Bernardo M. Villegas
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Taking Care of the Sick

           Those of us who are senior citizens spend a good fraction of our time attending wakes because many of our contemporaries are moving to the afterlife.   We say we are already in the "departure lounge" and have our respective boarding passes.  By the same token, a good number of those who are of our generation may be suffering from some illness or another, some of them terminal.  Especially if they are our relatives or close friends, we have to know how to comfort them in their sickness and more importantly to prepare them spiritually for their final encounter with their Creator.  As we know from our Catholic faith, each soul will have a particular judgement immediately after his or her death.

          One of the apostolic constitutions written by Pope Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, whose inauguration we are celebrating this year through the Year of Faith, was that on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  It is good to remember that we do our sick relatives and friend a lot of good--both humanly and spiritually--by making sure that they are able to receive this sacrament at the opportune time.  As the document Hominum Dolores states, this sacrament gives to the sick person the grace of the Holy  Spirit by which the whole person is made healthy, encouraged to trust in God and is given the strength to resist temptations of the Evil One and avoid succumbing to anxiety about death.   The sick are thus able not only to bear their affliction with courage but also to struggle to overcome it.  Restoration to health may follow the reception of the sacrament  (that is why it is no longer called extreme unction since recovery from sickness may be one of the benefits of receiving the Sacrament if God so wills).    If such be needed, the sacrament also offers the sick person the forgiveness of sin and the completion of Christian penance.

          The following are some practical guidelines about the administering of the sacrament:

          -The sacrament may be imparted again if the sick person recovers subsequently or if the danger becomes greater in the course of the same illness.

          -A sick person should be anointed before surgery whenever the surgery is necessitated by a dangerous illness.

          -Elderly people may be anointed if they are weak, though not dangerously ill.

          -Sick children may be anointed if they are sufficiently mature to be comforted by the sacrament.

          -The faithful should be taught in public and in private to ask for anointing and when the time for anointing comes, to accept it with total faith and devotion, not misusing the sacrament by postponing its reception.  All who have the care of the sick should be taught the meaning and purpose of anointing.

          -Sick people who have lost consciousness or have lost the use of reason may be anointed if, as befits Christians, they would have requested it if they had been in possession of their faculties.

          -When a priest is called to minister to a person who is already dead, he should pray for the dead person, asking God to forgive him or her and to receive him or her into his kingdom.  The priest must not in such circumstances administer the sacrament of anointing.  But if the priest is not sure if the person is dead, he may administer the sacrament conditionally.

          Fortunately for those who are sick in the Philippines, our culture and especially the extended family system still provide for them a caring and pleasant environment in the midst of their sufferings.  Above all, because of our Catholic faith, we are able to provide the sick among us the assurance of spiritual assistance through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  Let us never fail to make use of all the abundant spiritual goods that Christ left for our salvation.  The Sacrament of the Anointing of Sick is one of these spiritual treasures.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia