Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Sacraments of Healing
Help in Tough Times
Amy called me at the parish youth ministry office,
asking to see me after school. When she arrived, her news was a
"My grandfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer,"
Amy said. Between tears, she continued, "He—s shut himself up in
the house. He won—t see or talk to anyone, doesn—t eat and won—t
even go back to his doctor.
"My grandmother is a mess. My dad is angry because
my grandfather won—t even talk on the phone. I—m afraid he—s going
to die—without seeing me or any of the family! What can I do?"
Her grandfather belonged to our parish and bowled
in the same league as the pastor. But he wouldn—t even see the pastor!
I suggested that Amy send her grandfather a letter
to tell him how she felt. When she was little, she told me, she
made him cards and would write in big letters, "I love you, Pop-Pop,"
on the front. She agreed to try.
As she prepared to leave, she asked me how her grandfather
could change so much, so fast. There could be lots of reasons, I
said. When people face really tough times, they can become overwhelmed
with fear and grief and anger. They can feel isolated, abandoned
and even guilty about lots of stuff. There—s a strong temptation
to just shut yourself away, thinking that healing and happiness
are gone forever.
All Amy said, as the tears began again, was, "That—s
Always a Healer
What do you do when someone feels that healing and
happiness are gone forever? There are no easy answers, but the Church
has always been very concerned about that problem.
In fact, Jesus expressed that concern consistently.
As he preached the Kingdom of God, he spent a fair amount of his
ministry healing the sick and reaching out to those who were alienated
In the first chapter of Mark, it seems that the whole
city of Capernaum sought healing from Jesus after he healed Peter—s
mother-in law. Jesus— healing ministry wasn—t limited to people
who sought him out. Often Jesus himself initiated healing.
The people of Israel understood that such power to
heal was a clear sign of the coming of the Messiah. Many saw in
Jesus— healing ministry a sign of God—s saving power.
But it is also clear that Jesus considered physical
healing only one part of his total mission. Before curing a paralytic
brought to Jesus by his friends, he proclaimed that the man—s sins
were forgiven. He preached repentance and demanded that people turn
from sin and selfishness.
In the story of Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree just
to see him, Jesus offered another kind of healing—one that looks
to repentance and forgiveness and a complete change of heart. Zacchaeus
is healed, but it is a healing of the heart and conscience as he
declares that, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give
to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall
repay it four times over" (Luke 19:8).
Jesus understood that there is much more to healing
than physical cures. Have you ever had friends who were sick of
heart or overcome with sadness or doubt? Even before they said what
was bothering them, you knew that they were in some kind of pain—in
need of healing.
Jesus could sense when a person—s spirit was sick
and in need of healing, too. While he often cured physical troubles,
he also brought healing to those overcome by sin, selfishness or
sadness. He invited them to experience God—s saving love and forgiveness
and he offers you that same invitation.
—Jesus not only offers you healing, but also asks
you to share the gift you have received. Have you ever had the desire
to be an instrument of healing for others: to help someone with
a fractured friendship or who was struggling with alcohol or an
You can! Jesus shared his ministry of healing and
forgiveness with his followers and sent his disciples to take up
his mission. Even after his resurrection, as he commissioned the
disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19),
he entrusted to them the power to forgive sins in his name.
As the Church began to preach Jesus Christ as the
risen Lord, it became clear that the healing power of Jesus was
present in the community and that the apostles continued the ministry
of Jesus as they preached and healed and even suffered in the name
Those first disciples understood that, through Jesus—
saving death, resurrection and glorification, forgiveness and reconciliation
had been won. The power of sin and evil had been conquered. Jesus
brought the healing power of God—s grace to all who longed for it.
He empowered his followers to do the same.
Where Is God?
You know it isn—t always easy to feel God—s presence
in your life. Especially when things don—t seem to be going well,
it seems almost natural to wonder where God is in all of this. Think
about Amy—s grandfather.
The good news is that God is present in tough times.
How do you know that? Where can you find and experience God—s presence
when things go wrong? Turn to Christ. Rely on his word. Pour your
heart out in prayer. Turn to your family and friends. And call on
the Church, which is the Body of Christ on earth.
In James 5:14-15, we read, "Is anyone among you sick?
He should summon the presbyters [say PREZbiturs and think leaders]
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."
You can—t handle the tough times alone. Amy understood
that much better than her grandfather. Whether it—s sickness or
grief or anger, or even your own sin and weakness, you need to turn
to the community of faith and in that community recognize the presence
of Christ who wants to offer healing and grace.
You believe in a God who stands
with us in difficult times, who knows pain, rejection and heartbreak.
You are part of a Church that, in the sacraments of healing, proclaims
and celebrates that God is alive and cares when his children suffer.
Reconciliation is one of the sacraments of healing,
I explained to my youth group. The focus of the sacrament is on
your sorrow for sin and humbly receiving God—s forgiveness through
the ministry of the priest. But Alan didn—t buy it.
He challenged, "It doesn—t feel like healing to me.
I get nervous and embarrassed and I always think that Father Tim
is going to hate me."
Before I could respond, one of the other kids in
the group said, "Yeah, but how do you feel when you—re all done?"
Alan answered that he feels glad it—s over with.
Someone else asked, "But how do you feel inside?"
He reluctantly admitted that he always feels "lighter—my heart seems
Most of the young people reported that, when they
confess their sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they feel
relief. They have a sense of coming clean, of being better connected
to God and others. We concluded that healing did take place—a healing
of heart and soul as we accepted God—s grace of forgiveness.
Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive and
hold back (bind and loose) sins after the resurrection. (See Matthew
18:18.) The Church has always understood that, at this point, Jesus
was giving us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we could experience
God—s love and grace even when we had fallen prey to selfishness
It has always been true that human beings fall easily
into sin. From the story of the Original Sin to present-day examples
of pride, greed, violence and lust, it is clear that sin is real.
Jesus in his ministry of healing reached out not
only to the physically sick, but also to those whose hearts and
souls were ailing. In many ways, Jesus was the ultimate psychologist.
He understood the human heart and human behavior better than anyone
else. He understood that sin and selfishness injured the sinner
more than they hurt anyone else.
Sin is choosing self over God and others. Such selfishness
hardens your heart, leads you to care mostly about yourself and
weakens or cuts off your relationships with others.
When Jesus looked into the eyes of people caught
in sin, they understood that they were being offered an opportunity
for healing and a new lease on life. Oh, they could refuse it and
some did. But many people opened themselves to that offer. They
recognized that God knew them through and through, and loved them
just the same.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation requires that you
have true sorrow for your sins and that you confess them to the
priest. The priest acts in the name of the Church and as a representative
of Christ. He offers absolution—that infallible statement that,
indeed, God forgives you and brings you back to grace. Finally,
the priest gives you a penance or asks you to do something to show
your inner attitude of sorrow and your desire to change and avoid
It is Christ who forgives in the sacrament. It is
the healing presence of Christ that you experience.
Jesus is still offering that healing today. Through
the ministry of the Church and the life of the faith community,
Christ reaches out to all who sin. His words remind you that healing
is possible and that when you have true sorrow and trust in the
Father's mercy and compassion you can experience God—s love anew!
What could be more healing than that?
Pray for the Sick
On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, some members of the
peer ministry team were helping at the parish Mass that would include
the Anointing of the Sick. It was a very powerful celebration, with
over 130 parishioners receiving the sacrament. After the homily,
the pastor invited the whole community to pray as he invited those
to be anointed to open their hearts to the power of God—s grace.
Then he and two other priests began to lay hands
on each person who desired to receive the sacrament. Most of them
processed down the aisle, but some couldn—t so the priests went
to them. As the priests put both hands on the heads of the sick,
the whole assembly prayed in silence.
Then the anointing ritual began. As each person came
to the priest, he anointed him or her on the forehead and prayed,
"Through this holy anointing may the Lord help you with the grace
of the Holy Spirit." Then he anointed the person—s hands and prayed,
"May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up."
At a reception after Mass, a couple of the peer ministers
said they were surprised that a lot of healthy-looking young people
came for anointing. They thought that you had to be close to death
or very old to receive the Anointing of the Sick.
I explained that in order to receive the sacrament
one had to be seriously ill, with an illness that could be life-threatening.
In fact, I said, even people with depression or mental illness could
avail themselves of the sacrament if their illness is serious.
The young people helped serve punch and cookies and
met some of those who had been anointed. While we were cleaning
up, one of them said, "This was pretty cool. A lot of the people
here today usually don—t get to Mass. It was good to be able to
have them come and be a part of the Church."
Another one added, "It took their
minds off themselves and their troubles for a while. This Sacrament
of Anointing is a great idea!" I couldn—t have agreed more.
I had hoped to see Amy and her grandfather at that
Mass. They hadn—t come, though, and I couldn—t help but feel disappointed.
It had been about six weeks since her visit. Our pastor hadn—t been
allowed to visit either, though he—d tried twice.
On the Thursday after Easter, I learned that Amy—s
grandfather had died. This was very sad news. When I went to the
wake, I expected to find a troubled family. When I walked into the
room, Amy almost ran to greet me—with good news.
On Easter Sunday she and her parents went to her
grandfather—s house and announced that they wouldn—t leave the front
porch until they had seen him! After a full two hours, he finally
gave up and let them in. (It seems that they were playing and singing
Easter songs while they waited.)
When Amy walked into her grandfather—s room, all
her recent cards with "I love you, Pop-Pop" were hanging around
the room. She burst into tears.
Her grandfather said he was sorry for the heartache
he—d caused, and the family spent a very tearful but happy Easter
together. The next morning, Easter Monday, her grandfather called
the pastor and went to confession. The whole family gathered for
the Sacrament of Anointing and received Communion together. Pop-Pop
died Wednesday night.
At the funeral Mass, Amy managed to smile through
her tears. She had experienced the healing power of Christ and had
actually served as an instrument of that healing for her family.
I couldn—t help but shed a tear or two myself as I marveled at the
way God—s grace can work through the sacraments of healing.
You say, "Call on the Church, the Body of Christ." Sounds good, but I certainly don't know how to do that. Help!
It begins by relying on the people closest to you: your parents who have formed you in your faith. Call on your pastor, principal or other members of your faith community, especially your youth or campus minister or the youth group itself. Finally, don't forget your Catholic and Christian friends who also believe in Christ and share a relationship with him. Turn to them, ask them for prayers and advice or to pray with you.
I have lots of questions about Confession. Here are two: Are sins you don't mention forgiven? What if you don't do your penance?
Any serious (mortal) sin must be mentioned
during your confession. You know that God knows: To hold something
serious back from the priest means you're not being completely
honest or you're just too embarrassed. Trust God's mercy and
trust your judgment. Most times, you know what's needed. As
for less serious sins, you may not remember every example
of disobedience or anger. If you honestly forget, that sin
is still forgiven. The most important thing is to be truly
sorry and to ask God for forgiveness through the ministry
of the priest. Accepting a penance from the priest is also
an important part of the sacrament. An act of penance indicates
that you mean to rid your life of sin and want to begin to
make amends. If you walk out with no intention of doing the
penance, I would wonder if you are truly sorry. (If you actually
forget, simply do it when you do remember.) If you receive
a penance that you can't do (for instance, giving money to
the poorwhen you don't have any), ask for a penance
you can complete.
I heard you could only be anointed once
in your life. Is that true? If so, should I use my chance
The Sacrament of Anointing can be received more than once. Each time a person has a serious illness or is undergoing surgery, he or she should be anointed. That doesn't mean when you have a common cold or get a tooth filled! But it would include such things as diabetes. If you have a chronic illness like that, it is quite acceptable that you celebrate the sacrament when a communal anointing happens at your parish.
Tony Tamberino is the Associate for Youth and
Young Adult Ministry at The Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier
in Hunt Valley, Maryland, after 10 years at St. John the Evangelist
Parish in Columbia, Maryland.— He is a frequent presenter at youth
conferences and retreats and is the author of the Pray Your
Heart Resource Manual from St. Mary—s Press.
Emily Schmiesing (17), Jacob Sekas (15), Elizabeth Szippi (17) and Tina Voisard (17) of Holy Angels Parish in Sidney, Ohio, met on a Sunday morning to review this issue. The questions posed here are theirs. Jean Smith, parish youth director, gathered the group.