I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12: 9-10)
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6: 12-13)
Last week I was privileged to celebrate the anointing of the sick with two members of my parish. One is now recovering at home from a heart attack and I will celebrate the funeral of the second on Wednesday. Celebrating this sacrament last week has caused me to reflect on how different the Church’s view of sickness and death is when compared to our modern Western culture. Our modern world continues to move towards a culture where we tend to hide away those who are sick. At our worst, our society simply decides to “put people out of their misery and pain”, thus reducing human beings to the level of just another animal.
The Church takes a different approach. When one of our brothers or sisters is sick or nearing death, we send for the priests of the Church and as the Apostle James instructed us, we pray over them and anoint them with oil. At the times when those who are the weakest among us are undoubtedly tempted to think their value has been lessened in the eyes of the world, God provides a sacrament that reminds us of who we are. The anointing of the sick is a powerful reminder that we are, and always will be, children of God. Neither sickness nor death has the power to separate us from the love of God.
There is a great tenderness in this sacrament that I hope we will never lose sight of. It brings blessing to the recipient of the sacrament, to family members who are present, and to the priest who is called upon to pray for the healing and forgiveness of the one who is ill. My belief is that much of the power of this simple prayer is connected to the sense of touch that it requires. We are physical beings who believe in a God who walked among us. The first letter of John reminds us that the God we proclaim is one whom we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands. The Word of life is still present among us when we celebrate the sacraments. May we never forget the human dignity that is upheld each time we celebrate them.