On Sunday, I received a sacrament. It wasn’t planned, arranged,or organized. It just happened. I remember my First Communion. I had to buy a dress, there was a party. A big deal was made! In CCD, we spent a year or two preparing for our Confirmation. I had to pas a test with our monsignor to prove readiness, my dad sitting next to me. I remember being nervous. I had to pick a sponsor, there were practices. These milestones, in my life as a young Catholic, they were big deals, signs of maturing in the church.
Through the preparation of those milestones as a child, I’d learned about Annointing of the Sick (Last Rites, as it used to be colloquial called). The image in my brain was of a death bed with your family gathered around you before you peacefully died. "Call the priest, there is nothing left to do." Isn’t that the idea? So, even though I’ve been living my life as a cancer patient for four years (however, much I may want to deny this fact), I’ve never considered seeking out this sacrament.
So, I innocently went to church Sunday and lo and behold, it was a special mass for the sick and they were offering the Annointing during the mass. My dad pointed it out to me. I considered the situation, sitting in my wheelchair in the aisle. According to Doctrine:
The anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude (CCC 1520). These graces flow from the atoning death of Jesus Christ, for "this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’" (Matt. 8:17).
Well, I can use all of that. I mean who can’t when dealing with something serious. Right? However, this sacrament used to be called “Last Rites,” and I’m far from needing that! I may be knocked down a little, I may not be running for awhile, but I’m far, far from needing “Last Rites.” So, again back to doctrine:
Does a person have to be dying to receive this sacrament? No. The Catechism says, "The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived" (CCC 1514).
“In danger of death,” not sure I can accept that. That sounds a little like being sick. I’m not sick, I don’t feel sick. I don’t act sick. Yet, I cannot deny that I have an illness. I do not, nor have I ever felt in danger of dying from my tumor. My fear, my reality has always been a loss of function, the looming potentional of a loss of limb. That may not be “danger of death,” but it is big and horrible to me. Therefore, if receiving the sacrament can give or help me to find any “peace and fortitude” against that reality or even my current wheelchair ridden one. If I can have help avoiding “anxiety, discouragement, and temptation,” as I face my current struggle. Can my faith help me with these things?
So, I received the sacrament. The priest anointed my forehead and my hands, he prayed over me. My parents and a dear friend witnessed. It felt real even if it was without pomp and circumstance. I may never have wanted this sacrament, but I’m glad my dad decided we go to that church on that Sunday.