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alec vanderboom

My paternal grandfather is dying. It tears me up inside to know that my Protestant family members will die outside of the amazing, protective graces of the Catholic Church.

My dying grandfather has no access to the Sacrament of the Sick, to Confession, or to the Eucharist. He can't sooth his natural fears by the recitation of a Chaplet of Divine Mercy or even say a single Hail Mary. There are no priests to comfort him, no kind Sisters to bring him the Eucharist on his sickbed, and no Legion of Mary members to hold his trembling hands and pray the rosary.

Last Sunday, I poured out my broken heart to Father Valentine after Mass. "Father, my Protestant grandfather is dying in another state." I pointed to my big, pregnant belly, "I can't visit him in person. I'm restricted to mail and the telephone. He doesn't have access to the Sacrament of the Sick. How should I pray for him? I'm praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet on my own but I can't pray that with him. He doesn't really understand the concept of "redemptive suffering" or uniting himself with Jesus on the cross? How do I talk to him? What should I do?"

In that tender, intimate love that shows that a priest always acts as our true Spiritual Father, Father Val shook my hand. In a lovely Irish lilt he told me with certainty "You can't do better than the Our Father. That was the prayer that He taught us himself. Just keep praying the Our Father with your grandfather. That will be enough."

I'm often guilty of making my prayer life too complicated. Praying for the dying is a big responsibility for a Carmelite, and indeed, for all Catholics. Sometimes, however, I find myself frozen in fear. I easily become overwhelmed by the multiple devotions that are available to assist the dying. I worry that I'm not praying hard enough, in the right way, to the right Saint, in order to make any sort of difference.

Yet Father Val's words are a beautiful reminder to me that prayer is always easy. The Our Father is the common ground between Protestants and Catholics. I don't need to be the vehicle of grace that converts my grandfather to the Catholic faith on his deathbed. Instead, my simple job is to help my grandfather keep praying his familiar "Our Lord's Prayer" in the final days of his life.