Sunday, September 19, 2004

"In Extremis"
In sacramental parlance that phrase refers to a Sacrament given in extreme circumstances, usually meaning the recipient is in some danger of death. Today I administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to a young parishioner, a ten year old boy named Edgar Rodriguez who has brain cancer. Luckily, when the brain tumor was found, surgeons were able to remove all of it. However, the type of cancer he has is known to spread its cells out and so he must endure a tough period of treatments. He is currently four weeks into daily (Monday through Friday) radiation treatments. He has two weeks remaining of that. After a six week break, he will require chemotherapy for one year. By the time this ordeal is complete, it will probably have been a year and a half battle to get rid of the disease trying to kill him. His prognosis is good, but, let's face it, to beat this disease requires that the boy be filled with poisons and it will be a very hard year and more for him. He certainly is a candidate for in extremis Sacraments, even if we expect his eventual recovery.

I am sharing this experience because it is a significant event in these first months of my service as pastor of the parish. That I am this boy's pastor means I have a more clear responsibility for him and I think that has made the whole emotional experience of this even more raw for me. I have been rather surprised at my personal reaction to this situation. Let me see if I can explain.

All of the treatments from surgery to radiation to eventual chemotherapy require the boy and his family to travel to Oklahoma City (more than four hours from here). They are living in the Ronald McDonald House during his treatments. The family is originally from Mexico and the parents speak no English. They have no insurance and no bank account. You don't need me to dwell on the financial crisis of this matter. I have feared that the parents, speaking no English, and having to reside now in a large and foreign city, do not fully understand the doctors, the boy's diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. The hospital does provide translators, but there are not many and I wonder if all the necessary information is getting to this family. I have tried to intervene to give them some resources in Oklahoma City (including Catholic Charities) so that they are not so lost and alone. In addition, when I make trips to Oklahoma City for business, I generally stop in at the hospital to visit the family just before or after the radiation treatments.

Last week it really hit me hard. The boy is really weak now. He has lost his hair and his complexion is very ashen and pale. He has this blank, empty stare on his face that occasionally is chased away when he forces a smile. I gave him Holy Communion last week and, after departing the family's company, as I walked back to my car, I sort of broke down. I just sat in my car crying. Even though I had just given him the most that anyone could give him (The Body and Blood of Jesus), the thought in my sad heart was, "There is nothing I can do for him." Certainly I know the value of prayer and the Sacraments, and I believe in them, but in that moment it was irrational emotion that came to the surface. I also found myself thinking, "I can't imagine what a parent with a very sick child must go through." A wise, older priest, with whom I shared this experience, said to me, "Oh, but you can. You are experiencing it right now. The boy's parents may experience this in a way you cannot, but you also are experiencing this in a way they cannot." In other words, as his pastor, I am the boy's spiritual father and my hopes and dreams for this kid are threatened too by the ravages of his disease.

So, today, following the Spanish Mass, I administered to Edgar the Sacraments of Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick. He was home from the hospital for the weekend and so this opportunity allowed many of his family, friends, and parishioners to be present for this important moment "in extremis." Prayers for Edgar are most welcome!

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