each Sunday, on one of the seven sacraments.
This week we’re going to talk about the anointing of the sick.
But why even talk about the sacraments?
Because Easter and the Resurrection
are all about the explosion of God’s life in our world.
When a dead body comes to life and people see it,
that changes everything, wouldn’t you agree?
What Easter is about, is also what the sacraments are about:
God’s life, poured into our lives, so we can become like God.
Another word for this is grace. The power of God. The life of God.
What did Jesus say in the Gospel?
“I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish”!
That is what the sacraments do: they are sure and certain
means of receiving this grace, this eternal, imperishable life.
What’s more, it’s also useful simply to explain each of the sacraments.
Lots of people have questions, but they don’t always dare to ask.
So let’s focus in on the anointing of the sick.
One of the ways this is misunderstood is that people think
you only call the priest to be anointed
when you’re one breath from death.
More accurate is to say it is for all those who are in “danger of death,”
which is not the same thing.
For example, lots of people have cancer or heart conditions
or other situations that can be dangerous,
but that doesn’t mean they’re going to die at any moment.
And there are certainly operations and surgeries
where there is a real danger – and yet people still survive.
The Church specifically says that simply the frailty of age
justifies receiving the sacrament of anointing.
You can receive the anointing more than once:
if things don’t get better, and especially if they get worse.
Children, even, can receive the anointing,
since they too face dangerous situations,
although we dread even think about it.
That said, before a child can be given the anointing,
he or she must be baptized and confirmed.
Not many people know that a child, even an infant,
can be confirmed in an emergency. I have done it several times.
So if someone wants to be anointed, what do you do?
Simply put, call the priest!
My telephone and email address are in the bulletin.
I am very happy to anoint people whenever they ask.
Many times I do this after a weekday or a weekend Mass,
but planning ahead is better than waiting till the last minute.
If possible, go to confession first, then be anointed.
Obviously, I can do both for you at the same time,
but also obviously, when I’m in the confessional,
that’s not a good time to ask for the anointing.
Nobody likes getting a call like this at 3 am,
but if you call me at that or any hour, I will answer the phone.
Just call XXX-XXXX*, and if it’s after hours,
hit “1” on the phone system; that is for emergencies.
And if I’m out and about, a message will go to my cell phone.
Any hospital will know how to get a hold of a priest.
But it won’t happen automatically; you have to ask,
and sometimes, you have to insist.
If all the sacraments give grace, then why have seven of them?
The answer is that the sacraments were designed by Christ;
tailored, if you will, to suit our particular needs at various points in life.
So when we talk about the grace of God –
the supernatural life of God – in one sense, it’s all the same thing.
One God, one life, one destiny, which is resurrection for ourselves,
and the fullness of life in the new heavens and the new earth.
All the same, you and I live in time.
We’re born, we grow up, we consider our path in life;
maybe we get married. We need help along the way.
Jesus gives us seven sacraments as helps at all these moments of life.
And at a certain point in everyone’s life,
we face suffering and illness
and the fear and doubts that go with them.
Our Lord wants us to know that he doesn’t forget us
in these times of weakness or darkness or humiliation.
He is not ashamed to be with us at our worst moments.
(Here I inserted some comments about the trials of illness and suffering, and pointed out that our world says to those who suffer, "just die," Christ comes to be with us in our trials, showing us his wounds. We understand Christ in a unique way in times of illness.)
This anointing is called a “sacrament of healing.”
It absolutely brings healing,
which sometimes includes physical recovery.
I have seen it happen, and so have other priests.
But the main healing is a closeness with Christ,
Which brings courage and peace, even in the midst of turmoil,
such as Paul and Barnabas showed in the first reading.
Notice what the Apostle John was told in the second reading:
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”
Jesus knows the ordeals, physical and emotional,
that we face with illness and surgeries and declining health.
To stand before his throne, no more tears, no more fear.
That is our future.
And the sacrament of anointing – really, all the sacraments –
exist to give us a foretaste of that hope right here, right now.
* I decided the whole world doesn't need me making it easy to call me at night.