Time to Speak

The sacraments of healing

By Bridget Bunning

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation provides penitents the ability to “obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins” (1422).

Again, quoting the Catechism documents, the sacrament of anointing of the sick, “by the prayer of the priests the whole church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them … by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ” (1499).

That is pretty heady stuff.

Looking at the Sacraments on a more practical level, how have I, as the director of pastoral care at Nazareth Home, a 168-bed, long-term care/rehab Catholic facility founded by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, seen healing manifest through these sacraments on a regular basis? How do these Sacraments make a difference in people’s lives?

Healing, of course, is not just physical. Although the healing and nursing care of our residents’ physical bodies are areas where our staff excels, healing of the spirit and journeying with those who are in the winter of their lives or near death is of equal importance. One of the definitions mentioned for healing says it is “to restore (a person) to spiritual wholeness.”

The pastoral care of our residents encompasses many opportunities for them to receive healing through both the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing as they so desire. In addition, healing takes place through the pastoral relationships that we find ourselves privileged to participate in with our residents as we companion them on their paths and practice compassionate and empathetic listening to their life stories.

Many times, people may struggle with an issue from the past where healing is needed due to a rift between them and a family member or the church, and they request the sacrament of reconciliation.

They may be unable to forgive themselves for a past failing and feel unworthy of forgiveness. Often these are issues that have long lain dormant, and ill health has prompted them to come face-to-face in dealing with their brokenness.

After they receive the sacrament of reconciliation, I’ve noticed residents feeling more at peace, less anxious and calmer with others and their God. They are at peace because they have been reminded that not only God’s forgiveness, but God’s love and mercy are theirs.

But it is through the sacrament of anointing of the sick that I’ve seen great transformation take place, especially in the instance of someone in the dying process. Healing, in the greatest and holiest sense (bringing someone to wholeness), can and does indeed take place. It is almost as if a sigh goes forth from a dying person’s body after they are anointed.

Spiritual healing, conversion, surrender, calm and God’s peace are all evident, even if the person receiving the sacrament no longer seems alert. Their interior being comes to serenity with their God. They are forgiven and healed, finally able to let go and continue to their final destination: eternal life with God. Of course, the sacrament of anointing does not have to wait until just before death. Anointing can take place any time one’s health status declines, before a surgery or when there is a need for mental or spiritual healing. Also, our God is still a God of miracles. Physical healing can certainly take place through this sacrament if God so wills.

God avails us with many opportunities for healing and reconciliation. We only need to ask.

This upcoming Lenten season is a perfect chance to seek, in a deeper way, God’s mercy.

Bridget Bunning is director of pastoral care at Nazareth Home, 2000 Newburg Road.

(The Record 2.16.12)

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