‘I was old and lonely and you visited me’
“Do not cast me aside in my old age; as my strength fails, do not forsake me.” —Ps 71: 9
There is a theological extrapolation to the works of mercy in the judgment of the nations lesson Jesus preaches when He states in Matthew 25:31-46, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you give me drink” etc.
An extrapolation finds its source in the above quotation from Psalm 71 concerning forsaking the elderly. One can justifiably insert it into this works of mercy litany with the twist: “I was old and lonely and you visited me.”
I recently received an email from a former parishioner of mine who was in my parish 20 years ago, informing me about another parishioner from that same time period who is now 89 years old. She lives in elderly housing in a different state about an hour and a half from me. Her eyesight is fading, her hearing is fading, her memory is fading, and her balance is fading. The emailer said that a visit from me would cheer her up tremendously. I was reluctant because of the distance and it was one more thing added to an already unmanageable schedule.
I printed the message from the computer and put it on my desk where it got shifted from one pile to another for about three weeks. But I kept experiencing this gnawing feeling that I should call her to arrange a visit. In order to make this work, I knew I would have to carve out four and a half hours of my afternoon in order to get there and back and spend at least a little bit of time visiting. I would have to procrastinate even more returning phone calls and emails. I would have to delay two writing assignments that were already overdue. I would have to delay sending out snail mail that was already late — not to mention correcting papers, doing laundry and grocery shopping.
But I went. We had planned a visit for the late afternoon. I hadn’t seen her in many years, but when she came to the door (now using a walker), I recognized her right away. She said to me repeatedly throughout the course of the afternoon, “I can’t believe you came to see me!”
I had planned on a short visit so I could leave early, but she said she had supper for us because I had come from a distance. Although she can no longer cook, one of her church friends brought her two turkey dinners from the church’s Thanksgiving lunch to share with “the priest.” I laughed and told her that I would love some supper because all I had had for lunch was a Snicker’s bar that one of my Good Shepherd Catholic School students had given me. She laughed and told me that Snickers are one of her favorite lunches too.
I had brought Holy Communion for her so we prayed together. We reminisced about her life. We told funny stories and laughed some more. We ate turkey and cranberry sauce, and we prayed again.
It’s hard to find time, but the psalmist reminds us: “Do not cast me aside in my old age; as my strength fails, do not forsake me.”
I’m so glad I went.
—Father Lance Harlow is pastor of Corpus Christi Parish based in St. Johnsbury.
—Originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.