Sunday, May 29, 2016


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! 

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