The term “pro-life” is often used to describe the work of advocating for and protecting unborn babies from abortion. However, other issues come under the respect life umbrella, one of which is caring for those who are sick and suffering.

Catholics have been doing this important work since the first Christians took to heart the words of Jesus, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” We care for the sick by practicing Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as “charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.”

Priests, of course, regularly visit parishioners who are home-bound or in the hospital, as do deacons. But lay persons also can play a vital role in this area.

In their weekly bulletins, most parishes list the names of those who are sick and in need of prayer. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy we can easily do is pray daily for those individuals.  In our home, we read aloud our parish list as an intention for our evening rosary.

Works of mercy can be very simple. After a recent surgery, I was on the receiving end of visits from two close friends, each visiting at two different significant points in my recovery. There are no words to express my gratitude for those dear friends! And all they did was “be there.”

At St. Monica Parish in Barre, Georgette Coleman coordinates home visits, which are made on a regular basis by a parish priest and about eight parishioners. The Sunshine Committee of Court Saint St. (Catholic Daughters of the Americas) sends cards to parishioners who are sick or home-bound.  Periodically, they personally deliver prayer blankets and baskets of specialty foods.

A number of parishioners at Corpus Christi Parish based in St. Johnsbury and their pastor, Father Lance Harlow, visit parishioners and others in the hospital. Father Harlow, Deacon Pete Gummere and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion go to home-bound parishioners. Lay persons bring communion to three area nursing homes. The parish hosts healing services in each of its three churches after Mass, once a month, and Father Harlow also offers a monthly diocesan-wide healing service at St. John the Evangelist Church in St. Johnsbury.

St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Shelburne has an active eucharistic outreach to all parishioners who live in nursing homes, live alone, or cannot get to Mass for various reasons.

Something as simple as receiving a card brings comfort to people because it lets them know someone is thinking of them. At many parishes, like St. Paul in Orwell and St. Thomas in Underhill Centers, parishioners regularly send cards to those who are ill or home-bound. The Social Concerns Committee at St. Thomas sends holiday cards throughout the year parishioners on its list, which also includes those grieving the loss of a loved one. For Christmas and Easter, parishioners volunteer to bring a poinsettia or flowering plant, donated chocolates, and a card prepared by the committee, to each person on the care list.

Recently, an elderly woman said to me about growing old, “We become invisible.” Her remark really struck me. By our works of mercy, let us make visible the sick, suffering, and elderly, letting them know they are thought of and cared for.

— Eileen Haupt is respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

—Originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.