Death scares me. As much as I hate to admit it, I feel afraid when confronted with my mortality. Even with the belief and knowledge that Christ overcame death for my sake, I still feel uncertain and anxious about my soul’s eternal home. Acknowledging that this fear signifies a sinful lack of trust on my part, I have been praying for courage and peace in this matter. Jesus himself instructs us to “not be anxious about tomorrow” but to trust in Him, live in Him, and die in Him (Mt. 6:34). And it is only through death that we can live in eternal joy with Christ Jesus in heaven.
While on earth, Jesus showed great love and compassion toward the sick and dying. St. Luke writes that “any who were sick with various diseases were brought to him; and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (Lk 4:40). Christ continues to come to the aid of the suffering, aged and ill today. The Church believes and confesses that among the seven sacraments there is one especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness, the Anointing of the Sick. (Catechism of the Catholic Church) During this sacrament, the priest anoints the sick person on the forehead and the hands with blessed oil, saying “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen. May the Lord, who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up. Amen.” This sacrament is best received as soon as possible when there is danger of death from sickness or old age. It is important to note that one may receive this sacrament more than once, such as if the individual recovers from their illness, but becomes seriously ill again.
Through the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, the church asks God for three special graces: to alleviate the suffering of the sick, forgive their sins, and grant them eternal life. St. James writes “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he had committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15). In this sacrament Jesus gives us graces to help us bear the pain and suffering of sickness with patience and trust, to feel a deep sorrow for sins committed, and to prepare for a holy death. Through these graces, the sick are then able to offer themselves, their lives, and the pains of their illness to Him. These offerings can possess powerful redemptive value.
Although I have never received this sacrament myself, I can only imagine the peace it brings to those who are suffering. How blessed we are as Catholics to have the opportunity to receive God’s added graces during difficult times of suffering and illness. As I continue to grow in faith and trust in the Lord, I am so very thankful for a Church that provides healing, forgiveness, and the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.