“Christ’s love is shown in the fact that he seeks the lost and heals the sick. That is why He gave us the sacraments of healing and restoration, in which we are freed from sin and strengthened in our physical and spiritual weakness.” -YouCat 224
The two sacraments we’ll look at today – Reconciliation and the anointing of the sick – are both answers to the ways in which Christ meets us when we are lost or hurting. One of the things we recognize throughout His ministry in the Gospels – and as a call to all who continue His mission in the world – is the way in which Christ sought to serve the poor. We often refer to this as Jesus’ ‘preferential option for the poor,’ and it’s at the heart of a great deal of the social teaching of the Church: ensuring that we look out for those who are most in need of extra care or love.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The first of the two Sacraments of healing is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament looks to address our spiritual ailment: the way in which, even after Baptism, we continue to be affected by the power of sin in our lives.
“Baptism does snatch us from the power of sin and death and brings us to the new life of the children of God, but it does not free us from human weakness and the inclination to sin. That is why we need a place where we can be reconciled with God again and again. That place is confession… someone who has gone to confession turns a clean, new page in the book of his life.” -YouCat 226
We bring to confession our sin, our weakness, the moments in which we choose to turn from God rather than the good He has called us to. When defining sins to students in my schools, I’ve explained it as one of two things:
1. Choosing to do something you know you shouldn’t- a sin of ‘comission’ (ex: lying, cheating, stealing, lust)
2. Choosing not to do something you know you should- a sin of ‘omission’ (ex: ignoring someone who is being bullied or is starving)
So we take stock of our lives, and look to the moments and the tendencies we have to commit sins and omit the good things God calls us to, and we bring them to Christ through His minister (a priest or Bishop), who in Christ’s name offers us mercy, forgiveness, and grace to grow beyond these sins into the man or woman He created us to be. We do this in a personal encounter rather than directly to God both because Jesus entrusted this ministry to His Apostles (John 20:23), and because it’s good for us:
“We rationalize our sins away and like to sweep things under the rug. That is why God wants us to tell our sins and to acknowledge them in a personal encounter.” -YouCat 228
Yes, it’s a humbling experience, and sometimes we worry about what a priest will think of us or say to others… though we shouldn’t. Priests treat the seal of confession very seriously (it’s an expectation of their ministry) – and many have been arrested, tortured, or killed rather than revealing what was told them in the safety of the Sacrament. Also, they hear so many confessions, they realize that a) we all struggle with the same things, and b) it’s a gift to act as an instrument of God’s mercy on our behalf. To be able to leave the garbage of our lives behind, the mistakes we’ve made, and make a fresh start with God is truly one of the great gifts of our Catholic faith. For many, reconciliation is one of the greatest tools by which we are able to respond to our call to become holy- because it’s here that we leave what is unholy behind.
“Christians who take seriously their decision to follow Jesus seek the joy that comes from a radical new beginning with God.” -YouCat 235
If you haven’t been to confession for awhile, or you’re not sure what to do when you go… I’ve prepared something that should help:
The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
“Jesus came to show God’s love. He often did this in places where we feel especially threatened: in the weakening of our life through sickness.” -YouCat 241
Unless you’ve been through the difficulty of watching a family member suffer through an illness, you may not have come across the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, because it is usually in these moments that we witness this Sacrament. In fact, we used to refer to it as the ‘Last Rites’ offered to one who was reaching the end of their life. Although this is an appropriate use of this Sacrament, this is certainly not it’s sole purpose. We receive the Sacrament of the Sick to receive God’s grace in any moment of illness- a chronic condition, life-threatening disease, or a surgery are all also valid moments you can call for a priest in order to receive the Sacrament of the Sick.
In this Sacrament, the person who is ill receives an anointing with holy oil on the forehead and the hands, along with certain special prayers that God would meet them in their illness. In some cases, the result of this anointing will include a partial or whole healing, in other cases it represents the strength of God’s presence with us in a difficult moment. Regardless of the immediate, temporal result, it is a moment of encounter with Christ Himself:
“The Anointing of the Sick imparts consolation, peace, and strength and unties the sick person, in his precarious situation and his sufferings, with Christ in a profound way. For the Lord experienced our fears and bore our pains in his body.” -YouCat 245
Physical and spiritual ailments both give us the opportunity to draw nearer to God – and so He has given us the great gift of these two Sacraments to encounter Him and to grow through those things that plague us by our choice, and those which cause us to suffer through no fault of our own. As Elwood Blues says, ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways.” And there is perhaps no Sacrament where He is working more mysteriously than in the Sacrament of the Sick – because Christ offers a nearness and a grace to those who suffer. (Blessed) Mother Teresa of Calcutta understood this better than almost anyone else, dedicating her life to loving and serving Christ in those who suffer, and this is one of her prayers:
“Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and joy.”