I always look forward to Sunday hospital visits. Yesterday, I
knocked first and entered a room up on the fifth floor of what I
still call, "St. Mary's North." I always introduce myself and
explain exactly why I'm there.
"Are you Maria? Would you like to receive Holy Communion today?"
The answer was a very emphatic "YES!" So I entered the room, closed
the door behind me and walked toward a friendly and smiling
As I approached her bed, she expanded on her answer. "I'd love
to receive communion but I can't." Immediately, I'm thinking she is
in an "irregular marriage," or has some other impediment that would
keep her from the Lord's table.
I then hesitantly asked, "Can I ask you why you can't
"I have no saliva," was Maria's response.
Maria then explained to me that seven years ago her doctor
discovered cancer in her mouth and a very invasive surgery took
almost all of her upper palate and left her with just three of her
original upper teeth.
I'm saddened, as this lady really wants to receive, so I counter
with another idea.
"I'm headed to 11 a.m. Mass after I leave here and I could bring
you back some of the precious blood."
"No," Maria says with a frown, "the alcohol will burn the inside
of my mouth if I took it that way. Without the saliva, it's
Now I'm bummed as Maria has started to tear up. I came to offer
hope, but it seems I only cause her to cry. I can see how badly she
wants to receive communion, but there is just no way for that to
happen. She begins to tell me about her longing for the Lord, and
how difficult it has been for the last seven long years of not
being able to receive.
Now, I'm determined to somehow help her... but how?
Then I got an idea.
I asked Maria to hold out her hand and she placed her open palm
in my left hand. I opened the pyx and took out a host and placed it
in her outstretched palm. Then I closed her fingers over the host
and hold her hand with both of mine.
"Maria," I say, "you are holding Jesus Christ in your hand now.
Do you feel how close He is to you now?" She cannot answer as tears
now stream down her face and sobs come from deep down in her chest.
Her husband stands at her side on the other side of her hospital
bed, his head bowed down in respect.
We prayed the "Our Father" together. After a few more minutes of
her thanking me profusely, I opened her hand, took the host and
said quietly, "May almighty God bring us to everlasting life." Then
I consumed the host.
These last few weeks, the gospels have all been about the "Bread
of Life." I found new meaning Sunday in Deacon Bob's excellent
homily about that bread, but also from a holy woman of God who
suffers from her longing for that which she cannot have.
Later on at Mass, I could not stop thinking about Maria. Then I
realized the Psalm response was, "Taste and see the goodness of the
Lord...." I was sad, thinking about my encounter earlier that day.
Maria has had no sense of taste or smell for the last seven
Before leaving the hospital room, I explained to Maria the
difference between Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum. I described
a possible solution of one day being buried with the Eucharist on
her tongue. When I explained this possibility, she was overwhelmed
with joy and told me and her husband that that's what she wanted to
St. Augustine once prayed a simple and short prayer about Holy
Communion that was no less deep and thought provoking. "May we
become that which we receive." Seven perfect words. May we receive
the body of Christ and become Him.
The deep yearning that Maria shows challenged me on Sunday. Do I
take for granted that which is intended to change and transform me
into Christ for others? It's a tough question.
In my own life as a deacon, I hold in tension my own veneration
of the Eucharist with being sometimes tired, letting my mind
wander, or worse, not intentional about opening my heart fully up
to listen to the rites of Mass.
It's essential that we not waste for ourselves what Maria cannot
have. We need to guard against daydreaming in front of a miracle
each week. We need to cherish the Lord Jesus as he enters our body.
Maria certainly received Holy Communion Sunday, but it was by
desire. How fortunate are most of us that can receive the real
presence of Christ right into our very bodies!
I know Maria's longstanding yearning for the Eucharist will
continue to minister to me for years to come. She is a holy woman
of God and loves the Mass out at St. Thomas the Apostle. Though we
only spent 20 minutes together last Sunday, she made a deep and
abiding impression upon me. I will not soon forget her suffering or
the love she obviously has for Jesus Christ, or her constant desire
to "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."