“Praise to you, God the only-begotten Son. You humbled yourself to share in our humanity and you heal our infirmities.”
It had been a long four weeks in which nearly any slight stress made me feel overwhelmed. A respiratory illness had been going through our family, and two of my daughters and myself were still having difficulty breathing. Though because we, thankfully, were not sick enough to get tested for COVID-19 in our state, we had the added pressure of not knowing if we had the disease or not.
We missed going to Mass the last weekend it had been available in our diocese because of our illness. I was long overdue for the Sacrament of Confession, but there was no way for me to receive it since I still had symptoms. I bore with the lack of sacraments and placed my faith in God’s grace being given to me through my personal prayer and through my desire for Spiritual Communion. I clung to his love when I was not sure how I was going to make it through the next hour. But I still had emotional breakdowns daily.
In that fifth week of our trial, I reached out to my parish asking for prayers for my daughter who was still needing to use a nebulizer multiple times a day after almost three weeks from the onset of her illness. The following morning, as I was homeschooling the children and waiting on a call from the doctor to get her lungs looked at yet again since her wheezing had returned, my husband emerged from his study. Our pastor had just called and asked if we would welcome him coming to our yard to minister to us through the Sacraments of Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion. The announcement of our pastor’s solicitude and offer of acting in persona Christi on our behalf overwhelmed me again — not with the panic and anxiety I was feeling often each day — but with gratitude. Through tears, I expressed my thanks and desire for him to come to us.
It hit me again when I texted a friend about it as I took a break from the homeschool morning in the bathroom. Sobs racked my body as I was completely overwhelmed by my emotions. Stay at home orders and social distancing are difficult in themselves, but when your family is sick, your state does not have enough testing, and your doctors have to limit you to phone visits it all becomes overwhelming.
Then, quite suddenly, alone in the bathroom, I felt peace. Somehow it was all going to be okay. When we finally did get into see the doctor that same day, my daughter’s lungs were clear. And my pastor would be coming soon, to administer sacraments.
He called late the next afternoon to say that he was on his way, and excitement filled our home. Our Lord was coming to us in the Holy Eucharist. We were about to receive sacraments. Examining my conscience while we waited, my soul felt worn and weary by all that we had been going through. I saw so clearly where the shreds of my patience had given way under all of the stress. We washed our hands and put on our facemasks when he arrived. My husband went outside to work out the details, and then we closed the back-window blinds as our backyard was transformed into a confessional. Our garage sits behind our house with a short fence dividing the lawn from the driveway. Father stood in his own mask armed with hand sanitizer in the driveway while the penitent stood in the grass. One by one my family went out into the yard to sorrowfully confess failings, to be forgiven, to receive grace.
When it was my turn, Father’s words of advice struck my heart ringing true to what I had been feeling. When one is sick, the suffering is different — as in my nearly yearlong battle with Lyme disease. But when one’s family and own children are sick, the suffering is different, it requires a different kind of strength. Yet, to be sick oneself and have children sick is even harder.
After all who were old enough had received Sacrament of Penance, the whole family came outside together, staying our safe distance from the man who was acting in persona Christi on our behalf. He began the Rite of the Anointing of the Sick. I stood before him with my two ill daughters, with my husband and other children nearby. We prayed with him the litany that is a part of the rite asking for the Lord to have mercy, free us from harm, relieve our suffering and strengthen us. Then one by one with a separate cotton ball for each of us, he anointed our foreheads and hands carefully placing the cotton balls in an envelope propped open (which was later burned). He prayed the closing prayer, asking the Lord to grant us comfort, give us courage, patience and hope.
Then he held up the Host saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold him who takes away the sins of the Lord.” After so long, so many weeks, we were able to receive Our Lord. I will always cherish that experience of receiving Holy Communion as an oasis in the middle of a long desert of being apart from the Real Presence.
When the rites were over he said, “You could have asked for me to come sooner.”
We had been so caught up in our suffering, worry and isolation, we did not think to ask for these sacraments to come to us. But as soon as he learned of our ailments, our pastor, a devoted servant of his master, came to us and gave us the gift of an abundance of grace.
Since I was anointed, the peace I needed has been with me. The hope, the trust and even the joy that the grace of the sacraments give us has filled my soul. Further, I have not felt overwhelmed since that afternoon, even when the future is still uncertain. But mostly, after Father ministered to us, I felt so completely loved by God. I knew that he loved me and that he had been with me all along and that he would never leave me.
This was the second time I have received the Anointing of the Sick. The first time was when I was bedridden with Lyme disease. After this second anointing, I see now how grace carried me through my battle with Lyme. The grace of this sacrament is distinctive and feels spiritually different from the other sacraments. It is like being carried safely through a stormy sea. Even as I struggle with ailments related to two chronic health issues in addition to my respiratory illness, the grace has held me up. I do not know what the outcome of my illnesses will be, but I know that I am close to my God, so I am safe. He may not always calm the external storm of all of my physical sufferings, but he calms my heart and holds my trust in him.
This sacrament is a gift that the sick so badly need. We need it more than ever now, as more and more people are becoming sick with what could be the coronavirus. I am thankful that my bishop has given safe guidelines for the priest of our diocese to be able to administer this sacrament to the sick who need this grace in this time of pandemic. I pray that all who are suffering from serious illness, especially of COVID-19, will be able to receive this grace.