Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1499-1532:
- Illness prompts us to face our own mortality; as a result, it can often provide an occasion for deepening our spiritual life, and growing in relationship with God.
- The Lord entered into this reality of our human condition when He became man; aside from showing compassion for the sick and disabled, Jesus identified with us by enduring the furthest limits of suffering in His Passion and Death.
- Jesus performed miracles of physical healing, not only to cure people in their bodies, but to serve as signs of the coming of God’s Kingdom; the miracles point to His more radical healing of our immortal souls.
- Christ instituted this sacrament, directing His disciples in the Gospel to lay hands on the sick, and its manner of celebration is described in the Letter of James: the priest (presbyteros) prays over the sick person and anoints with oil.
- If possible, the sacrament of Reconciliation can precede the anointing; if the sick person is unable to confess, the anointing brings about forgiveness of sins; the anointing can be followed by reception of the Eucharist.
- Anointing is not only for those on the point of death, as the familiar term “Extreme Unction” implied; anyone battling a serious illness, or about to undergo surgery, or experiencing difficulties with advanced age, is eligible to receive it, and it may be repeated if one’s condition worsens.
- God may choose to heal us physically, but He may instead ask us to bear our burden, even as Christ carried the Cross, for the sanctification of our souls and for the good of the entire Mystical Body.
- This sacrament confers a special gift of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us in our struggle with illness, give us His peace, and help us overcome temptations to doubt and discouragement.
- It also consecrates our suffering in a special way; thus united with Christ’s Passion, we too participate in His saving work.
- Anointing completes our configuration with Christ begun in Baptism; at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, we are prepared to transition through death into eternal life; our last sacrament should always be the Eucharist, received as viaticum, “food for the journey.”
Live Your Faith
If this earthly life were all we had, then illness would only be a terrible misfortune. But viewed from the perspective of eternity, our physical suffering takes on a different dimension, imbued with meaning and purpose.
We are on earth for only a short time, and each one of us is going to die. The Lord may permit us, or our family members, to experience grave illness, according to His mysterious will.
But we trust Him, knowing that He is our origin and our destiny, and He holds us all in His Heart. Our suffering can bear fruit in ways that He alone knows, and we can come to learn only in heaven.