces I have received in becoming a Catholic priest, and also how strange it is that I should be a Catholic priest at all–considering that I have a wife and family and have found my way here in a most unusual manner–but also because of my own personal unworthiness.
How beautiful the priesthood is, and how beautiful the Church is to offer to the faithful the simple words and rituals they need at all the most terrifying and wonderful times of life. Those parents at the baptism hadn’t the words to express their joy and wonder at a new life. They hadn’t all the words to offer their child to God–full of expectation for the future and full of thanksgiving and trembling fear at it all. It was all too big for them, but the faith of the Church was there, and the words and actions of the Church were there, and they and their child were gathered up into the mystery of salvation in a way too great for mere words.
The same was true for the family gathered at the bedside of a man struck down in mid life by a foolish accident. They too could only offer their brother, their friend, their father to God. The faith of the Church was there for them, and the prayers and words and actions were there for them–helping them articulate their hearts deepest longings and offering the whole tragedy up to God.
In the midst of these quite overwhelming events I feel like I am being swept along in a current of grace that is equivalent to spiritual white water rafting.