This last weekend, something new happened to me, although I’m guessing it’s happened in the past to at least a few readers: I was admitted to the hospital for something other than elective surgery. In my case, it was a rip-roaring outer ear infection that ended up requiring two days of IV antibiotic before they’d let me go home. Thanks be to God, I’m OK now.
The two days I was in the hospital included this last Sunday, which particularly upset me because it meant I’d miss Sunday Mass. But, because I still wanted to receive the Sacrament if possible, I called up our rectory and left a message on the “priest emergency” line. The next thing I knew, our pastor was at the hospital, bringing me the Eucharist so that I could partake. It was his day to be “on call.” He conducted a short liturgy, at the end of which I received Holy Communion. He then said, “I also have oil with me and can administer anointing as well.” So, with that, and after another short liturgy, I received the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick for the first time in my life.
Two things really struck me about this experience. First, it was yet another occasion (there have been many others) on which I was thankful for a celibate priesthood. Whenever I’d need to call one of my Protestant ministers some time other than during “work hours,” I’d always feel a twinge of guilt that I was pulling them away from their families. And I mean this with absolutely NO disrespect to them. They were always there for me and my family when we needed them in times of crisis. But it was nice this last Sunday not to have to feel in any way like I was pulling my pastor away from some other important earthly duty.
Second, my pastor was able to offer me something “real” when he came to the hospital—not just sympathy or nice words. With the Anointing of the Sick, I could be confident I’d received true grace and spiritual and physical strengthening. It gave me great comfort, and I must confess that the question of “How can anyone possibly have an issue with this?” did cross my mind. I mean, come on: the teaching regarding the Anointing of the Sick (just like it is with regard to the other sacraments) basically boils down to this: these things really matter; they really convey grace; they really help. Why wouldn’t a good and loving God leave us with tangible helps like this? It’s so much better than the never-ending headgame of just telling myself how much God loves me that I played my whole Protestant life.
Now, I have no way of knowing how much of a role the sacrament played in my getting out of the hospital the next day. I’m convinced, though, that it played a role in my deciding to download onto Nikki’s Kindle (which she insisted I take with me to the hospital) Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, which I then read from cover-to-cover before being discharged. Stick around, and you’ll be hearing more from me about this book. I choose to think that’s the result of God’s grace, but you, dear reader, will of course be entitled to draw your own conclusions.