Visiting the Sick
By Deacon Gerard Jablonowski
As a Church, we are all called to discipleship in Christ. The mission of today’s disciples must be reflected through the actions of the Church in response to the needs of others. In light of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are challenged to carry out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy — actions which extend God’s mercy and compassion through us to those in need. The corporal works of mercy are loving acts of kindness by which we help others with their physical and material basic human needs in order to provide sustenance and dignity in life and after death. An essential act of a disciple being compliant in these works of mercy is manifested through visiting and comforting the sick. As revealed through sacred Scripture, the words of Jesus bring us to appreciate this call: “For I was … ill and you cared for me…. Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:35-40). The greatest pain of sickness, chronic illness, disability or the advancing frailty of aging is isolation from family and friends and social and community participation. Isolation from Church often occurs as a progressive reality of sickness and frailty and separates one from the comforts of their place of worship, prayer and fellow- ship with their faith community of parishioners. People struggling with illness may even become separated from the most profound nourishment of the Eucharist in this time of most need and desire for the Sacrament. Families are often called upon to be the primary caregivers for ill and aging parents, giving them an opportunity to remain connected to home life through this demonstration of a most profound expression of sacrificial love. The Church, as represented both through the regional diocese and the local parish, must also play a role in this work of mercy through health care ministries that support the efforts of the faithful and extend the healing hands of Jesus to those who are ill or infirm. The Church is called to provide resources and opportunities for parishioners and professionals to reach out and care for those who are sick, disabled or aging. One such example of living this corporal work of mercy can be found in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, under the leadership of Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan. With Healthcare Foundation, established to provide the financial resources required, the diocese has established Vitality Catholic Healthcare Services to support parish nursing, Stephen Ministries, care coordination, senior day centers and a nonmedical home care service. In addition, the diocese fully funds a robust hospital chaplaincy program, providing pastoral visitation, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, prayer services and availability of the Eucharist throughout southern New Jersey hospitals and nursing homes. Such services keep the faithful connected with their parish communities and break down the walls of isolation, thereby engaging and encouraging our Catholic faithful to participate in the corporal work of mercy to visit the sick.
Deacon Gerard Jablonowski is Executive Director of Vitality Catholic Healthcare Services in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey.