Question

Dear Father Angelo,

my name is Carlo, I am 66 years old, I am a father and a grandfather. My son Gabriele’s wife, who has three children, suffered a stroke when she was only 36 years old. Now she cannot see with one eye and she has walking impairment. We are a family of believers; therefore, along with medical treatment, we asked our vicar to administer her the anointing of the sick. The Letter of Saint James is clear: 

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. 

Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. 

Elijah was a human being like us; yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain upon the land. 

Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the earth produced its fruit. (Jas 6, 13—18)

Well, we have been praying daily for my daughter-in-law both within our family and during the eucharistic celebration, which we attend every day. 

Now, just like we believe that the sacrament of Reconciliation absolves sins and that in the sacrament of the Eucharist there is the real presence of Christ, we do believe in the anointing of the sick. Why, then, does not my daughter-in-law’s health conditions improve?  She has not yet recovered from her illness. I have even read a letter of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger in which the author underlines that in this sacrament the priest acts in person of Christ, thus pledging fulfilment. Why, then, does nothing happen?

Thank you.

Carlo


The priest’s answer

Dear Carlo,

1. you ought to quote the whole passage from Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to let me understand its genuine meaning. 

In any case, of course sacraments are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work. This is why the Magisterium of the Church states that they confer the grace ex opere operato, namely by the very fact that the action is being performed.

He who performs the action is indeed Christ, who acts through an instrument, the minister, that in this case is the priest. 

2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that 

the first grace of this sacrament is one of comfort, of peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to the healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will (Cf. Council of Florence (1439): DS 1325). Furthermore, “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven”.  (CCC, 1520)

3. Moreover, summarizing the effects of this sacrament, the Catechism adds:

The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects: 

– the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church; 

– the strengthening of peace and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age; 

– the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance; 

– the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; 

– the preparation for passing over to eternal life. (CCC, 1532)

4. As far as the administering of this sacrament to your daughter-in-law is concerned, one thing is certain: her illness has been cooperating greatly to your spiritual benefit. As a matter of fact, now you pray daily within your family and you participate in the eucharistic celebration every day.

If you think of the merits and the glory that you have been collecting before God for the life to come by praying and attending mass daily you will understand that your daughter-in-law’s infirmity has already brought about a great spiritual benefit. 

5. Nevertheless, her health recovery is a great benefit as well. Since physical health is tied to spiritual benefit, I suggest you should continue to pray as you have been doing, and you should keep going to mass every day, for the rest of your lives. 

Besides, trust God, because He knows when the propitious moment to answer your prayers is. This is what happened to Zacharia, whose prayers were answered when he had already given up hope and had stopped asking for the son he had pleaded for so much. 

And even if the awaited grace is not granted to you, if you persevere in prayer, God will give you the inner conviction that you have not prayed in vain and, while you were asking for a great benefit, God was granting you an immensely greater gift for the present life and, most of all, for the life to come, when you will give thanks to the Lord’s mercy, that answers his servants’ prayers beyond any merit and any expectation. 

I gladly join your prayers, so that this may come true for each of you. 

In the meantime, I bless you

Father Angelo 

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