Some Thoughts About Catholic Care-homes
Dear Sister Hannah, as I understand it, you wanted to know my reasons for wishing to move into Nazareth House seeing that, although 91, I am still reasonably agile.
Your question is understandable. No one wants to go into a care-home sooner than they have to. That is the normal state of things. But for a Catholic, when it is a Catholic care-home where there is a chapel with Mass and the Blessed Sacrament , it can be different.
In my case I felt that I had in a small way a kind of vocation --- a call to adoration and reparation of a very modest kind. I am too old for a religious order to consider me, I did not have any family ties and there was nothing much left of an active kind I could do for the Church apart from a little writing. So this, after consulting a spiritual director, seemed the next best thing, and in fact much more than that. An even better thing. How could living physically close to Our Lord all the time be a ‘next best thing’.
Going to Nazareth House, or any Catholic care-home, is like going to stay with Our Lord as his guest for the rest of one’s life. Of course as God Our Lord is everywhere, and as God-man there are other ways in which he can be present. Where ‘two or three are gathered together’ for instance. But we can surely call and think of his Presence in the Eucharist as the Presence of all Presences. This, as we well know, is born out by the history of the Church from the earliest times. The Blessed Sacrament was not just reserved for the sick. Many of the early Christians wanted to have Him in their houses or even, what is no longer allowed, to carry him about all day on their persons. The life of St Tarsicius is there to remind us that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was there from the beginning. Blessed John Henry Newman also gives a good picture of the situation in the early Church in his novel Callista.
All this is quite logical and intelligible. Unlike other ‘presences’, Our Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament is visible and tangible. That is why it is called ‘Real’. It was this visibility and tangibility which was and remains so reassuring and comforting. It doesn’t mean that his other ways of being present are not in their own way real or actual. But belief in them depends purely on faith. There is not in addition that physical dimension to support our faith which God in his goodness and mercy had given us.
In their devotion to the Blessed Sacrament both the early Christians and Christians down the ages resemble or have resembled the apostles during Our Lord’s life time. For the apostles the best thing possible when they had been away from Our Lord for a time must have been coming back and being with him physically. While they were away knowing that he had been present with them invisibly because they were working together in his name wouldn’t have been the same.
All this should help to make Catholic devotion to the Blessed Sacrament easier for our separated brethren to understand in our ecumenical relations.
Following Vatican II there were no doubt well-meant attempts to make the faithful more conscious of the other forms of Our Lord’s presence, in Scripture for instance or the poor, which regrettably lead for a time to a decline in eucharistic devotion. But fortunately this situation was reversed largely by the teaching and efforts of St John Paul II so that many churches now have exposition for adoration and reparation lasting several hours at different times of the day in a way that was unheard earlier.
All the same I think you will agree that as yet only a small number of Catholics take advantage of this new privilege or are aware of the need for adoration and reparation as a way of arresting the decline of faith throughout the west and promoting the new evangelisation. One is tempted to talk of the Mystical Body and the faith ‘bleeding to death’ in countries of the west like England.
In addition to reparation a dimension of adoration which Pope Francis mentions, as, I seem to remember, Pope Benedict did, is ‘keeping the devil at bay’. Just like St Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century. Keeping the devil at bay, says St Ignatius, is what Christians do when they come together for the breaking of bread, he says in one of his letters. (I came across the passage in the Office of Readings, but I can’t remember the date.)
This, it seems to me, is where the special value of Catholic care-homes comes in. They are full of the old, weak and suffering whose prayers, as we know, like those of children, are specially powerful with God.
It is important therefore for them to realise that they have not been relegated to the side-lines in the Church’s struggle to spread and make effective its message of love and salvation to a world so full of the opposite. They should see themselves as in the fore-front of the battle. Life should not be seen as ‘over and more or less useless’. It is just a different and possibly higher form of God’s service.
This again is something St John Paul II was always emphasising during his pontificate when addressing pilgrimages of the sick in St Peter’s square.
Many of the Catholic inmates of our care homes, I’m sure, do realise all this. But in so far as they can be helped to recall it, it should be a source of great comfort as well as an advantage to Holy Mother Church.
So too possibly could be something I say to members of the younger generation when they make some possibly cheeky remark to me about being old. “Old,” I say. “You are far older than me. I’m close to eternal youth. You’ve got years to go!”
I hope these thoughts will be helpful. Thank you for asking me for them.
Version: 26th February 2015