When Health Is Failing
People who have been religious or spiritual throughout their lives tend to become more observant as they age. As Catholics age, their thoughts turn to the afterlife. Death, an important transition, looms before them. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, or Extreme Unction, as it used to be called, is the final anointing, which is given to the Catholic on his or her deathbed. As such, it is a fitting and useful milestone in the life of a Catholic.
Of late, however, the Church has emphasized the sacrament's healing role. Not just the dying, but also the elderly who have suddenly grown frailer, the very ill (no matter what their age), and people about to undergo surgery are all urged to take advantage of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The elderly are entitled to receive this sacrament any number of times, whenever there is a worsening of their condition.Spiritual Growth
The Church teaches that the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick has actual properties for healing the body because there is a connection between body and soul. Elderly people often suffer from depression and weariness, and they may be more focused on what is to come than their present existence. Sick people fall into despair, become very self-absorbed, and may give up all hope. They are focused only on their own suffering. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick can help them rise above their illness and find a hopeful spiritual focus.
Testimony of priests and other witnesses suggests that after the elderly and the sick receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, their health often improves. Many people feel better immediately after receiving the sacrament, and some recoveries are nothing less than miraculous.
Because the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick brings hope and comfort, an improvement in the psychological state of the elderly or ill person may contribute to one in the physical state. But even those people who do not recover, or who recover only to relapse again, draw strength and meaning from the sacrament. They can refocus their life on the essentials, to draw closer to God through the power of the Holy Spirit and to be more long-suffering and hopeful.
For the frail elderly and those with serious or terminal illnesses, death is an undeniable inevitability and a significant transition they must face sooner rather than later. And for many who develop cancer in midlife or who suffer a heart attack, serious illness is a reminder of their mortality. For such people, illness becomes a milestone in their lives; it is a transition with major psychological and emotional consequences. As a result, some people become bitter and full of self-pity, while others accept their illness and learn from it. The grace of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick can help people with serious illnesses integrate what is happening to them into their spiritual lives to attain growth and understanding.Ministries of Healing
In the New Testament, Christ healed by touch many people who were acknowledged to be hopeless cases. He did this as a demonstration of divine power and also out of compassion. However, he did not heal everyone. The Church teaches that sickness is related to the sinful state of mankind, but it is not directly related to an individual's sins and is not meant to be a punishment. People must accept their sickness and find meaning in their suffering as they find their own path to God.
In the Book of Acts of the Apostles, Peter and the other apostles anoint the sick. They act on the specific directive of Jesus, who tells them to heal in his name. In the early days of the Church, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick was not focused on the dying, as it later came to be.
The Church teaches that all Catholics can be living, breathing sacraments of healing as they help those who need emotional, mental, or physical healing. Possibilities for this are endless, but they include some of the following:
Visiting the sick
Visiting the dying
Volunteering in hospices or hospitals
Volunteering to help the physically, mentally, or emotionally ailing.
Volunteering to help the homeless and indigent
Helping patients who are afflicted with AIDS, cancer, and other terminal illnesses