There may not always be curing but there is always healing
The other day, it dawned on me that in another year,
I’ll have the opportunity to be a teenager all over again. Hopefully, this time around it will be filled with less angst and drama and just a bit more holiness.
I’m speaking, of course, about anticipating the 13th anniversary of my priestly ordination.
Each year, as this sacramental milepost passes, I find myself spending a little time musing about my five years in seminary. They were great years, filled with good and holy people, good and holy experiences, and were a wonderful gift to me as an opportunity to spend a good deal of that time allowing my faith to be formed and shaped for the priestly tasks that would be ahead.
This year, my thoughts turned to our sacramental theology professor, an interesting fellow who took us on a year-long exploration of the history and theology of each of the seven sacraments. I remember most clearly a lesson he offered one day as we were studying the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. He said, “In celebrating the anointing of the sick, there may not always be curing – but there is always healing.”
Looking back across hundreds of celebrations of the anointing of the sick in a dozen years, I now see the truth of this. There have been times when a cure was granted. There was the inflamed appendix that suddenly was no longer so. There was the toddler who was in such inconsolable pain, yet whose pain mysteriously and suddenly vanished the instant the oil of the sick was traced cruciform upon his forehead. All these, and the cures that came from skilled doctors and nurses, are signs of God’s grace and goodness at work in our world. Sometimes, though, for mysterious reasons beyond our ability to comprehend, the longed-for cure is not given on the terms we expect.
Yet there is still healing. In gathering with families around the bed of a sick or dying loved one to celebrate the anointing of the sick, I have seen grudges melt away. I have watched as “black sheep” were welcomed back into the family. I have seen the choice to let go of past hurts and anger. I have heard the words, “I love you” repeated over and over again between family members who doubted their love for one another. In a most profound experience of the healing made possible in this sacrament, I witnessed an elderly gentleman, a veteran of the Pacific island-hopping campaign of World War II, as he found peace after having been plagued his entire adult lifetime by the memory of the horrible and unspeakable things that were a part of his wartime experience. Later that afternoon, he went home to God, peacefully and without fear.
Jesus promised to never leave us alone to be tossed by the tempests of life. He is always present with us, especially in our most challenging and difficult experiences. He also calls upon us to carry his presence into situations when our boats may seem to be swamped and sinking. He calms the storm that there might be healing. And so our journey in FAITH continues.