Our Old Testament reading today and our Gospel tell similar stories. Each involves healing. In the first reading, Elijah visits the home of a widow. While he was there, the widow’s son took sick and died. Elijah took the boy to his room and asked God for healing, and the child recovered.
In the Gospel, Jesus and His followers came upon a funeral procession. The deceased was the only child of a widow. Jesus took pity on her, touched the coffin, and said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” And he did.
Both of these stories bring home the fact that God has the power to heal. Why He heals some and not others is a great mystery, but He DOES heal. He doesn’t just bring back the dead, like Jesus did with his friend Lazurus, but He also healed the blind, and the deaf, and the leper. He’s God! He can do that!
But what is healing? The practical part of us says that when a blind man regains his sight, he’s healed. When a child’s cancer suddenly goes into remission, she’s healed. But that’s a very narrow, short-sighted view of things. Healing is more than just a physical thing.
What about the terminal cancer victim who accepts his diagnosis with the determination to live out his last days at peace with God, enjoying the time he has left with family and friends? Is that guy healed? Our faith tells us that he is. Isn’t that person, who we would normally call “sick” actually spiritually healthy. By sharing in Jesus’ suffering, isn’t he drawn closer to God? And if we’re drawn closer to God aren’t we the healthiest people of all?
Archbishop Carlson has asked the churches of the Archdiocese to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick next Sunday. Priests will be anointing the sick at most of our churches, including Saint John Nepomuk. But there may be some confusion about what the sacrament means. Here’s what the Scripture says, in the Book of James, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven”
The Catechism tells us that “ The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has as its purpose the conferral of a special grace on the Christian experiencing the difficulties inherent in the condition of grave illness or old age.” (ccc 1527) And, The anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude (CCC 1520)
When I was a hospital minister part of my job was to offer anointing to Catholic patients. You’d be surprised how many people, especially older people, would panic and say “absolutely not!” They were confusing the Sacrament of the Sick with what we used to call “last rites”. In their minds, anointing was the last step before death. Sometimes I was able to convince them otherwise, sometimes not. Old habits die hard.
Yes, anointing is appropriate for someone on the verge of death. But it’s not a “kiss of death”. It doesn’t mean you’re going to die, at least not right away. As the Catechism says, it confers a special grace. Any time someone becomes seriously ill, he may receive the sacrament. What’s “seriously ill” mean? It usually doesn’t mean the flu, but in some cases it might. I suffer from diabetes. I consider that to be serious and I’ve been anointed every time the condition seems to have gotten worse.
Any time you’re going to the hospital for surgery, that’s serious. You should be anointed. Any one suffering from the effects of old age should be anointed.
The actual anointing is done with oil that was blessed by the Archbishop on Holy Thursday. Each year the old oil is disposed of and replaced with newly blessed oil. Father will anoint the person’s forehead with oil and say, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit”. Then he will place oil on the hands and say, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up”. To each prayer the sick person responds: “Amen.”
Remember just a couple of weeks ago we talked about the Holy Spirit and how He works in our lives. Here we have another example of His amazing power. Father calls on His grace to free us from sin and raise us up.
So, to sum up. If you feel the need to have the Spirit enter you through the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, please see me after mass. Next Sunday at
9:30 mass, along with the rest of the Archdiocese, we’ll celebrate this beautiful gift of God.