Care for broken families

Every post-Resurrection story has one thing in common: no one recognizes Jesus. This seems to be a pattern for us mere mortals; Jesus walks beside us and we don’t even know it. Just as we fail to see the particles of dust that float around us until the sunlight passes through them, the Risen Christ is abundantly present, waiting to be seen. The question is not “When did you see Me homeless, hungry, or naked,” but “Did you notice that it was I Who took care of you in your time of greatest need?”

It became quite clear after the Synod on Family in 2014 that families are in need. Many reported how overwhelming it is to deal with a bad economy, children with illness or disability, or care for their elderly parents. When Jesus walked on earth He always asked first what was needed before He gave the people the healing or food or wisdom they sought. Using Jesus’ own methodology, the Church now asks, “How can the Church respond to the needs of families?” It is a curious question to ask given the Church’s long history of providing solace to the needy. After all, those who have been the recipients of the Church’s charitable outreach are members of families. Maybe the question should have been asked, “What more can we do to be recognized by families?”

When the people of the Diocese of Fall River were asked how the Church can respond to the needs of families they looked within the walls of their own parishes for the answer. We have soup kitchens, food pantries, St. Vincent de Paul societies, and support groups. Perhaps the people in our parishes feel that charity is at its best when it is local, for none of the responses mentioned the work of the larger agencies within the Church. The Church is much more than the building that houses our own parish. The local parish can provide solace to the needs of struggling families with soup kitchens and food pantries, but when it comes to families in crisis, Catholic Social Services steps in and provides housing, shelter and other emergency measures. These services are founded upon Christ’s mandate to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. They are provided to all people in need, not just to Catholics. 

The Church works hand-and-hand with state agencies to provide for the needs of families, but often is the only one left holding the safety net when the state walks away. Many families are struggling to care for elderly parents, and at a time when there is the greatest need, local nursing homes have closed their Alzheimer’s units because they have become too costly to maintain. The Boston Globe reported that a “2011 study by Brown University found that nursing homes nationwide were more likely to close in areas with higher proportions of black, Hispanic, and poor residents.” Despite this trend, Diocesan Health Facilities continues to maintain five skilled nursing and rehabilitation care facilities throughout Bristol County that offer short- and long-term nursing care, as well as two community programs that offer adult day health care and geriatric care management services.

The list of specialized services that are offered by the Diocesan Health Facilities is a testament to the presence of Christ in this ministry. When families bring their loved ones to receive rehabilitation or Alzheimer’s care, they can be assured that they will be treated with dignity and respect. When a patient receives pain management or pulmonary rehabilitation care, they are treated with compassion. When care givers are exhausted from balancing their lives around the care of a sick or elderly family member, they receive much-needed rest when they place their loved ones into the Adult Day Care facility. And when the time comes that families must say good-bye to the ones they love, the pastoral and palliative care, and Hospice care they receive is part of a holistic approach to health care that is founded on the principle that all life is precious, that each individual deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that the professional care they provide is defined by its compassion and attention to a higher purpose. 

The iconic post-Resurrection walk with Christ along the road to Emmaus should raise some questions in our minds. What exactly did the Risen Christ look like to be so unfamiliar to His closest followers? This question challenges us today, too. The conventional wisdom states that we will remain blind until we see Christ in the sick, the elderly, the poor, the mentally ill, the homeless, and the abused. We are equally blind if we stand back and watch Christ in action caring for the needy and fail to recognize His loving presence there, too. 

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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