The nun who taught religion in Grade 2 spoke glowingly to the class about the power of a Sacrament she called “Extra Munction”. Whatever “munction” was, you could get an extra serve in some way or another. Years later, I found she was talking about the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, now called the Sacrament of Anointing of the sick.
My first appointment as a new priest was six weeks at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.
Sister Somebody-or-Other led me to a small private room suffused in an eerie blue ultraviolet light. There was a young man in the bed. He was a very young doctor about my age, in his last moments of life gasping for breath. I held his limp hand in my left hand, laid my right hand on his head feeling his skull through remaining strands of hair. Chemotherapy. So fragile.
“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy, help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” And then, “By the power the Apostolic See of Rome has given me I grant you a plenary indulgence and the remission of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I did what I was taught to do in seminary. He took his last gasp. I stood by him for some moments, wonder struck, silently weeping.
Years later at the same hospital I was attending a patient also close to death surrounded by relatives all weeping and wailing according to custom. I called for silence. They gulped back their grief so they could hear the prayers. Again, I did what I was taught in seminary. To lighten the mood, I asked them to tell me about this papa, nonno and bisnonno. They were happy to do that, all talking at once. I left. I came back next morning expecting to find an empty bed. He was sitting up enjoying a healthy breakfast surrounded by smiling relatives.
We can never fathom God’s ways. We don’t need to.
Fr Geoff Baron