“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord free you from sin and raise you up.”
On my birthday in 1995, I woke up at four a.m. with the worst headache and neck ache I had ever had. Two Extra-strength Tylenol did nothing, nausea followed, then the sweats and chills. I had just spent the first night in my new rectory of the parish in West Broward county to which I had been newly assigned as pastor. At eight a.m I called the parish offices, told the secretary of my worsening situation and she sent my associate pastor to take me to a doctor. He found a blood-pressure reading of 210/170 and immediately gave me medicine to try and lower the blood pressure. He said that he was calling for the EMTs to transfer me to the nearest hospital. That’s all I remember. I have no memory of being transported. I have no memory of being rushed into the emergency room. I have no memory of the multitudinous tests being run on me. My very first memory was hearing the words above being recited, the oil being placed on my hands and on my forehead – it was my new associate, Father Fernando Isern, anointing me for the first time in my life. Somehow from that moment on I knew I was going to make it, though I did not know where I was or why I was there. It remains to this day all in a cloud of unknowing except for the Sacrament of the Sick. I fell off again into a deep sleep until awakened by a doctor who said that for ten hours he had been working on me, trying to determine what was wrong, trying every test except one remaining one – a spinal tap which he said was essential to confirm his now fairly firm suspicion. I remember that moment every Tuesday of Holy Week when I bless the Oils of the Sick and as the representatives of the people ask me in English and Spanish to bless these oils to strengthen and heal the sick. I remember that moment.
Today I was once again anointed by oil which I myself blessed last Tuesday of Holy Week as I prepare for tomorrow’s surgery. All of the anxiety, all of the uncertainty of the last three weeks seemed to vanish as this time Father Joseph Waters prayed over me and for me. The Sacrament of the Sick is a wonderful encounter with Christ. At times I felt like all of those in the Gospels who experienced the Lord’s healing touch during his lifetime, some who sought him out for the purpose, others who were approached by family and friends for healing, and then those few who sensed they only had to touch or be touched by him to be healed. I sensed His presence and felt strengthened for the journey ahead. Preceded by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and having celebrated the 930am Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude this morning during which the Anointing was performed, I am going to bed tonight leaving tomorrow in the hands of my loving God and the skill of my very fine surgeon. In May 1995, the Lord in His love and mercy began to free me from spinal meningitis. In July of 2009 I am supremely confidant that he will do the same of whatever is growing in my colon. As the kids would say, “how sweet is that?” We have the gift of encountering Christ at all the major moments in our life: birth and baptism, reason and confession and communion, emerging maturity and confirmation, marriage and ordination, and when we are sick, the anointing of the sick. How cool is that? Older Catholics who remember Extreme Unction need to keep in mind that the sacrament is no longer attached to the necessity of death being imminent, but rather is available to all who need the healing presence of Christ to strengthen them in an illness or prior to a surgery.
I feel His powerful presence tonight and your prayers. When next you hear from me at this site, I will be on the road to recovery. Even a bishop can experience the presence of Christ in a sacrament he rarely receives but is there for him also when he calls for the elders to come, pray over him, anoint him, commend him to the love of Christ. The people attending the 930am Mass at the Cathedral joined Father Waters in praying for my well-being. I will be in touch with you soon. For the moment, the Lord Himself has been in touch with and touched me.