Each year our parish celebrates a Mass with the Anointing of the Sick and today is the day. As I prepare my homily here are some thoughts I would like to share with you.
Sacraments are a powerful thing and a gift from God. In Baptism we receive new life and the Holy Spirit and sealed with the same Spirit in Confirmation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation where we confess our sins is rooted in the forgiveness Jesus reveals to us in His Crucifixion. Marriage and Holy Orders strengthen us in our service to God.
In celebrating the Anointing of the Sick within Mass, we receive two sacraments today. We begin our Mass with the reading of God’s Word. We need to hear it over and over. In the Eucharist we celebrate the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the Cross and are strengthened for the ordinary daily events of our lives in receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus.
The Anointing of the Sick is a Sacrament of Healing. To more deeply understand this sacrament let’s take a look at the readings we are using today.
Our first reading today is 1 Kings 19:1-8. To set the stage, this reading comes right after the defeat of the prophets of Baal through Elijah. Jezebel the Queen makes plans to have Elijah killed for this. In fear Elijah flees for his life. Would we be any different? When we suffer, isn’t trying to find a way out of the suffering one of the first things we do? Elijah just wishes he could die to escape. That is not God’s plan. Instead of getting rid of Elijah’s enemies, God sends an angel to Elijah with food to strengthen him. Nourished by this food, Elijah walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb.
If we become seriously ill, among the first things we do is to pray to God for deliverance from the illness. We know He has the power to heal. We hear numerous stories in the gospels of Jesus healing people. Today it is the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13). In the reading from Acts 4:8-12 we hear how Peter heals the crippled man.
What does it mean to be healed? We should note that in both of these stories, there is more said about the nature of the healing than the healing itself. Following a healing, Peter gives a speech to explain that the source of the healing is faith in Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ conversation with the Centurion we are never even told what illness the servant has. The story is more about the faith the Centurion has in Jesus than anything physical.
When we come for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, it is because we face a serious illness. It might be a disease like cancer or an upcoming surgery that causes us to reflect on what might happen. Sometimes we come simply because of the effects aging has on us. It is all rooted in some physical illness that affects us in some physical way.
It be great if as a person is anointed they would be healed of all physical illness but that isn’t likely to happen in an instantaneous flash. It isn’t that God doesn’t work to heal us physically. It is God who has given the doctors, nurses, aides, technicians, etc. the gifts they need to treat us. That treatment can take time and doesn’t always mean a cure.
Think back to the story of Elijah. God did not wipe away Elijah’s enemies but God did send the angel to strengthen Elijah through it. As you receive the anointing you may not be healed physically but God reaches into your soul to heal you spiritually and to strengthen you against anything you face. It is a moment to know that God walks with us.
The Anointing of the Sick has its origins in the Bible. We hear of the many healings done by Jesus and His disciples. In James 5:14 we hear “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with the oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will have sick person, and the Lord will raise him up.”
God loves you and offer you His Grace. So we celebrate the Grace of the Anointing so you may know that God walks with you, even carrying us when we cannot go it alone.