Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Is any among you sick?

I have recently been surprised at how many people hold the belief that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is reserved only for those Catholics who are at the point of death. Not so long ago, I even heard of a member of a family who actually wanted to prevent the priest from administering the sacrament, because he was convinced that this would terrify the sick person into believing he was definitely going to die.
We should never forget that: “Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death. Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.[1]

So we should not forget the words of St James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”.[2]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically teaches us that: “The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death.[3] The Catechism even goes on: “It is fitting to receive the Anointing of the Sick just prior to a serious operation. The same holds for the elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced.[4]

In order to understand the importance of this sacrament and why we should not be afraid of the sacrament, we need to be aware of the effects of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. These are:

·      A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, "if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven."

·      Union with the passion of Christ. By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ's Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior's redemptive Passion. Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.

·      An ecclesial grace. The sick who receive this sacrament, "by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ," "contribute to the good of the People of God." By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, though the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father.

·      A preparation for the final journey. If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing). The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthened us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father's house.[5]

Let us not be afraid of this Sacrament and let us not be the one that withholds this sacrament from those who are sick and in need thereof. “Christ's compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that "God has visited his people" and that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins; he has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of. His compassion toward all who suffer goes so far that he identifies himself with them: "I was sick and you visited me." His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them. Often Jesus asks the sick to believe. He makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands, mud and washing. The sick try to touch him, "for power came forth from him and healed them all" and so in the sacraments Christ continues to "touch" us in order to heal us.[6]

When in doubt, call the Priest and let the Priest make the decision of whether it is appropriate to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church – 1500 - 1501
[2] James 5: 14 a
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church - 1514
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church - 1515
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church – 1520 to 1523
[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church – 1503 - 1504

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