About an hour ago, just as I was writing a response to a comment about my Sunday homily, the phone rang.
Alas, many times during the day, the phone ringing means either someone calling for a business that used to have this number; and, I've discovered, so it is still listed on the Internet, spawning consternated disagreement ("but--this is supposed to be _____!" "Well, you'll just have to take my word for it, it's not!"), or some sort of solicitation, which irks me because I don't want simply to hang up, and it is hard to interrupt someone in his or her spiel, and when I'm working on a homily, let's say, that 2-minute phone call can be a real disruption in my train of thought. Well, more and more, if I really want some peace and quiet at home, I turn off the ringer, and let the machine pick up; and either call back, or pick up once I hear who it is.
Well, in this case I wasn't doing anything thoughty, so I picked up the phone.
It was a nursing home nearby; a woman was "actively dying."
I was dressed casually, so I said it would take a few minutes to change into clerical attire, and I drove straight there.
As such moments go, it was a strong expression of faith: family gathered around, they clearly were attuned to prayer (so many times those gathered clearly aren't practicing the faith). They were open about their mom dying, so that helped: I could openly acknowledge that reality in our conversation and prayer, for the sake, first, of the one dying! and second, for those gathered, to name and confront the reality, rather than hedge around it. So it seems to me, anyway. But sometimes folks aren't ready for that, and it's not my place to force someone to deal with that; so unless someone there acknowledges--"____ is dying, as a rule, I do not "go there" in what I say; at most, I gingerly try to elicit that acknowledgement, before I offer to pray "prayers for the dying." This may seem all rather fussy; but this is an extremely delicate moment for folks; and as sorry as I am, I don't feel it as they do--this is their mother or father!
Also, one of the challenges of this is--how much time do I have? In this case, when I felt the woman's hand, it felt cold; I spoke to her, I didn't see movement; I waited...then I saw her breathe. While I don't over-worry about this, we don't administer sacraments to the dead.
So, I led the woman through the sacrament of confession: "tell the Lord in your heart what you are sorry for...now we'll pray an act of contrition together...your penance is a Glory Be, let's say that together...now I'll give you absolution..."; then the Apostolic Pardon, which is a remission from all temporal punishment--i.e., a plenary indulgence; then, anointing; then, if possible, communion; in this case, not possible (turns out, she received the Eucharist on Sunday, Deo gratias!). Then, a litany of the saints, and commendation of the dying, then any prayers the family wishes -- in this case, a Hail Mary and an Our Father (that was my goof; I should have led that before the anointing; but if one does anointing, with communion, it comes after the anointing, and I just forgot).
As we were finishing, another priest--one of the retired priests who lives here in Piqua--walked in; someone else had called him. Then we talked a little about "arrangements"--they had another priest in mind, no problem: they were welcome to contact me if needed.
All that in about an hour. The rest of the day, I'll keep that woman and her family in my prayers, in the likely but not certain event that the Lord will call her to himself sometime today, or tomorrow.