This afternoon the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey, with whom I am currently living, gathered in the room of Father John Oetgen to celebrate the Rite of Anointing of the Sick. Father John is one of the senior monks of this monastic community spending a lifetime serving the Lord as a monk, a priest and a professor literature. He’s in 80s and he’s been infirmed for the last 4 months. He’s received this sacrament before, but Father Abbot Placid thought it best to celebrate the sacrament now as Father John has grown weaker in body. What comfort there is when brothers “gather in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is present among us” to pray and show affection for a brother.
If you have been present for the sacrament of the sick you know how moving it is. I was moved to tears several times during the rite probably for no other reason than what I was experiencing was a great theology at work: God’s praise and our conversion. While I don’t know Father John well, the humanity of act of gathering in prayer and companionship was beautiful.
The rite, recalling the words of sacred Scripture, remind us that the sick came to Jesus for healing; moreover, we recall that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is what sets us free from sin and death. This is the faith we have professed, this is the faith we gave witness to today with Father John, it is the faith that comforts and sustains Father John.
Addressing the faithful, the Saint James exhorts us to care for the ill in this manner: “Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.” This we did and it was beautiful.
With the laying on of hands and prayer, we asked God to grant Father John comfort in his suffering, courage in the face of fear, patience if distressed and hope when sad and the support of the brothers (and all others) when feeling alone. So, I ask you to pray that God will do the loving thing for Father John and to assist the monks here in all ways that Providence sees fit.