Everyone tries to do their best in life, but we all fall and make mistakes. We hurt others through our actions, we may use other people for our own selfish desires, and we put others down instead of lifting them up. We live in a fallen world, and sometimes it seems as though we are too wounded by our own transgressions and faults to do anything about it. There is good news though, God offers us healing for both the body and soul through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the Sacrament in which we lay down our faults before God, represented by the priest, and receive absolution and forgiveness from our sins. St.Ambrose commented that there are two forms of conversions through water within the Church, one being our Baptism, and the other being our tears of repentance. Sin hurts us, it damages relationships, and it can eat away at us if left to fester over the years. Reconciliation makes sense from a human point of view because the Sacrament, “Frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible” (CCC 1456).
In order for a doctor to heal a patient, the patient needs to reveal their symptoms, allowing the doctor to diagnose and in turn prescribe the proper medication and treatment for the ailment. Reconciliation is just like this, only in our case the doctor is Christ Himself, represented by the priest. We reveal our “ailments” (sins) to priest, and he in turn may give us advice followed by a penance (the medicine). What makes reconciliation more powerful than any doctor visit though, is that the priest absolves us of all our sins at the conclusion of the Sacrament. This means that all of our sins are forgiven by God, our slate is wiped clean. People often say they feel weight lifted off their shoulders after Confession. This is because we acknowledge our sinfulness, we name it, and we give it over to God, and God gives us pure love and forgiveness in return.
Sometimes people feel as though their sins are “too great” for God, or that they are unworthy of forgiveness. Remember though that even St. Peter denied Jesus three times in his most critical time of need. Did Jesus reject Peter? No, instead Jesus gave Peter an opportunity to proclaim his love for Him three times on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. In the devotion of Divine Mercy, Jesus told St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the more right they have to my mercy.” God always offers us love because God is Love. The Scriptures tells us that God will never reject a “contrite heart” (Psalm 51).
While a trip to the doctor or dentist is never a pleasing experience, we always leave better off than we came in. Reconciliation is just like that. It is not “fun” to introspectively search ourselves and bear our sins aloud, to point them out and name them. This though is what is required to start the healing process. We are never rejected by God, only accepted by Him, and through His Church we have this Sacrament through which our souls are healed of the effects of sin.
Anointing of the Sick
“Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude.”(CCC 1500)
Living in this fallen world, we have to deal as humans with the frailty of life. Disease and health issues affect us seemingly indiscriminately with great severity. As Reconciliation deals directly at the soul, the Sacrament of Anointing looks at the whole person, specifically our bodies.
Christ had great care for the sick; many of his miracles were healings of the lame, the blind, the deaf, and many others. The Church carries on this mission of Christ through its Sacramental ministry. St. James writes in Scripture, “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders [priests] of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” As we can see this has been part of the Church’s life from the very beginning. Christians have always identified with the sick and the suffering because they reflect the suffering of Christ.
Just as Christ used spittle and the laying on of hands, mud, and water; the Church uses blessed oil as a sign of the Sacrament. Oil in ancient times was used as a healing balm and had healing properties, and so it was fitting for the Church to use this symbol. Further, we are anointed with oil at our Baptism, this Sacrament again anoints us with oil, as we prepare to move from this world to the next. The Sacrament is for any member of the faithful who is seriously ill or is in old age, it is not limited to the death bed.
The Catechism lists five effects of the Sacrament:
- The uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ
- The strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age
- The forgiveness of sins
- The restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of the soul
- The preparation for passing over to eternal life