Last Friday was the 4th time I was at my ministry: Villa de Marillac. I admit I still feel a little wary about going each time, however getting to know the residents and staff has made the ministry visits easier.
It does require a bit of patience each time I go. Often I have to re-introduce myself and re-tell my personal story as residents will tend to forget, or even confuse me with another friar. I address myself and the other guys as “brother,” yet I can never count the times I was called “Father” during the day. Part of me wants to correct them each time, but I realize it probably won’t make much of a difference in the long run. I haven't been asked to hear a confession - so I figure "No harm, no foul."
Getting to know the residents has been a thrill. Most of the time there are activities going on when we visit. One week there was an outdoor picnic, another day there was bingo. I remember a resident rubbing the knots on my cord for good luck, then winning the next game. The theology of the moment was horrendous, but my memories of being a pit-boss brought a sense of humor to the situation.
Getting to know the nurses and staff at the residency has helped as well. Many of the nurses are friendly and eager to talk. There are others who don’t say much. I’d bet there’s a few who are bothered by our presence there. In some ways, I can understand. We are there only one day a week; we're involved in only those activities which bring smiles or laughs to the residents. We don’t have to feed the residents, help them use the restroom, attend to their every need, build relationships then be present when they die, orexperience many of the other aspects of their job. But I am willing to recognize the feelings of those people, and then tell myself that this ministry, while often with the residents, isn’t exclusive. The ability to build relationships and understand different points of view are tasks I’m trying to live; I feel that being open to staff, nurses, as well as the residents, will give me a better experience of this ministry.
While my ministry can be a test of my charism, it can also be a test of my self-discipline as well.
A few of us were asked to go out for drinks last Friday by some of the nurses. I'm sure they were merely teasing, trying to make the “celibate boys a little uncomfortable.” I doubt anything would have happened if we had accepted, and it would have been nice to interact with women again (or anyone outside of the house for that matter.)
Obviously we declined (although part of me really wanted to say "Yes"), and for many good reasons. However I think it’s important for people to recognize that we as friars are not removed from society, nor are we without a sense of fun. The ever-present danger is knowing where that line exists for me.
So I continue to visit Villa de Marillac and take away a sense of happiness afterwards. Sometimes I don’t feel like I did much, yet the residents always tell me it’s wonderful when we visit. And in spite of the misgivings I have about nursing homes and assisted living communities, I’ve gotten to be comfortable with my ministry.
I could not end this without another good story:
Two weeks ago I was talking with a woman at Villa. She wasn’t completely aware of where she was or the conversations that were going on. I remember her saying something to me I couldn’t understand, to which I simply said “yes.” The woman then went on a tirade about how I was “one of those Modernist priests,” and how I’d rather have people go out to the park than go to Mass!
This past week we talked again and had a completely different conversation. She had obviously not remembered anything from the past week, so I decided not to hold it against her. I’m still not sure what I agreed to in order to be labeled as a Modernist, but I’ll make sure not to just agree when I don’t understand now!