LITURGY AND SACRAMENTS
By Fr. Eddie Murphy S.J.
During this course we will look at the Sacraments of the ORDER and the ANNOINTMENT OF THE SICK.
SACRAMENT OF THE ORDER
We will look at it under a double aspect:
A- Christian Ministry
B- Development of Christian Ministry
At the time of the early Christian community there were a lot of Gifts and so a lot of Ministry. The Holy Spirit was giving Gifts to everybody and everybody was active in edifying the Church, the Body of Christ. It was the same Spirit who was working in everybody and through everybody, so they could work together.
It shows the different gifts of the Spirit. What kind of gift do I have? How can I build up the community? What can I do and how can I do? How do I recognize that is a gift from the Spirit?
EPH. 4:11-13 ACTS 6:1-6
If I were an early Christian, what role would I have taken? At that time everybody was doing something, was very active and there were a lot of variety of services. It was the same Spirit who gave the gifts and who was taking all these gifts together.
And today? How do the Christians act? Only few people work, others vegetate. How is it that at the early time the Spirit could give so many gifts and all were shared, and now why not? Today most of the Catholics are passive and only few really work for the building up of the Church. Here is the problem: the Holy Spirit cannot work in them because they are passive. We have to open ourselves to a different way of looking at the Christian community today. Some feel ashamed to belong to the Christian community and so they do not do anything. Some are saying that it is because there are only few priests today. The Church is not only priests, but it is the whole people of God. How can we go and encounter the Spirit that was at work at the beginning? There is a great hope, but also we have to change some of our thoughts.
Let us now look at JESUS
Jesus was a Jew and so he was imbued by a lot of his culture. At his time there were also different kinds of ministry:
1- PRIEST= They were concerned with the ritual. They were persons who were not too much flexible, but rigid and so not inclined to many changes. They were working in the Temple waiting for the People to come to them and give offerings. It was a ritual concerned with the sacrifices of animals because most of the people were farmers, so it was an agriculture society and culture. In two generations the Romans destroyed the Temple and from that moment there were no more sacrifice because the people were not going to the Temple anymore and the priesthood ceased to exist.
2- PHARISEES= they were those people who were studying the law and the meaning of the words and were practicing them ad litteram. Jesus attacked them many times because, even if they were religious people, they were sticking to the law too much; they were fundamentalist. There were 613 numbers of the law to be observed, and only in observing them all one was an upright man.
They also were people of great knowledge of the TORA but Jesus told them many times that they missed the point of a correct interpretation. The missed point was to worship God and to love neighbors and not to spend all the time trying to observe ad litteram the law. Even now, in Israel, the Pharisees keep their religiosity.
3- PROPHETS= They were people chosen by God to lead the people to live an upright life. They were bringing the Word of God to the people to do good, to change, to be converted and return to God. They were also foretelling the future, it means the consequences of what was going to happen if they were not keeping and acting according to the word of God and they were not converted. In the time of Jesus John the Baptist was the prophet.
4- HOUSEHOLDER= He was a good Jews who was leading the celebration of the Passover in his house. He was a very important person.
Let us now look at Jesus: was he:
1- A Priest? He had no contact with the priests, he never touched sacrifices; he was a lay man.
2- A Pharisee? He was a preacher, he preached many times even in the Synagogues and people recognized him as the preacher.
3- A Prophet? Yes, he was a prophet because he brought the Word of the Father to the people.
4- A householder? Yes, he was the head of his house, even in the Last Supper.
Of these four ministries Jesus did not exercised that of the priest according to the Jews mentality.
Jesus started to gather disciples around him and also women because the group was increasing. Jesus gave to his disciples the authority to baptize; he celebrated with them his own death; he was not killed, he gave his own life by himself. His own death was an important event because it was bringing salvation. In this sense He was also priest, he was both the priest offering the sacrifice and the victim offered. But he exercised this ministry only at the end of his life.
How did Jesus consider authority? The disciples were arguing among themselves who will be the first in the kingdom; and Jesus asks them: what were you arguing among yourselves on the way? So Jesus teaches them what they should do to live together. Jesus was aware of the power given to him by the Father of preaching, healing, casting demons, etc; but now he has to do the will of the Father who wants him to be a teacher. What does he teach? During His Baptism, Jesus had a great experience of the Father and so he wanted to share and proclaim to everybody that experience; he started to preach the Father.
RELIGION: it is always pointing to somebody outside oneself. A religious person is the one who points always outside himself and so Jesus was a very religious person because he was pointing and referring always to his Father. “My words are not of my own, my life is not of my own”. Basically Jesus is serving his Father; so the idea of authority in Jesus was to look after somebody else outside him, that somebody was his Father. His authority was based on His Father. Jesus in the parable of the good steward has used the word “STEWARD”; it means STE-WARD = KEEPER OF THE HOUSE. So Jesus is not acting and preaching on his own authority but on the authority of the Father; he is the one who look after, care for, keep it, protect it for the Father and in the name of the Father.
In the Genesis God gave us the authority to be the housekeepers of the world, to care for it, to look after it, to be the guardians of it.
We are sent to be messengers of Christ; it is not our message, we keep it for Jesus and in the name of Jesus. Therefore the authority of every Christians is to look after what is belonging to the Master.
Lk 12:42-48 The authority in the Christian community is the one who looks after the community in the name of Christ, for Christ, in the place of Christ. It is not ours this authority, it belongs to Jesus who has entrusted it to us.
Authority: the good housekeeper, the guardian, vigilant for Jesus, in his name. That is why the Pope calls himself “servant of the servants of God”.
The source of the authority is the Father.
Servant = servile
Steward = official
We are not the center of the world, even of our inner world; God is the center because we are only his gifts, God is a loving God so he gives us what is the best for us. That is why to do the will of God is the best medicine for us. Usually we prefer what pleases us, gives us pleasure, more power and honor and this is not the best for us, neither the will of God. God is a loving God who gives only the best but in his own way. We will be sure of the will of God only when we are totally and wholly open to him.
Way of exercising authority:
Servant = to serve God. The exercise of our authority is to serve, to give a service and not to be Number one, or to stay in power and honor. There are many ways of exercising authority according to the office each one has received; any how it is a responsibility given to somebody and he has to try to give back to the people what is theirs. Authority is to care for, to look after the people of whom we are in charge and have been entrusted to us. Christian authority is caring for, to look after; it is coming from the Father of whose authority we are keepers, caring for and stewards. My life is not mine, it is a gift of the Father to me and I have to carry for, use it for becoming what He wants me to become.
What does service mean?
It means commitment to others. To be committed to others doesn’t mean to be 24 hours a day for them, to do too much (exaggeration) otherwise we will BURN OUT, and this is not the will of God. It is very easy for us and to be tempted to concentrate more on doing than in being. When we have no time to reflect on our own life we miss the meaning of service and we get lost, we feel empty and we go on crisis.
Purpose of prayer: is to reflect on our life, what kind of person God invites us to be and to find him in our life.
St. Paul was a fanatic Pharisee and also a fanatic Christian totally committed. Like him some people got from God the gift of being able to do a lot of work (usually they are the extroverted), but sometimes they do too much. This gift is not for everybody; we need to take time also for ourselves (See the example of St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus).
Service: to do what we can do according to our gifts, always realizing that is Jesus who work through us and in us. We cannot give only, we need also to get otherwise we will find ourselves empty. We get from Jesus. We need to help people to see themselves as they are and after that we need to take time for ourselves (Confessions, spiritual direction, etc.)
In the use of my talents I fulfill myself and I feel fulfilled. When people are fulfilled they find meaning in life and their life become meaningful. In the service of others we have to find our inner fulfillment and not gratification (sensibility level, egoistic and narcissistic attitude). We need to become self-emptying persons (persons who empty themselves of themselves) in other to reach out other people.
Instead when we get burnt-out or we feel empty is selfishness, egoism, narcissism).
Elements of Christian Ministry:
1- Doing something: something concrete, practical and graspable.
2- For the advent of the Kingdom: the Kingdom is the way Jesus looks at life: helping one another, forgiving one another, etc. The Kingdom of God is the way of living, is to live as Jesus lived, with his attitudes, the way he cared for, is to invite people to forgive, is peace, justice. The Kingdom is to render present Jesus Himself in the way he lived; it is anything that makes a better world.
3- In public: in the name and in front of the Christian community. If we do in private is not ministry.
4- On behalf of the Christian community: we are delegated by the Christian community, in their name, for them
5- It is a gift from the Spirit: it is something given by the Spirit; there are different gifts given by the Spiritand so there are different ministries.
6- It is an activity in its own right: the activity must go according to the gift.
Ministry doesn’t mean that we must be ordained as priests; priesthood is only one of the different Ministries. Every gift must be used for the community; that is why we have to revise our idea of ministry as it is conceived now.
B-DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Where are we now and were should we go?
I- EARLY CHRISTIANS
1- FIRST GENERATION (30-70 AD) = Apostolic times
2- SECOND GENERATION (70-100 AD) = Writings times
3- THIRD GENERATION (100 AND UP) = Maturity
1- FIRST GENERATION (30-70)
The very early Christians were full of enthusiasm; full of the Spirit of the Message of Christ and this had a great impact on people. The Apostles were the rock, the pillars of the Christians. Basically the early Christians were lay people. All these lay people were talking in public and preaching. They were uneducated, simple people, but full of the message that was for everybody and they were calling and respecting each other as brothers and sisters. They were a good charismatic people, there was not written theology but they were practicing what they were preaching and inviting others to do the same. Practically it was a counter culture for their times. Even the pagans could become Christians without the need of becoming Jews. They were a very radical lay group.
Structure: apostles, disciples, lay persons. But when the group started to enlarge a lot of them volunteered to give a service in the community and so they started different service according to the gifts of each one.
They were faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of the bread and prayer. Brotherhood was very strong among them, very often (how much we do not know) they were doing what Jesus has done in the Last Supper; they were baptizing as Jesus taught them. Baptism was the means, the way of joining the group, it was an initiation ceremony into the group; they were anointing also the people with oil. The Apostles were looking after them.
One thing is very clear, the early Christians understood very well that Jesus laid down his life for them and that in his death he established a new people through forgiveness of sins. They understood very clearly Jesus as PRIEST.
A priest is the one who stands between people and God and brings back the people to God: this is the meaning of sacrifice as Jesus has done. Jesus willingly and freely laid down his life for the people and this is the sacrifice he made; he was both the offering one and the victim and this is why the early Christians saw Jesus as PRIEST. For this reason they were calling nobody priest but Jesus.
Very soon many Christians left Jerusalem and so the Apostles set up different groups in different places and put somebody in charge to look after each community; these people were called ELDERS. Every Christian was active in the community in his own way and according his own gifts received by the same Spirit who was the source of unification of all the gifts together.
Among the gifts received by the Holy Spirit, Paul classifies three of them as the top gifts: FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE. Among the three, LOVE is the first. The first early communities could remain united and one because of the work of the Holy Spirit and the task of the elders was to look and care if they were one.
The Spirit was the driving force of the early Christian community, the one who guided and developed the community.
The early community was very dynamic, full of the message of Christ, enthusiastic; there was always the danger of been split and so the Spirit himself was taking the community united. All the members of the community had a job to do not a position to defend.
2- SECOND GENERATION (WRITING)
The Apostles died; Christians begun to worry about the teaching of Jesus and so they started to write down what the Apostles had preached and they became the people of the books (Gospels). Now we have quite a lot of knowledge on how the Gospels have been put together and have been written. The first part that has been written is the Passion and Death of Jesus because it was what had struck the most the people; that is why it has been written in details. At that time a lot of stories about the teaching of Jesus were going around and so the Christians started to search for, collecting and putting together. In order to write down they have to rely on what they could remember (traditions).
Apostles: they kept always the number of 13 and nobody later on was called again Apostle in that sense. Paul later on called himself Apostle even if he was never with Jesus. In this sense the number remained and is still13.
Mt 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evil-doers”.
This phrase is coming from the second generation when there were a lot of preachers but not authorized by the Elders. It means that the Christians of that time were dealing with their concrete situation. They were interpreting the message of Jesus according their situations and their own way of living. That is why they tried to preserve the teaching of Jesus through writings. This is the period also when the Church started to be more organized and the elders more involved in the concrete life of the Christians.
Mt 28:18-21 it comes from the second generation and it shows a Church more organized and a community settled down.
Mk 16:15-18 this phrase belongs to the first generation.
To be able to keep a group together we need also certain human structures, but the problem is that later we start to think and saying that everything is coming from God, even the human structures. In the early Church there were no human structures but only the Apostles, the disciples, deacons and other workers. If there are no human structure to keep the community together, the community will collapse. The Christian community is the people of God, coming from God but there is also the need of human structures.
As we have already seen, in the second generation they started to write down the teaching of the Apostles and to send copies to other Churches. It is the time when many people wrote in the name of Paul or other Apostles, but the Church didn’t accept these writings as inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Church was always very careful in accepting these writings as inspired. This is the time the Church began to be more settled with there own elders and preachers; that is why they started not to accept other preachers from other places; in so doing even the prophets disappeared.
3d GENERATION = THE MATURE COMMUNITY (100 YEARS AND UP)
The church is already settled and the prophets had gone. The church started to expand herself in the remote villages (Pagus = in English = peasants = and later the derivation of pagans). Looking after the community we find:
¨ Other ministries of which Paul talks about
The first three are very strong ministries and required people committed totally at permanent level, it means dedicated only to these ministries and for the whole life.
The forth one instead is only occasional ministry, on daily basis.
The development of the Church was both at human level (structures to keep people together) and at level of the Spirit (at this level was the Spirit who kept the people united, in communion, one).
So the structures at human level, as any other human instrument, if they do not work according and for the task they have been formed, they can be changed.
II- THE CHURCH IN THE FIRST CENTURY
In the first 200 years the Church went through certain changes. History now reveals to us why we are still living under certain structures. Let us have a look at the changes that happened in the Church in this period:
1- SECULARIZATION: (made secular).
For the first 200-300 years the Church was small, dynamic and under persecutions; Christians were very convinced people. The emperor later realized that if he wanted to keep the empire united there was a need also of having only one religion and so in the year 325 the emperor Costantine declared the Catholic religion the only one religion of the empire. A lot of people joined the Church, some good and some less convinced of the faith.
It is the time of the Fathers of the Church; they were very brilliant and intelligent Christians, very capable not only in preaching, writing but also in leading the Christians. The Emperor gave them power, authority, money and more territory to look after and to protect. They became rich and started to build up great Basilicas. Bishops became little by little also princes under the Emperor and things in their territory could go smoothly. This was the process of secularization. The towns began to become bigger, bishops started to live in big and luxurious palaces in these big cities and so they isolated themselves the more and more from the people. They became very powerful, more civil servants than spiritual leaders.
2- CENTRALIZATION: (It is something that is still there even at our times).
Only if we are aware from were it is coming we can understand why bishops are living in big palaces, big offices, involved in the affairs of the towns and in the problems of the countries and politics. They were so potent that the Emperor started to control bishops as it was form many centuries. Even in the recent past there were great battles between the Holy See and certain governments for the appointment of the bishops; but since some years ago the Church succeeded in getting freedom and now all the bishops are nominated in Rome and only from Rome.
From here we can see the process of centralization. Now it is Rome who nominates bishops, before instead the people elected them. It is true that the Spirit works through human structures, through human mediations but there is also the need to facilitate His work. Bishops are still very important persons and potent.
3- SACRALIZATION: (made holy, sacred).
There was a separation between the material and the spiritual. Many objects were separated from their ordinary meaning and work and put in the hands of certain persons as a sign of authority and holiness. It is a normal process to separate something and make it holy or for the use only in holy ceremonies, at the service of God in order to put in communion with God. Normal to use things or make things holy. The problem arises when we make these things to be too holy it is very dangerous because we take risk of loosing the meaning of these objects. (See the altar, chalice, bread and wine, crucifix, etc). Even the Crosses of today are more Passion Crosses than Resurrection Crosses; in this way we risk of loosing the meaning of the resurrection. We must keep this sense of holiness, but not to make it too much holy. When we loose the meaning of holy we fall in the trap of making objects to become idols; we need to know the meaning of what we are celebrating.
– Ex. To be ordained priest. The ordination should be for the community and in accordance of the needs of the community, if there are not communities there should not be priests or ordination of priests. The danger of the ABSOLUTE ORDINATIONS is that we make it to become a position of honor, security, privilege and power.
– The Eucharist: now many are ordained just for the Eucharist (to celebrate the Mass). At the beginning it was not like that, they were ordained for the community. If they are ordained only for the Eucharist it quite easy to understand why they are venerated as Holy persons, because they are more near to Jesus, but this is not what makes a person holy. And also in modern time the character of the ordination is very associated with the idea of power, dignity, honor and position and not with the idea that he is for the community.
4- CLERICALISATION: (clerics take power).
Reasons for this development:
- At the beginning bishops became princes and so they moved away from the community, from the people. They became powerful.
- The Church began to be spread as the empire; priests started to take decisions by themselves, they received more and more power, position for themselves and they exercised it apart from the community.
- The early Christian community believed Christ as a Prophet, a Housekeeper, as the High Priest. But some years later the priests took over the title of high priest and they started to behave like the priests of the OT. In the OT priests were very important even in front of the King and the priests of the NT took on themselves the same prerogatives and power. Even now Christians think of priests as it was in the OT. The elders, the priest became more concerned with the Eucharist, ceremonies than to be leaders of the community. In the early Church priests were leaders of the community than performers of rituals, now it is exactly the opposite. Priests should be more concerned with preaching the Word of God than rituals. The life of Christ was interpreted as a sacrifice through which people were brought back to Christ and for this reason he was considered as High Priest. The community is a priestly community and the priest should be only a leader, a preacher of the Word. Today priests are perhaps good in rituals, but not so good in preaching the Word, when before it was in the opposite way. After some centuries the altar in many Churches and communities has been separated from the people with curtains and even walls.
5-PATRIARCHY: (Men take power). Men dominated and took over completely the power and they controlled everything like kings.
For women there was no place at all. Let us go and see in the NT.
Luke: baptism of John, Zechariah and Elisabeth are mentioned together.
Baptism of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are together. Simeon and Anna; even when Luke speaks of the miracles he intervals the miracles of men and women showing that for Jesus they are equal.
It is very clear that Luke reflects the teaching of Jesus where all were EQUAL before the Lord. This concept is very strong in the life of Jesus and of the first community. The teaching of Jesus is very against the culture of the Jews and against many prejudices of his time. It was that radical teaching of Jesus that attracted people to come to him.
So did it come that later we have changed? (See just the difference between Canon II made by the early Church and Canon III made 20 years ago where only men are mentioned and never women). The problem arose because the Church has been run always by men.
St. Paul in his letters mentions several times the name of women who were his followers and co-workers for Christ. Co-workers means: preaching the Kerygma with Paul in the Synagogues and to the Christians communities. Paul wanted them to be respected because they were doing the same preaching and fighting for the Lord as he was doing.
In Paul women were Key evangelizers and among the 26 names that Paul mentions as his collaborators on preaching half are women.
Houses as Churches: the early Christians met together for the Eucharist and prayer in private houses. How many of these houses, in Paul, are under the name of women?
In Acts as soon that Peter realized he was free from prison he went immediately to the house of Mary mother of John Mark.
In Philippians Paul send greetings to Appia and the Church who meets in her house.
Again in Acts he addresses to Ninpha and to the people meeting in her house and so in many other letters.
In the early Church, women’s house became the community’s Church were they could meet and celebrate the Eucharist and the Word of God.
Only later the Church started to be run only by men and clerics and they took over even in the celebration of the Eucharist and the Word. Will women be ordained priests in the future???? Those who will live will see.
C- MODERN CHURCH
Before Vatican II the Church for many reasons could not change and till Vatican II the Church was defined as a structural Church; Vatican II instead defined the Church as “people of God” and this was an enormous change. The people of God, the community became the most important and so the people who serves the community has a meaning till the community exists and so needs people at her service. Before Vatican II the importance was given to the ministries but with Vatican II the community comes first and the ministries later at her service.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF MINISTRIES:
1- General: everybody is called to build and serve the Christian community now and then.
2- General but not stable: these are ministries with a certain commitment and for a limited time (counselors, masters, teachers, etc.).
3- Specific, stable and permanent: it demands persons who take these ministries for the whole life, permanently and so they must be prepared for. The three permanent ministries are:
In the Church there is the need of having a permanent structure and these three ministries are ordained for this purpose: to maintain alive the human structure. They are three different ministries from each other, separated because they are three different gifts of the Holy Spirit and they are not superior to each other. It is the Holy Spirit who makes them different; it the Holy Spirit who gives these gifts and so it is not simply because somebody has received them that they are holier than other people who has received different gifts; only the Church is Holy. Ministries are fits given by the Holy Spirit for a service, for looking after the Christian community. In between the second and the third group there are a variety of different ministries.
In Africa for example, to be a Catechist is a very important ministry.
Anyhow, Vatican II begins now to take shape and the results start to be already visible in the Church.
Modern society has become extremely complex and only few people cannot run all the problems. Persons are becoming the more and more specialized only in one or just few things in order to get a better knowledge. We must put the emphasis now on the need of having many and different persons who are willing to come over and serve the community according to their gifts.
Ministry is a gift given by the Spirit for the build up of the Christian community the Church; there are many and different gifts. This is the way of developing the Church and this is the future of the Church.
If we refuse to go this way we are opposing the Holy Spirit.
ANOINTMENT OF THE SICK
It is a pastoral ministry to the sick and we can do it without anointing the sick. Working with the sick is not easy and this is why it is a great ministry. It is good to help people to handle their own suffering and so the sacrament of the Anointment of the sick calls us to do a pastoral ministry for people who are suffering, have difficulties, problems and wounds.
How to handle sickness and death? It one of the most difficult problems because it is a searching for meaning in life. It is good also to have problems because we are challenged to find meaning in life and this is a very deep human need and also aspiration. We are challenged to give a meaning, a direction to our life because if we do not find a meaning in our life we cannot pass the good news to other and so they are forced to go to other people or to other sources. We need to find a direction in our life in order to be able to help others to find direction and meaning in their life. Speaking of suffering and death we are challenged to confront the unknown, to take a risk, to make a jump in the darkness and this will help us to grow, to conquer them, to be free from the fear of them and this will make us happy in life and able to help others.
Jesus came to live in this world to show us the way to home, to happiness here in this world and that is why he spoke of a recompense of hundred folds in this world, of happiness and joy here and now.
What about sickness? Why was Jesus killed so brutally? The answer is that if we are able to conquer suffering and death as Jesus has done we will become really fully human persons as he became. Jesus accepted suffering, he overcame and conquered it and he was completed transformed in a new person (The Risen Lord), he found his home and the Father since here in this world. Suffering if accepted and handled in the right sense, if conquered through a victory over it will transforms people in better persons. When we let us to be challenged by problems, difficulties and suffering we are transformed much more.
Suffering can also kill, make persons to become un-human and destroy persons. Suffering can transform and destroy: it is our freedom that makes us to choose which one should prevail in our life.
How do we handle our suffering? We are free to choose for the better or the worse in our life. Nobody can make me suffer in a particular way: with bitterness or with joy; it is my own choice. People can make me suffer, but the way of handling suffering for the worse or for the better is only my personal choice. If we let us transformed by suffering the reward is peace, inner joy and life becomes meaningful. We must look at Jesus and imitate him in the way he handled up his suffering and difficulties; he is the way.
When we look at our suffering it is spontaneous to ask ourselves: how can God be good to us if he permits suffering to visit us? In front of such a big question we can reject God or to accept suffering and be transformed by it in better persons.
How did the HUMAN JESUS handle his difficulties and suffering? He went to Jerusalem willing and freely because that was the will of the Father. Even Jesus as human person struggled to accept suffering but he accepted putting always in front of him the will of the Father, his LOVE for the Father. When we face our struggles we have to put ourselves in front of God with the same attitude of Jesus. Jesus could see a value, a purpose in his death: the redemption of the humanity and he celebrated his death in the last supper leaving it as a memorial to us of what he has done so that we could do the same always remembering what he has done.
ABBA = DADDY is the word a child uses in calling his father. Jesus taught us to call God with the same word, the same attitude a child uses and has when he calls his father. Why? Because a child firmly believes his father can do everything for him and this was the attitude of Jesus towards his Father.
Sometimes we do not understand the meaning of suffering, but we can go beyond in faith even if it will take a long time to understand it and perhaps we are not even able to find it. To accept suffering with love it what makes us to be really trusting persons in the ABBA.
Even the disciples and the Apostles never accepted a suffering Messiah because their idea was that of a glorious, triumphant King; from here their disappointment in front of a different reality. (See the two disciples of Emmaus).
Suffering is a part of the plain of God and for this reason Jesus came to show us how to suffer, to die and to be risen. To be a real human being means to be able to accept suffering and still believe that God loves us. The more we are able to conquer suffering the more we will be able to grow as better people, more faithful and loving persons and this way we can become fully human, fully alive persons. If we do not copy with suffering, struggles, hardships they will conquer us, overcome us and we will live a life of hell without any happiness in our life.
The attitude that we must have in front of suffering is that of a little child, that of Jesus himself in front of so great suffering: we do not understand but we trust in ABBA and firmly believe He loves us.
Jesus conquered death because he accepted it and took it with patience and love and so in it he found new life, more compassion, more trustfulness, more thankfulness, more understanding of the suffering of others.). Only then we are really able to understand and say “THANKS TO GOD” because he set us free and has prepared us for a new mission of healing, of salvation.
Sometimes hardships follow us but most of the time we are the cause of hardships for ourselves because we do not accept them in our own life. We should always be in the attitude of being able to accept ourselves as we are and put ourselves in front of God asking him to forgive us because we are sinners, able to make mistakes, always in the possibility of falling down and commit sins.
We should also become aware of how we handle our own hardships and suffering in order to share, to help other to handle their sickness, suffering, hardships and grieves.
This is the pastoral dimension of the sacrament of Anointment of the Sick.
Many times we suggest to people in suffering to pray and the suggestion is good. But we should also realized that there are things that we can do and we have to do in order to overcome suffering and hardships; prayer will help us to start and to continue to do it. We must be able to change what we can change and accept that sometimes we cannot change many things and even we cannot do anything about.
What we need is to be able to surrender in front of what we cannot change, but also in front of the reality of what we can change and perhaps we are unwilling to change.
PRACTICAL PASTORAL THEOLOGY
How can I practically help a person who is sick to be able to accept the reality?
As Christian I can help a sick person to get psychologically and spiritually healed even without perform the Sacrament of the Anointment of the Sick. Many persons have this gift. What does feel a person in the sickness? Sometimes they suffer more for being in the hospital then for the sickness. They suffer interiorly because of different problems both personal and external. A sick person in the hospital feel confused because they have to leave his home, family and friends, work and so he is full of worries like a fish out of water. Hospital is the best place to get physically cured but not for curing the interior suffering; patients feel isolated, not respected by doctors and nurses. From here the need of HUMANIZING hospitals, patients are called by numbers and not by name. They feel they have lost their identity and that they have no rights even regarding their sickness; many times they feel they are simple material of experimentation in the hands of doctors. In hospitals people are known as patients and not as persons; patients feel the need to be recognized as they are and for what they are. Hospitals are always painful place in the psychological sense.
Those who are going to visit the patients need to be able to understand their feelings because doctors and nurses cure the body but they are not interested in the psychological and spiritual problems and suffering of the patients.
So what can we do about the person of the patient? Sickness brings many implications; that is why we need to be able to help them to share and relieve their feelings with patience even if it will take a long time. It is not an easy mission. We should be able to recognize their feeling going beyond their words. Sometimes just to be there in silence is enough: our presence speaks by itself.
We need to learn from our own experience, analyze it, become aware of our own feelings; our experience becomes our teacher. We need to get the feedback from our own experience. We never learn unless we reflect on what we feel and we open them to persons with more experience; this is the only way we can learn how to help other people.
We should also not to give promises because in that way we will make people to become more anxious, getting more expectations that if not fulfilled will make them to fall in frustrations and disappointment.
How does sick persons copy with their sickness? Some will accept; some will refuse and for those who refuse there are different steps through which they must pass. According to Dr. Kubler Ross there are 5 different stages:
1- DENIAL = The first reaction is not to accept saying to themselves that it not true, they try to forget, to repress, etc. the problem is not here, but in the fact that if they are unable to accept the truth the problem will start. (In some persons the block of the memory). This stage anyhow is a helping stage in the process of healing and acceptance. How long does it take to go through this stage and be able to overcome it? It is up to the sick persons and the ability of those who try to help them.
2- ANGER = this is a natural stage that a sick person has to pass through in sickness. They blame the doctor, the nurses, other persons, never themselves. It is already a better helping stage because it shows that we are already starting to accept the reality at least in the subconscious. To blame others is a mechanism of self defense, of ex-culpation. What the person needs is to pas through this stage and overcome it moving to the next stage.
3- BARGAINING = here there is no more denial, less anger and the person is looking for something else to survive. He starts to bargain with God, the family, etc. the person is still in the process of trying to escape from the real problem and he tries to fight against illusions. It is not yet a step to reality and so the promises the sick person makes at this stage are not really binding because they are not real promises. The persons do it out of fear.
4- DEPRESSION = the person sees that she can do nothing and start to ask herself: what is it useful to continue? It is life and so she starts to give up. This can bring to suicide or to the final stage.
5- ACCEPTANCE = to reach this stage it takes time; not more time but the time needed by that person. The time is proportioned also to the depth of the hound and to the seriousness of the sickness. We need to wait till the time for that person is ripe. It depends also from the habit, the training that a person had in her personal life in overcoming grief and hardships, personal experience in this field is the best teacher.
It is very interesting to ask myself now how much time it will take to me to accept the reality of a sickness or a wound of the past. If it takes a lot time it means I have not yet grown enough in this process. Acceptance brings peace, tranquillity, serenity and inner joy.
GRIEF: it is not only sickness but also hardships that make us to suffer. So this process is first of all for me, for my personal growth. I should ask myself in which area do I have a wound and in which stage do I am in the process of healing?
To do pastoral ministry with the sick we need to seat down, become listeners and let the people to free themselves of their burdens. The ritual of the Sacrament of the Anointment of the Sick has no meaning unless the patient has pass through this process first. Every Christian person can do this kind of ministry, but he should be prepared for it. Till the present time this sacrament has not being considered a great sacrament because we have lost the true meaning of it, we have forget the process of healing first and little by little has become the sacrament of the dead or of those we have to die. This sacrament is not only a ritual but the sacrament of healing; only when we will be able to understand it in the true meaning we will be able to appreciate it as a great sacrament.
Sometimes the patient accepts the reality, but not the family; so the healing process must be done with the family. When both patient and family accept it is very good to call all the members of the family to celebrate the in anticipation, like Jesus, the death of the sick person to the world and the entrance in the new life.
What to do with those who do not accept the reality? We have to respect people, their freedom. Anyhow nobody can forbid us to be present, stay with them always respecting their choice and freedom.
In order to make this sacrament a living sacrament in our life we need to stop our activities and analyze our life looking back at it and be able to see the hand of the Lord at work in it. The Israelite people looking back at their history, in particular during the hardships in the desert they found out that God was caring for them, looking after them and loving them. That was their history of salvation.
If we really look back in our own life and we are able to pass through the desert of our life, we will find out what was our way of salvation and how God has worked in us, and this will bring us to thank the Lord for his goodness in our own life. If I do not find in myself this sense of thanksgiving it means there is still something in my life I do not accept or deny.
This is a human, natural process; it is the acceptance of God’s love in my life and so my life becomes happy, peaceful, joyful and meaningful.
It is an invitation that we should carry on and apply to our own life.