This year I spent a much longer time with my family for the holidays. In early November, my parents’ pastor asked me for help at Christmas, and since the parishes in the Northwest where I assist had decided to consolidate their Christmas Day Masses, I could oblige him. As I was planning the dates for my roundtrip flight, some of my family who are big Notre Dame football fans talked me into staying in Chicago to watch the national championship game with them.
So, although I packed academic work in my luggage, I still felt a little funny about making such a long visit; had it not been for ND-Alabama, I’d have flown back to the University of Portland on January 2 or 3. I could hear the voices of some of my C.S.C. friends who are parish priests teasing me about how cushy we academic priests have it; and this time, at least, I kind of had to agree.
During Christmas dinner at my aunt’s house, one of my cousins was surprised that I would be in town so long. He wondered if after the holidays, I might come back to the neighborhood to anoint his teenage children, who have been suffering with very serious, chronic illnesses. We decided that Friday, January 4 would work.
After Mass on the Feast of the Holy Family, my parents’ pastor saw me, and we talked about how busy he’d be with Masses on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 and a funeral on Jan. 2. When I offered to take the parish daily Mass the morning of Jan. 2, his eyes lit up. “That would help me out a lot.” We also agreed that I could preside at one of the Epiphany Masses that next Sunday.
On Thursday, January 3, my sister received an urgent phone call about a 42-year-old friend of hers; she had suffered a major brain hemorrhage and was still in critical condition. Although her family was Catholic, she never had been baptized, and since I am the priest she knows best, she wanted me to come to the hospital Friday afternoon to baptize her. I spent about a half-hour that evening consulting with one of our province’s sacramental theologians to determine the correct pastoral, sacramental, and canonical response in this situation.
On Friday morning, I drove with my sister for about an hour to the south suburbs to anoint my two cousins. While at the house, we got a call that another teenage cousin had to go to the nearby pediatric hospital, because he was suffering from an internal infection and would probably need surgery. Before driving back north, we made a side trip so I could anoint him.
Finally, my sister and I arrived at the Intensive Care Unit of Northwest Community Hospital, so I could baptize her friend. After celebrating the sacrament, we all visited awhile. The woman’s 8-year-old daughter, naturally pretty scared by the whole situation, seemed very grateful that her mom was now baptized; I joked with her that it’s pretty rare for a little girl to get to see her own mom baptized after her.
Upon seeing us leaving the room, a nurse stopped me and informed me that the priest normally on call was sent home with the flu. A Catholic patient near death was requesting a priest; “Could you help?” I sent my sister home to get her own daughter ready for a Girl Scout meeting, and I went with the nurse to meet the family. They didn’t want to pray much, and the whole visit was short and formal, but it seemed to matter to everyone that a priest was present near the hour of death.
One year during seminary, just before we all were leaving for holiday, our rector reminded us, “You all have worked hard this semester. You’ve earned a vacation from your classes. But remember, you never take a vacation from being a religious.” In 2013, I extended my vacation in Chicago to root as Notre Dame football fan. I wound up spending much of that extra vacation time serving as a Holy Cross priest.
Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Portland. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog, reflecting primarily on the work of Holy Cross in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.