2 Jul 2012
Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 1, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
This past Wednesday at our young adult’s Hour of Power we read the scriptures that you just heard proclaimed. Before we went into a period of silent communion with the Lord before the Blessed Sacrament we shared words and images from the readings that spoke to us. We all agreed that the word of God and the gospel challenge us to believe in the power of God over sickness and death. One young woman said, “In the past week I have stood with three of my friends and looked down on caskets holding their loved ones. I believe in the resurrection but sometimes it is hard to know what to say. Why are people so afraid of death?”
I would like to share some thoughts on the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick today, because my experience has shown me that in what we used to call Extreme Unction or the Last Rites, the Lord gives us courage and strength in the face of sickness and death. In the Anointing of the Sick our Lord is just as present to the sick and dying as he was to the elderly woman and the little girl of the gospel today. He does not want us to be afraid of death. We only need to fear letting it come upon us unprepared. God did not make death, but God permits sickness and death to have their way with us temporarily for a greater good. We know this chiefly through Christ and his death on the cross. God the Father permitted his Son to die so that we might no longer fear death as a final curse and annihilation. Christ made of his death a gift to God so that we can experience the truth of the words, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” In death we see that we cannot fall beneath the arms of God. Each bout with illness is a little rehearsal for the final gift of ourselves in death.
In the gospel today we see what happens when people are not afraid to reach out to God in the midst of sickness and death. A woman who was ritually unclean because of her chronic hemorrhage is healed when she courageously touches Jesus. Her trust in God is greater than her fear of breaking a religious law. Jairus, the synagogue official, loves his daughter and trusts God so much that he is willing to get down on his knees before the rabbi to plead for her life. His trust in God is greater that his fear of what other religious leaders might think of him.
I have had the privilege of seeing people reach out in faith in times of sickness and death. I have witnessed God’s love and consolation at work in the Anointing of the Sick. Let me walk you through what leads up to the celebration of the Sacrament of Anointing, the rite, and what follows.
When I am called to the hospital or the home of a sick person for the Anointing of the Sick I am always happy to see family members around the bedside. Why? Because they are a visible sign of the Church gathered to pray, and because they, too, receive comfort from the rite of anointing. The prayers ask God not only for healing for the sick person but strength for his or her loved ones.
I am always grateful that, if the person is dying, the family asks me to come while their loved one is able to respond. Sometimes – because they don’t want to scare the dying person – the family waits to call a priest. Perhaps they think that the sick person will feel they are giving up on them. Actually in the Anointing of the Sick we are asking Jesus to join his love to ours. If I am called to a person who has already died I can bless his or her body but I cannot anoint them since the sacraments are for the living. They are beautiful prayers but they don’t replace the Sacrament.
The Anointing includes the forgiveness of sins since Jesus, in his healing ministry often forgave a person their sins when he healed them. For the dying person, along with absolution, the priest can also impart the pope’s apostolic pardon which releases the person from all punishments due to sins and prays that God will open to them the gates of paradise.
Then, after a short reading from scripture, the priest will lay his hands silently on the person asking Jesus to strengthen the sick or the dying person. Then he anoints the forehead and the palms of the person’s hands saying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” and “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” The rite concludes with the Our Father and a short prayer.
It is a beautiful and a powerful sacrament, my friends. People have told me, “Father, after you left Mom seemed to relax and be a peace. Her passing was gentle.” “Father, I was so glad to have the grace of anointing before my surgery. It gave me courage and peace of mind.” I hope to have a priest and my loved ones at my bedside in times of sickness and when I am getting ready to pass over. Take these things to heart and make sure that your friends know you want the Sacrament of Anointing.