In following up on the previous post, the sacrament of Reconciliation is a one of healing, directed at the soul. The Church provides another sacrament that addresses physical ailments and their emotional and spiritual dimensions in the Anointing of the Sick. Genevieve Kineke, in The Authentic Catholic Woman reminds us that this sacrament is far more than than the giving of last rites:
- It grants the sick person peace and courage to bear the infirmity
- It helps the sick person to recognize that the infirmity is linked directly to Christ
- It binds together the sick person with the community as we all come together to pray for the sick and offer up their infirmities
- When given at the point of death, it gives the sick person grace for the journey
(pages 35-36, The Authentic Catholic Woman)
Kineke maintains that women by necessity are especially skilled at offering healing since it usually falls to them to care for their families (page 36, Ibid). From nursing babies to caring for children with the cold or flu, to taking care of elderly parents, women have many opportunities to offer healing and comfort to others. A natural outgrowth of this is the nursing profession (although it didn’t emerge as a profession until the Civil War). While the doctor may diagnose the ailment and perform the procedures necessary for the healing, the nurse is the one who administers the vital care, both physical and emotional.
There are so many opportunities to be the image of Jesus to the sick, both in taking care of physical needs and spiritual ones. Sickness makes one very vulnerable, and possibly open to spiritual matters. Thus, taking care of of the sick is a corporate work of mercy that mirrors the Church in its concern for the soul (page 38,Ibid).
I recall reading a book by my favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, about her experiences as one of the first nurses in the Civil War. Louisa was itching to serve her country and would have fought had she been permitted to, but instead, took care of the wounded. Her book, Hospital Sketches, her first real success as an author, tells poignant tales of her encounters with the soldiers. She wrote of bathing their wounds, administering medicines, writing letters to loved ones, or just holding the hand of soldiers as they died and offering comfort. Alcott was gifted at nursing, having cared for her dying sister Elizabeth (Beth of Little Women ). Her care of the soldiers was indeed a corporate work of mercy.
(If you wish to read more about Louisa May Alcott as a Civil War nurse, check out my blog called Louisa May Alcott is My Passion.)
Some of my fondest memories of my mother were of her taking care of me when I was sick. She was the best. Although my mother (because of her New England Yankee heritage) was not normally physically affectionate, I could so feel her love and care whenever I was sick. She was extremely thoughtful. I recall as a child, lying on the couch sick, and she came home from shopping with a special book for me called The Littlest Angel. Even now thinking of that book, I feel an urge to cry because the love shown by the gift of that book touched my heart so deeply. Caring for the sick involves such little acts of love and they mean so very much.
When my mother became elderly, I was able to return the favor. I did not immediately embrace the job but rather grew into it. It was hard watching her fading away and even more difficult knowing that she suffered from despair, having no faith in God and even, at times, being hostile to the idea of God. She was not easy to be with but I know she appreciated whatever I could do (along with my sister and brother).
Despite dementia and a morphine haze, my mother knew that we loved her and demonstrated that love to my sister the day before she died through a look she gave to her. My sister was able to discern the meaning of that look and knew my mother had communicated, “I love you” and “thank you” through her eyes.
The Lord orchestrated a way for my mother to receive last rites from the only priest she ever trusted, the one who had ministered to my father. My sister and I were both at the ER when my mother was brought in but the nurse approached me, asking if we wanted to bring in a priest or minister. I hesitated momentary because I knew my mother would object but then decided that since I was the one being asked, I would say “yes.” That “yes” brought in Fr. Giggi and I knew from then on my mother would be okay. As mentioned before, the administration of last rites grants the dying the grace to make the journey. I actually didn’t know that at the time but now as I write this, I see that granting my mother the ability to receive last rites helped her on her journey home to God. It was something I had prayed for in earnest for years.
Miracles happen every day in the smallest ways. In some ways, these are the greatest and sweetest miracles. It is a constant reminder that the details really do matter. God works through us in the small things of life. Offering the comfort of healing to others really gets down to the nitty gritty of imitating our Lord. He rarely healed from afar but most times touched the person He was healing. How fortunate we are as women to have been especially gifted with the ability to offer healing to others! It is the most beautiful of gifts.
Copyright 2011 Susan Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.