It is in bad times that we discover true friends. The world is noisy, fast-paced, and obsessed with productivity. To visit those in the hospital or in a prison is to value them based on who they are, not what they have or what they can do. It is not fun to visit people when they are hurting, but it is a great act of mercy. At those times, they need other people the most – they need their presence and to know they care.
I work in nursing homes for my career as a mobile eye doctor. Each day I treat people who in many ways are chronically sick. They often feel like prisoners because, in a world obsessed with doing and having, they cannot do much of anything, and they do not have much of anything. They have lost their independence and can no longer take care of themselves. They cannot go anywhere without someone to take them. They have lost their homes and the majority of their possessions. Many are widowed and alone. Many are constantly hurting, physically and emotionally. Many wonder why they are still alive.
Because of my career, I can recognize the value of a simple visit. Of course, prison ministry, which involves going into actual prisons, is a powerful experience. Those who have hit bottom are often very open to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. The hope of Jesus is often the only thing they have left. They are searching for mercy and compassion. They want a second chance, and they can find it in Jesus Christ. They often need somebody to bring them this hope and good news and speak to them of the greatest and truest freedom – the freedom from sin and death.
We can all go to the sick and the homebound. As I see patients in nursing homes, a recurring theme in each diagnosis list is depression. They are lonely and often feel forgotten. Your potential to make a difference in a nursing home is unfathomable. One daughter whose mother was in a nursing home told me about a grumpy old man she would see when visiting her mother. He always had a frown, he was always inconsiderate to the morning aides, and he never participated in any activities. One day her family decided that the next time they went to visit her mother, they would bring the old man a card and some flowers, just to say they cared. After doing so, the nursing staff said the old man was a different person. He began participating in activities and was much kinder and more considerate to those around him.
If you have children, bring them to nursing homes. Souls are healed by being with children, and in many ways, so are the body and the mind. Children bring life and joy, and their mere presence can make somebody’s day in a nursing home.
Excerpt by John R. Wood, from Chapter 6 “Sacrifice and Service,” of his latest book The Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018), pp. 253-55 – “Visit the Sick and the Imprisoned.” www.ignatius.com
JOHN R. WOOD is a mobile eye doctor from Ohio, and a bestselling author – including the book Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission. He and his wife, Kristin, are parents of four children. They have dedicated their lives to sharing their faith with others in practical and engaging ways through their ministry, Extraordinary Mission.
The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, and comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity; it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2447