Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?

Reading sacred scripture without a guide is the equivalent of touring a foreign country you have never been to before in your life alone. You can hit the main attractions just fine but you will always miss the hidden gems only the locals know about. Reading the scriptures without knowing who wrote them, to whom they were written, the style of writing, and the reason they were written leaves the reader to interpret the actual meaning of the writing for themselves. More often than not this will lead one to an improper or wrong interpretation and a misunderstanding of what the passage was meant to convey.

There are many people who believe that they do not need any instruction when they read sacred scripture. They believe that the Holy Spirit will inspire them to the correct and intended meaning. While this can happen if it happened in every occasion we would have only one Church unified in the meaning of scripture. Instead, we have over 40,000 different flavors of Christianity all divided based upon their interpretation of scripture and the doctrine it teaches.

Most sacred scripture is polyvalent, meaning it is deep with meaning and has a number of different aspects or principles that can be learned by it. There are some that, for a Catholic, only has one specific meaning or interpretation. We rely on the magisterium to teach us the true meaning of sacred scripture so that all Catholics everywhere hold the same meaning and truth in their hearts. We are the Universal Church. The word catholic comes from the Latin word catholicus which comes from the Greek word καθολικός (katholikos), which means “Universal”. This comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου (katholou), which combines the words “about” and “whole” and means “according to the whole”. This is straight out of sacred scripture, but that is a discussion for another day.

When one does not know the author, the reason, and the culture behind the text the real meaning of the scripture is often missed or misunderstood. Take for example sacred scripture readings about Jesus’ crucifixion. There is a common belief that Jesus, in a moment of his full human nature, felt totally abandoned by our Father because he utters the words, “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?” If all you knew were the words of this text you would naturally come to this conclusion. You could not be further from the truth behind this scripture with that conclusion.

Jesus was a rabbi (a word that actually means “doctor” when translated to Latin). He was a devout Jew who both obeyed and fulfilled the Law. Jews of Jesus’ time (and many still today) prayed the Psalms. Indeed, they had them memorized to the point of knowing them forwards and backwards without thought. If you are Christian and I started, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” you could join in and continue the prayer with me without thinking about it. If you belong to any of the main stream Christian religions and I started with, “I believe in one God….” You could join in and finish the creed with me without thought. This is how the Psalms were and are to the Jews.

Like with our Liturgy of the Hours Jews prayed these Psalms at set periods throughout the day. One of these set periods was the ninth hour or 3:00 in the afternoon. Sacred scripture tells us that at about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus was not crying out from abandonment. As a devout Jew he was crying out in prayer. What did the Jews pray at the set points in the day? They prayed the Psalms.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
    strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
    open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
    people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
    You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
    save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my people;
    in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
    Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
    before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek the Lord will praise him—
    may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it

Jesus was not only praying at the ninth hour but he was praying the Psalm that foretold of the crucifixion and resurrection. For the Jews present they would have immediately recognized this Psalm and had been able to recite it with him. And then, while looking up at him on the cross and reciting the words of the Psalm they would have seen the Psalm fulfilled as they prayed and many of them would have realized then and there exactly what they had just done.

I believe the word of this would have spread like wild fire and was the driving factor behind the conversion of thousands at a time after the Church was established at Pentecost.

But if you just read this passage in scripture with no instruction on the background on the culture at the time it was written you would have come away seeing a broken Jesus feeling left and abandon by the very person who asked him to go through with this to begin with. How can anyone be filled with anything but sadness when left with this interpretation? How can anyone be anything but profoundly moved and filled with love and hope when you learn the true meaning behind the text?

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ – Saint Jerome.

Knowing scripture means knowing more than just the text as it is written. To know scripture is to know the world behind the text, the world of the text, and the world in front of the text. Any less and scripture is nothing more than a great collection of stories.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Walking Dead

Zombies have replaced vampires as the cult favorite de jour. Movies, TV shows and even commercials about zombies are too numerous to count. But is a zombie apocalypse really possible?

The honest answer is yes. It is not only possible but we have been living in one for two-thousand years.

Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” – John 6, 52-58


The people following Jesus hoping for a free lunch began to leave him. Eat Jesus? Is this guy crazy? That is cannibalism and I will have no part in it. What did Jesus do? Knowing the people did not understand what he had just told them stopped them and told them he was only speaking symbolically. He meant metaphorically eat him, not actually eat him.

“Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?” – John 6, 60-61

A metaphor is difficult and people cannot listen to it? Symbolism can cause you to stumble? The act of eating a piece of bread that symbolizes the body of Jesus is so difficult to comprehend that Jesus even asks his twelve if they will leave him because of it.

The truth Catholics believe is that Jesus was not speaking metaphorically. He actually meant that we must eat his body and drink his blood if we wish to have eternal life within us. He did not reveal how this would happen until the night before his death.

“While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” – Matthew 26, 26-28

On the night he was betrayed Jesus gave us the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus himself. He did this to fulfill a promise he makes to the twelve to be with us until the end of the age. In his resurrected body, before he ascended to the Father, Jesus could only be in one physical place at a time. After his ascension back into the eternalness of time he could then descend back into the Eucharist any place or time it is consecrated. In this way and in a very real sense, Jesus is with us, body, blood, soul, and divinity until the end of the age.

Those who partake in the Eucharist worthily consume the flesh of the son of man. We eat his flesh and drink his blood and we have life within us as he promised. Those who don’t are the walking dead, the zombies among us. The eat and eat and eat their symbolic bread but are never truly filled. They hunger and are never satisfied.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the entire Catholic faith. If Jesus were only speaking to us in a metaphor and only wanted us to symbolically eat his flesh our entire faith would be a fruitless lie.

And what would a post on zombies be without some actual zombie apocalypse video? Watch until the end. This is a great expression of our faith.
Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you.

Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” – Matthew 8, 23-27


March 6, 1857 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that blacks, enslaved or free, could not be American citizens and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the United States. This reduced enslaved blacks to nothing more than possessions in a country that declared its independence with the line; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

                “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”


May 10, 1893 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the tomato was a vegetable, not a fruit, and therefore could be taxed as a vegetable.

“Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”


June 26, 1963 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that immoral sexual activity was protected by a person’s right to privacy, striking down sodomy laws in fourteen states.

“Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”


January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a person had the right to an abortion until viability and thus we started to murder the most innocent and helpless humans among us by the millions.

                “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”


June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that people of the same sex had the right to be married, changing the traditional definition of marriage that we have had since the beginning with Adam and Eve.

                “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”


                “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?”


I have read the end of the book. Spoiler alert – Jesus is triumphant in the end, even against stupid Supreme Court rulings. So have no fear and live your life in joyful witness to the glory of God. Don’t change as the culture changes around you and stay true to the teachings our Lord has given to us and maintained through his Church for the last two-thousand years.


Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thy will be done.

For fifty years my mother has said that her religion was Buddhist. She is now faced with making end of life decisions. When she was recently admitted into her care facility she was asked her religion. She said that she had always claimed she was Buddhist but she was raised Lutheran and was Lutheran deep down.  She light heartedly joked that she was a Buddhist Lutheran and took the best from each religion. We believe that at the time of death Jesus is his own advocate. I trust in the great mercy of God and hope that when my mother stands before the Lord he will burn away all her doubt and only her love for him will remain. This is why we pray for our sick, needy, and dead. The root of pray is love and love is never wasted with God. He will use our love as a conduit in which he can deliver grace. Like a beacon in the night, this grace is there to guide us home to his side.

My mother opened the door to me to minister to her. When she said that she was still Lutheran she let me know that she still had a desire to have a relationship with Jesus. The biggest thing she needed was a reintroduction to him. She is not Catholic so I will not have a priest come and anoint her. I wish to respect her faith at whatever level she has it. Instead, I went to the Lutheran church where I was raised and asked the pastor if she would visit with my mother. God will take it from there.

The Lutheran pastor I met with was a woman. She listened respectfully as I explained the family dynamic when it comes to religion. Catholic, Lutheran, fundamentalist, agnostic, Buddhist – we cover a large gambit of beliefs and it is hard to minister to all equally. She told me that she used to be Catholic but had to switch religions because the Catholic Church wouldn’t let her be a priest. She felt called to be a minister so the Lutheran church is where she wound up.

I have nothing but respect for this woman and am grateful to her for ministering to my mother at the time of her greatest need. There has been no greater time in history when the various Christian faiths have needed each other more. Christianity as a whole is under attack by the evil one more than ever before. It may be just what is needed to have us join into one universal Church once again.

Yet, something this woman said stuck in my head and continued to bother me. She was originally Catholic. She claimed to believe in a faith that states it has the fullness of truth. Later she would leave this faith for a faith that she used to believe did not have the fullness of truth solely because the Church would not allow her to do a particular function. If she were truly Catholic to begin with she would understand why she isn’t allowed to be a priest or she would seek to understand why. She is in good company. Martin Luther – father of the Lutheran church did the exact same thing.

How many Catholics leave the faith every year for the same reason? How many leave because they believe the Church won’t allow them to do something they feel they have the right to do? How many leave because the Church is wrong on this teaching or that teaching? How many leave because they believe they know better?

Then I heard the Lord’s Prayer over and over in my mind. More importantly I heard the petition “THY WILL BE DONE” emphasized. Every Christian religion on this planet will teach daily about how we are to imitate Jesus. Which part of Jesus’ life are we called to imitate? Are we to imitate the kind and gentle Jesus who never said an ill word and wouldn’t even kill a spider in the bathtub? Are we called to imitate the Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount and feed the poor? I kind of like the Jesus just starting in his ministry and turn water into wine. How popular would you be at a party? If we could only pick one part of Jesus’ life to imitate it would have to be Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed.

The Garden of Gethsemane

      “And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.

Luke 22, 39-46

This by far is the hardest Jesus to imitate. It requires us to put aside what we want, our desires, and do that which is pleasing to God. The dogma and Traditions of the Catholic Church are not there simply because a bunch of old white men wanted to maintain their power and status. Power and status are things that have been abused by some in the Church but the dogma and Traditions we have come from Jesus himself. Failure to understand why or accept it as truth is not justification to choose our own wills over God’s.

                Thy kingdom come,

                Thy will be done,

                Lead us not into temptation,

                But deliver us from evil.

Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

If you could see what I hear.

In 1982 a movie came out that starred Marc Singer portraying the life of a blind musician named Tom Sullivan. It was a light-hearted romantic comedy called “If You Could See What I Hear”. There are many places where I envy the blind. They can’t judge a person by the color of their skin. When they fall in love they don’t do so solely based on physical appearance. The sighted sometimes miss experiencing the full beauty of something because we are limited to only what we can see.

When we attend Mass we offer God worship and sacrifice together with our fellow parishioners, visitors, and the celebrants. It is our family gathering, our little corner of heaven. For God it is so much more. God is eternal, meaning he exists outside of time. A more correct statement is that God is existence and time dwells within him. There is no yesterday, today, or tomorrow with God. There is only the “now”. There are no 8:30am, 10:00am, 11:30am, 1:00pm, or 4:30pm Masses for God. There is only Mass (note – singular).

The Catholic Mass is unique. It is not a new sacrifice. It is not an additional sacrifice. It is commonly said that it is the bloodless representation of the one and only sacrifice Jesus made once for all. The Mass is a time machine joining all Masses, every Mass that ever was and every Mass that will ever be, to the original Mass, the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus on the cross at Calvary. If we could see with our eyes the invisible reality that is actually taking place we would see all of the angels and saints and every person who ever celebrated a Mass gathered at Calvary surrounding our Lord. We are joined with our loved ones who preceded us in this life as well as those who have yet to be born. When I attend Mass I am supernaturally joined with not only my grandparents and their grandparents but I am also joined with my grandchildren and their grandchildren. If eyes could only see the majesty of the reality that surrounds us.

God does not hear a billion individual Masses. God hears Mass offered by billions at one time. Close your eyes and listen with the ears of your heart. When you hear billions of people say, “Amen” all at the same time it will shake you to your core. To hear all of God’s creation proclaim “I believe…” in one voice will give you a new understanding of what the Universal Church really is. If you could see what I hear you would begin to understand just how truly powerful the Mass really is.


Friday, September 4, 2015

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also...

“Excuse me brother but do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

You may have heard this question asked if you have spent any time around our Evangelical kinsmen. By personal relationship they actually mean private relationship. As Catholics we know that personal relationship really is supposed to be a public relationship. The love of Jesus is not supposed to be confined to our hearts and our homes. We are to take him wherever we go and not be ashamed to show our relationship with him in all that we do.

As Catholics we are lucky. We have much more than just a personal relationship with Jesus. We have an intimate relationship with him. He gives us his complete self and we take him fully into our being each and every time we receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion. You cannot get any more intimate than that. If we allow Jesus to work within us we become lanterns carrying the light of his love to every person we encounter. You can’t get any more public than that. That should be exactly what he wants us to do but…

Adult Catholics in first world nations are falling away from the faith at an increasing pace. Many church-shop protestant religions or end up at one of the modern mega churches. Over time they even fall away from these as they no longer see the relevance of church in their lives. We aren’t doing much better with the youth, many of whom we won’t see again after they leave the church on their confirmation day until they are ready for the big celebration wedding. Finding a young adult with an active faith life through and after college is about as hard as finding a couple happily married to each other for over thirty years.

So if what we have is so great why do so many walk away from it?

I think a large part of the problem comes down to just one word – “about”. It is the difference between “knowing” and “knowing about” Jesus. “Knowing about” someone indicates that you have a trivial knowledge of them. “Knowing” someone indicates an intimate knowledge. I know about Adolf Hitler, Steve Jobs, and Mother Theresa. I can tell you when they were born, where they lived, and how they died. I can tell you why each of these people are significant in human history. I do not know any of them. I have no real personal connection to them. They are just people in the history book.

I think this is where the Catholic Church has greatly failed in our instruction of the faithful, especially our children. We have done a fabulous job of telling the faithful about Jesus. We sit our children in religious education classes and CCD and tell them about who Jesus was and what he did in his ministry. They learn how great he is and what he means to our Church. I think far too many of our teachers instruct instead of introduce. You can’t possibly expect anyone to develop a personal and intimate relationship with someone they only know about.

Jesus is my friend, my brother, my savior, my Lord, and my God. I want to introduce you to him so that you may come to know him and be his friend too. What does it take to be a friend to anyone? A friendship is very difficult to maintain with someone you never see and you never speak to.

If you want to be a friend to someone you have to spend time with them. If you want to have Jesus as a friend you have to spend time with him as well. The absolutely best place to spend time with Jesus is Sunday Mass where you get to hold him in your hands and take him completely into your being. There is no way to get any closer to Christ than this. How would you feel if you threw a party that was very important to you and your friends never showed up? Sunday Mass is that party for the Lord and he does miss you when you are not there.

The closer you are to someone the more time you want to spend with that person. Young love is proof to this. Young lovers can sit for hours doing nothing more than just gaze into each other’s eyes. As Jesus becomes a closer friend you will find yourself wanting to spend more time with him as well. For those with the option daily Mass is a great way to spend time with our Lord. Eucharistic adoration is another. Sitting in the actual presence, body, blood, soul, and divinity is a very powerful thing if you allow it to be.

The other requirement for a close friendship is communications. One of the most common reasons a marriage fails today is because husbands and wives stop communicating with each other. When the conversation stops people start to grow apart. Sooner or later you don’t know each other. If you want to have Jesus as a close friend you have to converse with him. This comes in the form of prayer.

                Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

The more you pray the closer you will become to Jesus. But communications is a two way street. You also have to be willing to listen when Jesus talks back. He speaks to us through a small, still voice during the times our hearts are at rest. The devil knows this and fills our lives with as much noise and distraction as possible. When you can’t hear Jesus talking to you, you stop talking to Jesus and you begin to drift apart. Eventually he becomes somebody you used to know and now only know about.

Our religious education classes, CCD, RCIA, and other formation programs shouldn’t start and end in a classroom. They should start in the sanctuary with an introduction to Jesus the person. We need to bring people to know Jesus first and then teach about him. When you know you often want to know about. If you start with knowing about often times you no longer want to spend the time to get to know. When you don’t know it is hard to find the relevance in your life. This is where more and more people fall away from the faith.
Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” – John 14, 9

Be a blessing to everyone you meet and let them be a blessing to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Can I get an Amen?

I have completed the series on the Sacraments and how they are “oaths to the death” in the original Latin understanding of the word. Can I get an amen? Oops, I guess I am not completely done with oaths yet.

Have you ever wondered what the word “amen” means? Having been raised Protestant it was always used at the end of a prayer and I always assumed that it meant “I am done.” Dear Lord, please give me what I want (grant me…). I am done (amen!). In some of our more colorful denominations it is often used as an affirmation. The Lord God is great! Can I get an AMEN?

Yet we see it used many times in the New Testament to begin a sentence, many times by Jesus himself when he is officially teaching. “Amen, amen I say to you…” In some translations of the bible we see it translated as “Truly, truly I say to you…” So used in that fashion it can’t be a conclusion to a prayer or an affirmation to a statement. So what does amen actually mean?

Hebrew is a vocabulary deficient language, which means they do not have a lot of words to explain things. Many Hebrew words hold deep meaning. The number seven, for instance, was a number that held great significance. It was used to swear an oath, something sacred. Old Testament Israelites wouldn’t say, “I swear to you…” they would say, “I seven you…”

Amen is also an oath used in much the same fashion that the word/number seven was used. It was an oath that was meant to convey that what was going to be said next was the absolute truth or that you believe what was just said was the absolute truth. “Amen, amen I say to you…” was the way that Jesus said, “Listen up people. What I am about to say I swear to you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Anything said after “amen, amen” that wasn’t truth was a lie and you reneged on your oath. We have seen through this series on the sacraments how reneging on an oath brings death upon yourself.

Likewise, when you say amen at the end of a prayer in Mass you are swearing an oath that you agree with the words of the prayer. When said at the end of the creed you are swearing an oath that you believe that the creed is absolutely 100% true and that you will live by the words of that creed. How many times do you say “amen” as part of the Mass? How many times do you swear an oath to the death and don’t realize what you have vowed to do? To leave the Mass and live contrary to the oaths you just took causes you to renege on those oaths and the collateral pledged is your very life. For this reason Jesus teaches us in Holy Scripture that is it better not to swear an oath than to fail to live up to one.

Pay attention to your actions and the words you use. Words have meanings and actions have consequences. Pay attention during Mass and ask yourself if you truly believe what you are saying is 100% true. Would you put your life on it? If you have said “Amen” that is exactly what you have done.

Thanks to Father Seraiah for the use of his blog as reference material on this oath.

Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you.

The Sacrament of Anointing

Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

James 5, 14-16

God created man perfect, without illness or suffering. When man turned from God in our sin death and suffering entered the world. God, in his great mercy, provided ways in which we can heal both body and soul. These are the sacraments of healing. The first of the two is the Sacrament of Reconciliation and is responsible for healing the soul and restoring man to God’s sanctifying grace. The second sacrament of healing is the Anointing of the Sick. This sacrament heals the body.

The Anointing of the Sick is not intended to physically heal the anointed, although it can and has throughout Christian history. The primary intention of the Anointing of the Sick is to strengthen those who are being tried by illness. As part of the rite of the anointing of the sick we beg the Lord that the sick person recover his health if it is conducive to his salvation.

Over the centuries the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more exclusively on those closer to death. It became known as “Extreme Unction” or “The Last Rites”.  The Apostolic Constitution Sacram unctionem infirmorum, following upon the Second Vatican Council, established that henceforth, in the Roman Rite, the following be observed:

The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given to those who are seriously ill by anointing them on the forehead and hands with duly blessed oil—pressed from olives or from other plants—saying, only once: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.

                CCC 1513

The Anointing of the Sick is no longer reserved mainly for those who are close to the point of death. It is a sacrament for anyone who has grave illness due to sickness or old age. Anyone who is in danger of death should be encouraged to receive this sacrament. Like the Sacrament of Reconciliation the Sacrament of Anointing can be conferred more than once, whenever it is needed. It is not a one-time sacrament like Baptism or Confirmation. If the anointed recovers their health and then grows sick again at some point in the future that person may undergo the anointing again.

When I was undergoing my heart surgeries in 2014 I received the sacrament the first time just before my angiogram. I received it a second time three weeks later just before I went in for my open heart bypass. The priest was there to anoint me a third time the day after the surgery. What did the sacrament do for me?

The purpose of the sacrament is to strengthen those being tried by illness. I had every reason to be worried about my heart surgery. I had a wife and five children whose lives depended on the outcome. My youngest was just five months old. Instead of being worried I was oddly at peace, more so than I have been at any point in my life. I put my trust in God, that he would not only take care of me but that he would provide for my family if I were to be called home to him. I was indeed strengthened by the sacrament. I was also physically healed, much faster than what is typical for this type of surgery. The sacrament did exactly what it was intended to do.

“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church…”

The Greek word for “elder” is “presbyter” from which we derive the word “priest”. Jesus passed his authority to heal on to the twelve who passed it to their replacements through apostolic succession. Holy Scripture calls for this sacrament to be administered by the elders, the presbyters, the priests. Only a bishop or a priest can anoint the sick. This is not a sacrament that can be administered by a deacon or a lay minister.

It is often celebrated in conjunction of the Sacrament of Reconciliation first and followed by the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Within these three sacraments a person is healed both body and soul and brought into full communion with God. At that moment we are as perfect as we can be as mortal men.

A sacrament is a conduit through which God provides grace. The first grace of this sacrament is the strengthening, peace and courage one receives to face the difficulties of the illness. It is meant to strengthen us against attacks and temptations of the evil one who wishes to use the illness to turn us to despair and anguish in the face of possible death. Instead of trusting in the Lord we are filled with doubt and once filled with doubt we begin to rely on ourselves over the saving power of God.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”

St. Paul, Colossians 1:24


What could possibly be lacking in the suffering of Christ? Quite simply – our participation. Another grace of this sacrament is that we are allowed to unite the suffering of our illness to the sanctifying suffering of Jesus which allows us to share in his redemptive work for the entire body of Christ – the Church.

An ecclesial grace. The sick who receive this sacrament, “by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ,” “contribute to the good of the People of God.” By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, though the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father.” – CCC1522

This is where the sacrament as an oath to the death comes into play. When one “receives” this sacrament they are freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ. We are swearing an oath that we trust in God to do his will in our lives, whether that means that he will physically heal us of our illness or use that illness for the greater good of his Church and his people. Just because someone is not physically healed of their illness it doesn’t mean that God did not give that person grace or that the prayers for that person were in vein. Love is never wasted with God.

We renege on this oath when we lose our faith and turn to despair, anguish in our suffering, or fear death. When I was going through my heart surgery my wife was bothered somewhat by how calm I seemed to be with everything. I asked her what the worst possible thing that could happen with the surgery. She said I could die. No. The worst thing that could happen is that I live another thirty or more years.

When I received the Anointing of the Sick I was taking an oath to the death that I trusted God no matter what the outcome may be. I was assured as part of the anointing that my sins were forgiven and if I did not survive the surgery I would be in heaven with My Lord. No more pain, no more suffering. Only perfect love. If living was the worst thing that could happen what did I have to fear?

My wife, on the other hand, was not anointed and did not take the same oath I did. She had every reason to worry and fear the unknown ahead.

The other way that one can renege on this oath is when they turn their back on God if they were not healed in the way they believed they should be. When the sick get sicker and believe that the sacrament did nothing for them. They are not truly putting their trust in God but wanting their will instead of his.

Blessed is the man who can face his death with happiness and joy, trusting in the Lord, his mercy and infinite love. The kingdom of heaven shall be his. Cursed is the man who desperately clings to his life because he fears the unknown. The eternal darkness shall consume him.

In addition to the Sacrament of Anointing, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum, or the Last Sacrament of the Christian, Viaticum has a Latin root meaning “food for the journey”. Viaticum is not part of the Anointing of the Sick and therefore can be administered by a deacon or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. The Eucharist is the perfect food for those who are passing from this life into the next. In addition to, “The Body of Christ” the following is added when the Eucharist is given as viaticum, “May the Lord Jesus Christ protect you and lead you to eternal life.”

A bit of trivia on the Sacrament of Anointing – a person receiving the anointing has their palms anointed with oil. When a bishop or priest is anointed the back of their hands are anointed instead. This is done in respect to the chrism oil that was used to anoint their palms when they were ordained as a priest.