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AT SOMBER AND REFLECTIVE TIME OF LENT: SOME THOUGHTS ON ANOINTING OF SICK, LAST RITES, AND REAL HEALING
Remarkable it has been, these past few days, in the news, to see a story on a man who came back to life after forty-five minutes of clinical death and another on a man who kicked his way out of a body bag as the funeral parlor was getting set to embalm him!
"The day after being pronounced dead, a Mississippi man moved his legs and showed he was still alive," noted NBC on the body-bag episode. "Walter Williams, 78, of Lexington, suffered from heart failure on Wednesday. When the coroner arrived that night and found no pulse, Williams was pronounced dead and he was taken to Porter and Sons Funeral Home. 'The Lord wasn't ready for him,' said his daughter."
When God wants us back -- when our work isn't done -- it matters little that a doctor or whoever has declared clinical demise.
There are near-death episodes whereby folks have "returned" even when their "corpses" have exhibited incipient rigor mortis.
This tells us that: God can revivify and heal the body no matter what condition it is in.
We knew this from Lazarus; but we also know it in our own, physiological, medic-centric time (now that the media is reporting on it).
Said a Fox news channel of the other case:
"After about forty-five minutes of [Brian] Miller in Beachwood, Ohio, being without a heart-rate, pulse, blood pressure or oxygen to his brain, he miraculously awoke with a regular heartbeat and without any damage to his brain. Miller said he had beautiful visions of the after-life as he walked toward heaven, which included both flowers and light. He said he had a loved one who had recently passed tell him he needed to go back."
Here was the Mass reading a couple days ago (3/1/14): "Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing a song of praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed."
Use of the word "oil" brings to mind what we now call the Anointing of the Sick and, when it's included with penance and the Eucharist, it constitutes Last Rites. Notes the Newman Society: "When the ritual for this sacrament was revised in 1972, various options that had developed over time were consolidated so the celebration of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick would be uniform throughout the Catholic Church. The anointing of the sick can be celebrated three different ways: the ordinary rite of anointing a sick person which takes place either when a priest visits a sick person or during a regularly scheduled Mass or prayer service; the rite of viaticum (word comes from Latin for 'necessities for the journey') which involves the reception of Holy Communion by one who is dying or in danger of death; and a rite of the sacraments for those near death, which is a continuous rite of the sacraments of penance, anointing and viaticum."
Adds another site (New Theological Movement):
"St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that, just as bodily washing is given through Baptism as a sign of the spiritual cleansing of the soul, so too does God sometimes confer a bodily healing through anointing as a sign of the spiritual healing of the soul. But, there is this difference, for water naturally has the power to wash the soul, but olive oil (which is used in anointing) does not have of itself the power to heal those who are dying. Therefore, it is only when God chooses to work a miraculous healing that the body is physically healed through anointing. And so, the Angelic Doctor concludes, 'It follows that a bodily healing does not always ensue from this sacrament, but only when it is requisite for the spiritual healing: and then it produces it always, provided there be no obstacle on the part of the recipient.'
In other words, as the site points out, whenever a miraculous healing of the body would be necessary or highly expedient for the spiritual healing of the soul, "God will grant such a miracle through the sacrament. In such a case, the miraculous healing is not to be attributed to the holiness of the priest, but to the very power of the sacrament itself. On the other hand, if a sick man receives Anointing and does not gain a miraculous recovery, this shows that such a physical healing was not needed in order to strengthen his faith and hope as he prepares for death and the judgment."
While we can say with confidence that healing always occurs during the Anointing of the Sick, notes The American Catholic, it isn't always the kind of healing we might expect. "At first I thought it would cure me and I was disappointed when I wasn't cured right away," said a woman named Bridget, who the publication cites. Then it became clearer the healing had to come from within me. The healing wasn't an immediate recovery. I had to be open; to let things happen. I couldn't expect something overnight."
While we often assume getting physically well is the best thing for us, God may know we need to come to a greater awareness of the divine and may choose to heal some area of our spirit or emotions instead of our body. "I learned if you don't go looking for healing, it will be revealed in some other way," Bridget added. "
"We should also remember the sacrament complements medical treatment; it
doesn't replace it," says American Catholic. "Just because someone gets better with the help of
surgery or modern drugs doesn't mean the sacrament didn't play a part in the
healing. God uses the skill of doctors and nurses as well as modern medical
techniques to restore health.
"If all that sounds like so much double-talk, it might help to remember the sacrament isn't magic. It doesn't promise that those who receive it will be cured of all physical sickness. It doesn't promise that someone who is 99 will live another thirty years.
"What it does promise is that God will heal the broken areas of our life if we approach with faith and humility.
"While it isn't common, immediate physical healing can happen. I know of at least one instance in my own family when medical tests administered after the person was anointed showed no trace of the previous illness. The very real possibility of a physical cure is one reason the Church doesn't want us to wait until we are at death's door before asking for the sacrament. 'What happened was that I began to want to change,' said Bridget. 'It was something I wasn't expecting. Before the sacrament, I wasn't open to letting God in my life. I needed something to put him back in my life. When I received the Sacrament of Anointing, I realized how important He is,' she said."
At the same time, stunning healings of those on the brink of death have occurred through this set of sacraments.
We'd be interested in any of your stories.
"A woman who was given the last rites stunned her family when she started to talk hours later," noted a newspaper, the Barnsley Chronicle, in UK. "Mary Young had received end of life care following a heart attack and was visited by Barnsley Hospital chaplain Father Peter Needham. Mary, 87, of Taylor Crescent, Grimethorpe, was taken to the hospital on January 11. Daughter Marie Gledhill, of Bank End Road, Worsbrough Dale, was contacted the next day by staff to say her mother was deteriorating and that she and her brother Tommy should come. 'My mum was out of it, the nurse said she could have hours or days. She didn't even know Fr Peter was there but he came and gave her the last rites. I stayed with her after and was talking to her and all of a sudden she started answering me. It's a miracle, there's no other explanation. You take it as gospel what the doctors say, but they couldn't believe it.' Mary was allowed home on January 24. She said she doesn't remember anything from needing an ambulance to waking up and talking to Marie, but said she felt someone was looking down on her."
That's because Someone was.
[Resources: afterlife books, Lenten books, and Michael Brown retreat: Virginia ]
[see also: last rites healings]
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