Sunday, May 29, 2016

ALL GRACE: ANOINTING OF THE SICK

Yesterday was a difficult day.  I went to a memorial prayer service for the daughter of friends who was on a walk when she was hit by a car.  She lingered long enough that her parents were able to fly from the West Coast to the East to see her before she died.  They had been at my husband's funeral, and we spoke about how our Faith is the only thing that gets us through times like these.

One of the gifts of the Catholic Faith is the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which was called "Extreme Unction" when my parents were growing up because people tended to call the priest to administer the Sacrament only when the person to receive it was at the point of death.

Now, however, we know that it is not only for people at the point of death, but for anyone who has begun to be in danger of death from sickness or old age.  The day my husband was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, we went to a Marriage Encounter meeting that night and a priest friend anointed him in the midst of all our Marriage Encounter community.  As the Catholic Catechism notes, "If, during the same illness the person's condition becomes more serious, the sacrament may be repeated."  My husband received the sacrament five more times at every point when he took a turn for the worse.

The Catechism further notes, "The first grace of the sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness," and my husband was a model of these virtues for everyone who encountered him, despite his pain and having to rely on others to take care of him.  

As far back as the Council of Trent, it was also believed that t the remission of temporal punishment is another of the effects of this sacrament.  The priest who anointed my father when he was seriously ill told us that he was now in better shape than he had been since his Baptism, since not only had his sins been forgiven but he also had nothing to retain him in Purgatory after he died.

The treasury of the graces won by Christ in his death on the cross are poured out abundantly on those who receive this final sacrament; it should be seen as a wonderful opportunity to bring the ill person to complete spiritual health, and often will result in physical healing as well. 

I was very affected by hearing a homily about a priest who never slept in a bed, but always in a chair in the rectory, with his shoes beside him, so that if he were called to anoint someone who was dying, he could be there as quickly as possible.  I imagine there were many for whom he opened the door to heaven by his sacrifice of a comfortable sleep.  I remember when my oldest daughter called to tell me that the mother of one of her friends had been taken to the hospital and wasn't expected to live through the night, I asked if she had been anointed, but her two daughters were both still on the way from where they lived.  I called our rectory, though it was 10 at night, and our pastor told me he would leave for the hospital right away.  I have always been thankful that I was able to do that last kindness for her, and I have impressed upon my children that if I am seriously ill, they should call the priest first, and then the doctor! 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

DARK NIGHTS, GRAY DAYS

"There is another reason also why the soul has traveled safely in this obscurity; it has suffered: for the way of suffering is safer, and also more profitable, than that of rejoicing and of action. In suffering God gives strength, but in action and in joy the soul does but show its own weakness and imperfections. And in suffering, the soul practices and acquires virtue, and becomes pure, wiser, and more cautious."                                               --St. John of the Cross


Yesterday was another in a string of challenging days.  After traveling last weekend, and two weekends before that, for one granddaughter's Confirmation and another's First Communion, I was looking forward to a quiet weekend at home, a chance to catch up on sleep, to clear off more of the to-dos on my desk as well as take time to write.

Instead, the silence of the house and the gray blankness of the sky leaned on me like a damp blanket one is trying to unwrap and hang on a clothesline. The slow movement of a French horn concerto added melancholy and triggered nostalgia for a past when I could have shared my feelings with my husband, who would have understood them since he was an extrovert and often felt drained when he was home alone.  And although I am an introvert, it is easier for me to deal with solitude when the skies of Southern California are sunny rather than when the thickening clouds rolling in the wind look as if they meant rain but most likely are just there for their depressing effect.  

I felt just on the shore of plunging into the lake of a good cry when the phone rang.  It was one of my daughters, who recently had been diagnosed with Lyme disease (fortunately caught very early), calling to update me with the news of her week, her excitement over her husband's new job, and the latest adventures of their daughter Elsa who at age 3 already commands an impressive and extensive vocabulary.  One day recently, she was surveying her little kingdom and commented, "I have a plethora of toys to play with." Not only is she intelligent, but grateful!  And I am grateful, too, for the children and grandchildren in my life who keep me from falling into the Slough of Despond too often!



Photo credit:  Kamesh Vedula @ Unsplash

Sunday, May 1, 2016

THE SPECIAL NOT-SO-SECRET SAUCE

The tenth way to divorce-proof your marriage, and the one that is probably least known in the world at large can be compared to a special sauce that not only enhances the marriage as a whole, but becomes an intimate part of it and brings it to its perfection as the way God intended it in the beginning.

God created man in his image;
           in the divine image he created him;
           male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it."                                                                                                        --Genesis 1:27-28

In 1979, Pope John Paul began his extensive series of audiences which ultimately formed the Theology of the Body
and became one of the richest contributions to the theology of marriage.  Fr. Chuck Gallagher, the founder of Worldwide Marriage Encounter, brought many of these insights into the Weekend.  

We live in a conflicted world, where contraception is seen as the norm, but organic food, fabrics and other items are often valued.  The list of possible side effects of contraceptives printed by the companies who are enriching themselves producing them are truly daunting, but there is another path that is narrower and somewhat overgrown for those who would like to space their children or postpone pregnancy for a serious reason.  Natural Family Planning (which is NOT the much derided "rhythm method") is truly organic, includes many different approaches from the low tech taught by Mother Teresa to illiterate couples to high tech ovulation monitors which can predict days when a woman is fertile. Some of the studies indicate a divorce rate of only about 3% for couples who use Natural Family Planning. (See lifeissues.net and look for the article on The Practice of Natural Family Planning Versus the Use of Artificial Birth Control.)

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a method of approaching fertility that requires the cooperation of both husband and wife, encourages their communication, and strengthens their love for one another as a self-giving act of the will, not a "feeling" which can change from day to day. This whole approach helps the husband and wife see that they are responsible to choose to love their spouse and are not at the mercy of feelings--spontaneous inner reactions that can pass across our internal landscape as quickly as clouds drift by or rush across the sky.  NFP is more conducive to a lifetime commitment to the marriage, and this provides security and stability both to the couple and to the children that are the fruit of their marriage.