I’ve been real busy these last few days with a bit of a family emergency. Let me just say that it has involved family members, a hospital, co-workers, friends, strangers, priests and God. In other words, it has been just another usual day for me here on planet Earth.
I am a blessed man in many ways and most of the reasons why involve the Sacraments in one way or another. Not that I deserve these blessings or anything, but here they are nonetheless. For starters, I was born into a Christian family and I was baptized when I was 10 years old. That was my first official encounter with the power of the sacraments. I had decided upon that one of my own volition too. It was the first really huge decision that I ever made on my own (with generous help from the Holy Spirit, and my parents too, no doubt).
Another blessing? I was married in the Catholic Church (I didn’t see that one coming!), so Holy Matrimony was also checked off of the list before I even knew there was a list. So far, I was 2 for 7. After my reception into the Church (Class of 2008), I rapidly punched my sacrament-o-meter with the other Sacraments of Initiation (Confirmation and the Eucharist), and knocked down one for healing prior to those too (Confession).
So here I sit pondering the fact that so far in my short life, I am 5 for 7 on the Sacraments. Some I enjoy daily, or almost (Eucharist, Matrimony), others when necessary (Confession) and still others I’ve yet to ever enjoy personally (Anointing of the Sick) and probably never will (Holy Orders).
Today, though, it hit me that the Sacraments just flat out rock. I mean for me, at least, they make the world go ’round. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard either. I was trying to get this point across to my Mom, yesterday too, that as Christians, since we are a holy people, imperfect and with warts and all (yes!), but still, we are a people set apart. We are called to be holy and the Sacraments, outward signs of grace that they are, help us immeasurably in this calling.
Here is my last few days in a nutshell. My mothers husband (not my father, so technically my step-father, but they got married when I was 32 years old, see, and since I left home when I was 17…well, it’s complicated!) took ill, and she called me to see if I could help get him into the car for a doctors visit. I’m not going to give a whole lot of details, but suffice it to say that he wound up in the hospital after an ambulance ride.
So there we are in the Emergency Room, sitting around waiting for the usual stuff to get done. My “step-dad” is Catholic, see, and I know he hasn’t felt up to making it to Mass for close to two months. So I say to my Mom,”Do you have Fr. Michael’s phone number?” Although my Mom isn’t Catholic, she did have his number, as I had suggested she call the parish office a week or so ago to have the Blessed Sacrament brought to my step-dad, since he was becoming a “shut-in.”
I told her to call my pastor so he could bring her husband the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. She wasn’t sure now was a good time though, as we didn’t know how long we’d be in the ER, etc., etc., but I told her to call him anyway. “Just do it.” And she did. About a three-quarters of an hour later, one of our Associate pastors, Fr. John, was there in the ER anointing my step-father with holy oil and praying over him with my mother and I.
Some of you are thinking that this alone is a miracle, right? You go to the hospital and at 4:30 in the afternoon you call for a priest and he is there in 45 minutes? I told you I was blessed, and I know I don’t deserve any of this. I mean there are plenty of places in the country where parishes are closing, priests are few and far between, etc., etc. Maybe one day that will be my experience too, but for now, it isn’t, and as such, I will just thank God for this blessing all the live long day.
But my mom hadn’t been sure that the time had been right though. But afterwards? She told me how much it had meant to her to have Fr. John come as he did; how the moment had been so needed, and so, what’s the word…yes, sacred. Emotional too, but in a good way. Fr. John didn’t have the Blessed Sacrament with him though, because he had been elsewhere and had come straight from the other side of town and to us. He promised to come back the next day so my step-dad could have Communion.
End of story? Nope. Later that evening he was moved to a room in the critical care ward. The next morning, my mother went in to see him and he was still pretty wiped out. Visiting hours are curtailed when someone is in critical condition, so I didn’t get to see him until 12:30 for but a half hour, in which he was asleep the whole time.
Mom and I headed to lunch, as there was 1 1/2 hours before the next visiting window would open up. I set up an electronic control center (my laptop) so I could inform his children (five of them; did I say family?) of his progress, or not, in a manner that I would like if I was 2,000 miles away from my parents and was worried sick about them. E-mails, text messages, bingo, I’m here for you mom and ya’ll! My benevolent employer let me take care of this too, which is again another blessing.
So as the time starts winding down toward our next visit to his room, I said, “well we should call Fr. John and let him know about these truncated visitor hours.” Mom was thinking that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. After all, her husband had been asleep every time we had seen him, hadn’t eaten, etc. I let the idea rest. Besides, she mentioned, he had already received the anointing.
And here comes a Joe Six-Pack moment. Are you ready? As we were waiting to see him again, before they opened the doors to the ward, I told my mom that the Sacraments are to Christians like oil is to an engine. Imagine two engines that are identical, side by side. One has oil, and one doesn’t. From the outside and inside, they look exactly the same. However, the motor lubricated with oil will last a long time, while the one without oil will destroy itself from the heat of friction. The sacraments are like that oil in the motor, savvy? She said, “Hmmm, that sounds like something you could write about.” Heh!
When we went in, we met the attending physician, and discussed treatment of his now known condition (thank God for blood tests), etc. Then, my step-dad woke up. He was hungry, he said (!) and he asked for food. That’s a good sign, see? We then watched him devour a cup of orange sherbet, and he was able to do it all by himself, whereas the day before, he couldn’t even lift a cup of water. The visiting “window” closed and we had to leave, and I again suggested that we call Father John. “Well we had the anointing and that should be fine.”
So I went home. But the whole way home I could not stop thinking that my step-fathers’ recovery was sort of miraculous. So when I got home, having pondered these thoughts, and what had happened thus far, I called Mom up and said, “You know how neat the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick was yesterday? I think it may have helped bring your husband back from the brink. I know it sanctified his situation, and you know what? If you think that sacrament is powerful, then the Blessed Sacrament flat blows it away because it is the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Fr. John can bring Christ right there into the room with us all.”
Crickets did not chirp, folks. Fr. John was called, and he came again, this time bringing Our Lord with him in Body and Spirit. We celebrated the Eucharist right there in the critical care room, with beautiful prayers that sanctified the setting, and everyone who is working to heal my step-dad. If he is to be healed, this is the way to go about it. And if he isn’t, this is still the way to go about it. Life lived sacramentally and joyfully.
The Sacraments are the means which Jesus and his Church have given us to survive our pilgrimage here on earth, folks. You either experience this and “get it,” or you don’t. It takes the faith of a child to believe it, but there it is. And like I told my mother, we do not get all parsimonious in the use of the Healing Sacraments. Receive them when you need them. Knock, and the door will be opened. Because like the Fram oil filter commercial guys say, “you can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” Remember them?
I’m small; infinitesimally small. And I’ll happily pay now, and pray now, thank you very much. And if you would be so kind, dear readers, your prayers are appreciated for my very extended family too. Thank you.
And one last thing about my step-dad. He has now been moved to a regular room and is no longer in “critical” condition. Thanks be to God.