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February 27th, 2011

A Servant For All Seasons!

by Steve A. Politte


Instead of the usual homily/sermon for this week, I decided to share with you all something a bit different;  how I came to work for my parish church and some of the people that had an impact on my life, mostly those sick and shut-in's that I ministered to, or perhaps, as it often turned out, ministered to me.  This is just the first chapter of my book with the same title as above, and of course the book is still being written.  Often times, sharing the word of our Lord comes in ways that are quite different than the normal Sunday preaching, perhaps in how our lives are shaped by others, and how we are a part of those lives.  Isn't that really what Jesus did?  He didn't go around with a notebook nor have at his disposal an ink pen or typewriter or keyboard.  The very morals and values that he taught then and still yet today, he lived them for us to emulate.  And so, here is the beginning of . . . .


A Servant For All Seasons


Chapter One



        A few weeks into December of 1992 my Pastor asked me if I would consider a position in the parish as a Pastoral Associate.  I had not worked since the early months of 1990 as a result of a back injury that incurred while working for the Union Pacific Railroad, which ultimately led to my first experience of depression and a mental breakdown in January of 1991.  That story however is in a different book.


     My Pastor said that funds for the position was a result of an elderly lady who was extremely ill and who live about 40 miles away in a different city.  Part of my contract was that I go and visit this lady every two weeks, which would always be on a Thursday.  I was only told that her name was Ruth.  My primary job would be as a substitute teacher, in the event a teacher was out any day, that I would fill in for her, and I did my share of substituting.  However as it would turn out, I would go and visit the sick and shut-in's in our parish and area twice a month, as well as those in nursing homes, the hospital, and some non-nursing home facilities.  There would be many other duties not specified in my contract as well.  I talked it over with my wife, who during those fives years became the school Principal, and we decided that I should be able to function well in that capacity.  Therefore I took the position starting the first week of January, 1993.


        My first day on the job (from here on out I will refer to it as my ministry) the Pastor, Fr. Ted, gave me a slip of paper with some names and some scribbled directions on it.  I was to go and visit those on the list and to also bring them the Eucharist.


It was snowing heavily on that day, the roads were a mess, but I ventured out as was expected of me.  She lived off the main highway, off from a secondary road, on a gravel road way back in the woods, except that the gravel was now snow covered.  I wasn't even sure my car could make it.  I just let God take care of that.  I think that God needed some help because I got stuck in the snow short of her house.  A neighbor came to my assistance.  I didn't even know who Ester Dean was, though I had heard of her.  Fr. Ted did tell me that she had cancer.  What was I going to say?  What could I say to her?  I was nervous and apprehensive to say the least, but again, I decided to just give it to God.


        The front door was covered up with plastic, I suppose to help keep the cold out, so I went around to the back.  I knocked but didn't hear anyone inside, so I let myself in.  It was a small old house, the only heat coming from a small wood stove.  Ester came out of the bathroom and welcomed me in.  A little lady in her sixties with red hair that was showing much grey.  A thin little lady who looked much older than what she really was.  I didn't beat around the bush.  I told her who I was, but she had already been told by Fr. Ted.  We talked about her cancer and about her small family.  She was beyond any treatment and was just waiting for the cancer to take it's course.  She had a daughter who looked in on her once in a while and who also called her daily.  She hadn't lived in the area all that long, about year I think she said, but said that the people were so very nice and accepting of her.  She talked about her own growing up in a home where she was not accepted as a child, and all the struggles that came as a result of that.  What she had been through was still a nightmare to her to this day.  I could see the pain and hurt in her eyes.  I reassured her that God indeed accepted her as His loving child and to rely much on that love, especially at this time in her life, with this cancer.

I felt her grasp my hand and squeeze it tightly as if to say, "Yes, I know that now, now at the end of my life."


        We also talked about sunrises and sunsets.  I think she had mentioned that she liked to go fishing when the weather was nice or in season, and I also had such an interest.  We talked a long time before I realized that I had already been there for over an hour, not that the time meant anything to me, but I did have others on the list.  I gave her Communion and prayed over her as I laid my hands on her head.  She commented, "Your hands are very warm."  I went and got some wood from her back porch and filled her stove up before I left and told her that is she needed anything at all, to call me.  I had left my phone number.  I hugged her and gave her a kissed on the forehead and told her that I would be back.  As I was getting back into the car I felt tears swelling up in my eyes, but they were different tears, not sad tears, but gentle tears, tears of compassion and love, and I felt very comfortable with those tears rolling down my face.  I had just felt like I had been touched by the Holy Spirit, and for me, that was a new experience, but one that I was to have very often as I continued in this ministry.


        I never went back to see Ester Dean.  She passed away about ten days after my visit.  I last saw her at her wake service and gave the homily at her funeral.  She touched me, and I think I might have touched her as well!


        Among the deepest needs of the human heart is the need to be accepted, especially at the sunrise of our lives.  Early rejection by people we love can leave to deep and often permanent scars.  The child who is constantly told he or she is on good, a deficit, unlovable, and will never amount to anything, carries these destructive scars inside as a video of their future.  The result:  no achievement, no success, no happiness, no relationship of any meaning, and the feeling that nor grace is ever good enough or deserved.  In many of these people the video is distorted.  Good things are the result of luck or people simply not knowing how evil I am.  Good things will be taken away since people will come to see the real me that I am covering up.  I feel an enormous amount of guilt when good things happen.  I don't deserve them.  I only deserve what is bad and painful.  I self-destruct and ruin the relationship which could bring me some happiness and peace.  This feeling of being unaccepted greatly influences my relationship with God.  I approach God as if He were a bookkeeper or an angry parent who must be pleased.  He will only love and accept me if I have enough accomplishments and victories.  God's love operates on a merit system.  If I do more and practice more virtue, God will love me.  The less I do, the less God will love me.  I can only stand before God as long as I can show Him all the good things I have accomplished.  My worth comes as a direct result of my efforts.


        It is so sad that so many children are raised up feeling this way.  It is not true and far too often, it is much later in life when they discover that, if even then.  The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus is God's unconditional acceptance of us.  The sending of his Son into our world is God's living, loving Word which says, "You are accepted.  you are accepted as you are.  you don't have to pretend, or play games, wear masks, or frantically run around with a bag of your achievements.   You are accepted as you are by My unbounded love."


      I did make other calls that day as well as the rest of that first week.  It didn't take me long to realize that this was not going to be easy, to immerse myself into the lives of these people, these suffering people, most of whom I did know, unlike Ester Dean.  But, at the same time, I came to also realize that it was I who was being ministered to.  This book is being written, not so much on a timeline, but more so as I come in contact with all these folks, and not in any order, but as I remember each one, for I saw them all over a five year period and beyond.  I am also using there real names as I can best remember them.  I respect them and their memory too much to give a factious name, realizing that there are sometimes a danger in doing so, that is when it comes to writing a book.  However, though this book is copyrighted, it is not as of yet, published.


        You have probably guessed by now that there are many little sunrises and sunsets in our life, that life isn't just a measurement of time, and that it is never too late to find a sunrise before the final sunset of our lives come.  That is why it is so important not to take away a child's sunrise or deny it to them.  Young children, and even older, are totally dependent on their parents or single parent to explore the sunrises and make them happen for those children.  Let them grow!  Let them live!  Let them be who God created them to be, not what you want or expect them to be.  The only measurement of time they know are "moments."


        At a weekday Mass for the children some time ago, I came up with a word that was heavenly inspired, while talking to the children in a homily (sermon).  I talked about times in our life, even, at their age, when we try to do something and can't quite come up with a word to describe it.  A time they passed a test, hit a home run, got a special Christmas gift.  I called them "Ah ha" moments.  "Ah ha," the answer to that math question just came to me.  "Ah ha," my mom just called me "special" just because she loves me!  


        The prophet John the Baptizer came into our midst as a herald of the Messiah at the beginning of a sunrise.  He challenges us to open our hearts so  that God's Word can be born within us.  This enables us "to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and voice we may glorify God the Father of our Lord Jesus.  "Once we realize that we are accepted by Jesus and we come to accept ourselves, we no longer feel threatened by others.  We can replace competition and violence with cooperation and peace.


        The needs of the human heart are many, and we all have those needs.  From the poorest to the richest, there are needs of the heart.  We have just explored the need of acceptance.  It is important to note that God has already and continues to hear our needs and to fulfill them.  The problem is that so many of us are so blindsided as not to realize that is we who are to fulfill the needs of the heart in each other.  We need to be an "Ah ha" moment for each other so we can feel special and important and loved.  Jesus embraced us with the biggest "Ah ha" moment of our existence when he laid down his life, a death on a cross that we might attain salvation, eternal life in God's kingdom in heaven.


        Sometimes my Pastor would give me some new names, and also ask me to see someone with special needs.  In other words, someone that was not really all that well.  So it was with Victor Politte, no, not related to me at all, but I certainly did know him.  I didn't know about Victor's health situation at all, and was somewhat surprised at hearing that he was quite ill.  I knew Victor and his loving wife Rita (a nurse) from the mid to late sixties when I lived in St. Louis, MO.  My brothers Russ and Jim were living with my great uncle Walt during the summer of 1965.  Russ had gotten out of the army and found a job.  Jim got a job where my uncle Walt worked, and I got a job at St. Vincent DePaul hospital in north St. Louis.  But I had to find a place to live, and I did, across the street from uncle Walt.  That is where Victor and Rita lived, and they had an upstairs apartment available, that is if I wouldn't mind living with Rita's brother Bernard.  That was no problem because Bernard and I were classmates in school and graduated together in the Spring of 1966.  Bernard liked to go out at night whereas I wasn't really that crazy about it, so on occasions I would baby sit for Victor and Rita's three children.  There could have been four but I don't remember them all.  So, that is how I came to know Victor, and now here it was almost 30 years later and I was to meet him again, but under completely different circumstances.


        I was a sunny January day that I drove up to his driveway.  I went to the door and knocked, and I heard Victor tell me to come on in.  That is what country folk did in those days.  He already knew I was coming, like all the rest of my special people on my list.  I sat down on the couch and we talked awhile.  He had congestive heart failure and was on oxygen, but was coherent and very eager to talk.  We talked about old times, those times I just mentioned.  Like I, Victor was from a large Politte family and had several brothers, most of whom lived in the area, and some of them I already knew, but did not know that they were his brothers.  His condition was progressive, so I figured that I would be coming back.  I prayed with him, and over him, as well as giving him Communion.  He told me that his favorite prayer was the "Our Father."  Little did I know how many times we would be saying that prayer.


        It is hard to imagine how many different ways that people spend in the sunrises and sunsets throughout their lives.  I'm not just talking the physical aspects we develop but more importantly the energy that is released and expresses what life is all about, how beautiful that experience can be;  how wonderful it all can be.  I hope it is for you, that life's journey is one of special meaning and graced, knowing that we are all walking it together with Jesus, the Good Shepherd leading the way.  But we have to make it happen.  We have to see those sunrises and sunsets.  It's what life with Jesus is all about.  We will never live a perfect life because we are all imperfect.  We are sinners, but sinners saved by the grace of God, by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, but still sinners everyday and we to go to him often to seek repentance.   And isn't it so true that those we sin against most often are those whom we love.  Think about it and discover it for yourself.


          How can we miss the whole purpose of a sunrise?  It's the beginning of the light that will be with us throughout our day.  Even if it is raining the sun is shining throughout the world.  It is symbolic of what we should be, a light to the world as told to us by Jesus.  Perhaps sometimes we don't want folks to see our light because it may be just a flicker, barely burning, perhaps even ready to go out.  Despite all odds we are compelled to heed the call of the Master.  It is only when we are lights to the world that the world takes notice of what is going on, of how we are to live, and how we are to challenge each other.  If we are a light to the world then the poor can see our willingness to help them;  the widows and widowers can be assured of our comfort; the homeless can feel safe because of our presence;  the sick and the lonely and the hurting can turn to us, and can realize the dawn of healing;  our children can grow in love and knowledge, that as parents, we have a responsibility to make sure that they don't just grow, but that they grow up as Christians.  That is not always popular to them because if often interferes with their little plan of being caught up in themselves.  Truth be told, there is a good chance that they will reject us, but then that is their decision.  We have a tremendous responsibility IN being followers of Christ.  We are not called to BE Christ, we are called to FOLLOW his example.


        Young people today don't really know too much about sunrises and sunsets.  The environment today is totally different than when most of us were growing up.  There was more discipline in our lives (aside from abuse that some experienced).  We had chores to do.  We had to do homework.  We had to go to church.  We simply didn't have the difficult choices available to us as that of today's youth.  They have shopping malls, video stores, computers, private cell phones, and the lure of drugs, sex, and violence.  Seems like they are just watching life go by instead of being involved in it.  This is not the case for most of our youth I do hope.  I don't propose to have all the answers.  Who does?  But maybe if the family structure of today were like it was while I was growing up, but it's not.  It's a mess.  So many only have a single parent, no role model, no one to talk to about their problems that they feel who will listen to them without judgment.  Perhaps there is more stress and they feel so alone, as well as the constant peer pressure.  It's really not all their fault, in fact I would venture to say, that most of it is not their fault.  The answer, I believe, is constant prayer.  We have to keep praying for them.  Perhaps someday they will see the kind of sunrises I have been so fortunate to see, and when their final sunset comes, life will have been for the better for them.


        In my ministry I quickly had to face the fact that many of the folks that I went to see were also facing the final sunset of their lives.  I recall my first visit to one of our local Nursing Homes.  I had visited all those who were on my list, and had time left to browse through the hallways.  Sometimes a sad sight to see;  people sleeping in wheelchairs bent over, some just staring out into space, some just talking to themselves, not an easy environment to get used to, but I did.  I heard a lady moaning quite loudly and went down one hall to see who it was.  I tapped on her door that was half open, and asked if I could come in.  The pudgy while hair lady inside say, "Who in the hell are you?  I don't know you."  I said, "Yea, but wouldn't it be nice if you did?"  With that I walk on in.  She looked at me as if she was trying to figure out what planet I came from.  I asked her, "The name on the door says your name is Margaret."  "No, that's not my name.  My name is Mary.  The other lady is Margaret, and I don't like her."  The other lady was the one doing all of the moaning.  The Mary said, "What do you want?"  I said, "I want to be your friend."  She retorted back, "Why?"  "Because I think you can use one, and because someone sent me here to see you.?  "Who sent you here?  I don't know anyone."  I replied, "Jesus sent me to be with you Mary for a little while so you can have some company."  She swung her arms up and said, "Rub my arms, they hurt."  I started laughing, I couldn't help myself.  She said," What the hell you laughing about?"  "Nothing I said, I just think you are funny."


        I rubbed her arms, then her legs, and then her neck.  Did she ever have demands.  I asked her where was the nurse to do this for her.  She said, "They don't do this for me.  That is why I told you to do it."  This kind of conversation went on for about half an hour, and it was wearing me out.  So, finally I said, "Do you pray?"  "Of course I pray" she said, "But it doesn't do any good. I'm still here at this place aren't I."  I got her to let me pray the "Our Father" with her.  Then I went to put my hands on her head to bless her.  "Don't touch me up there" she quipped.  "I am only going to bless you Mary, and you certainly do need  blessing."  "OK," she said, "I thought you were going to mess my hair up."  I thought to myself, "Sweetie, I couldn't mess your hair up any worse than it already is."  After praying over her, I was ready to leave, on my way to the door.  "Are you coming back," she said.  "Do you want me to?" I replied.  "Of course I do.  Who's going to rub my arms and legs?"  I laughed on the way out of the room, feeling somewhat exhausted.


        Two days later, Joyce's dad was rushed to the hospital late at night after having a heart attack at home.  Her mom called us, and we went on into the hospital.  There were two ICU rooms in the hospital, he was in one, and my dear friend Mary was in the other, struggling to breathe.  I just glanced in to look at her.  She died a few minutes later.  It really hit me then, "This is not going to be easy"


(more to come)

Deacon Steve!





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