The mystery of death
I have friends who have worked in hospices. They see death as a sometimes mysterious passage, and more than just a physical process. One recalled an incident of a mother waiting, on the brink of death, day after day for a son to arrive from Europe. After they talked for forty minutes, he left, and she turned over and died within five minutes.
Jesus the healer
Twice in the gospels we read of Jesus raising people from death: the widow of Nain’s son (Lk. 7.11) and Lazarus (Jn.11.43). Jesus’s entire ministry is marked by a desire to heal and restore (cf. Mt 10.1) and he instructed his disciples to continue this work (Mk. 6.13). Yet there were hordes of sick he didn’t cure and times he claimed to be unable to work miracles because of people’s lack of faith.
Healing vs curing
This practice of healing was carried on in the early Church (Jm. 5.14-15). Elders came to pray over the infirm and anoint them with oil, a practice that has continued in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Those who care for the sick and elderly talk of how often those prayed over find new energy and life; some given a sentence of death by their doctors win back unexpected years.
This is what Catholics mean by the sacrament of healing. Occasionally it does seem to cure the ill; very often it brings them peace, acceptance and an assurance of entering the kingdom of light behind that dark curtain, where so many they have known and loved already dwell in glory.
The life the dying person has known disappears to be replaced by one we can know only in obscure hints and promises.
Father Neil Vaney
This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 7, ‘Sacraments of Healing’ referencing pages 23 – 24. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 7’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.