Fr. Peter Daly
February 11, 2005
People want healing.
Sickness is one of the major worries in any life. Life threatening sickness is the specter that haunts our days and nights.
Over the years I have seen what a comfort the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is to people. On occasion I have seen people healed either spiritually or physically.
Recently, I was surprised to discover what a huge demand there is in our parish for healing. What a great hunger there was for a sacrament of the sick.
In early December, we scheduled a “healing mass.” We announced that anyone who wanted healing could come forward to be anointed. We had hoped to have an outside priest who has a ministry of healing come, but no one was available. So it was just me, to do the anointing, and our two deacons to lay on hands in prayer.
When the night came for the healing mass, the church was jammed. Not just with our parishioners, but with people from other parishes. Even some non-Catholics.
I preached on healing. I talked about various kinds of healing. The healing of memories. The healing that comes with forgiveness. The healing that comes with reconciliation. And the healing of the troubled spirit as well and the infirm body.
I expected about a dozen or so people to come forward to be anointed and prayed over.
We were overwhelmed when more than 250 people pressed forward to be anointed. What we thought would take only a few minutes consumed well over an hour.
The sick in body, mind and spirit, lined up three and four deep across the front of the sanctuary. Many were accompanied by a companion.
Our deacons and I went from one side to the other of the altar platform.
As I came to each person, I leaned down they could tell me why they wanted healing. Some had chronic conditions. Some had cancer or heart disease. Many said things like depression. A few of the young people who were there came forward and said, “I want to be anointed for my uncle” or some other person.
I never had done “anointing by proxy” before, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.
After each person told me there malady, I anointed them with the holy oil on the head and the hands. Then I laid my hands on their head. The deacons followed laying their hands on each head and praying over people for a while, as I moved on to the next person.
After more than an hour, I was exhausted. Sweat was pouring down my brow. Someone brought me a towel and a glass of water. I had to sit down. One lady came up to me afterwards and said, “Who will anoint the anointer.” Good question.
It was a wonderful experience.
Over the following few weeks people would stop me and say, “My back is better.” “My depression is lifted.” Their healing had nothing to do with me, of course. It was the power of grace.
In one case a young man came forward to be anointed for his uncle who was suffering from heart disease. A few days later the uncle agreed to be anointed in the hospital. The man had been away from the church for many years. He received absolution and communion as well as anointing. Since then he has come back to the sacraments. Sometimes the healing God gives us is not what we intend, but is what God knows we truly need.
When I was a young priest, I was skeptical about what good the anointing of the sick really did. It seemed so fruitless because it was often administered just moments before death.
But now, I see things differently. I have seen various kinds of healing: spiritual, physical and emotional. I have seen families healed by the experience.
God’s grace is raining down on us all the time. Healing grace is always there. The anointing of the sick is just a way of taking down our umbrellas letting that grace soak in to give us what we really want, healing.