The Sacrament of the Sick: a Personal View

There is a moment during the Sacrament of the Sick when the priest anoints the hands of the sick person with a beautiful prayer for healing and strengthening. Theologically, it is a reminder that death is followed by Resurrection and recalls not only apostolic practice, but Jesus’ own anointing to suffering and death. This morning, however, I thought I would share with you a few distinctly untheological thoughts following my own anointing yesterday, concentrating not on words but on gestures. I hope they will be of help to others; but if not, they can be forgotten.

Our hands are such an important part of our body. They are one of the principal ways in which we know the world, through our sense of touch. We use our hands to work, make music, write, so many things. At some point during the conferral of the Sacrament, the sick person opens his or her hands to receive an anointing on them. That open-handed gesture before the altar is deeply significant. That is how we both give and receive. Everything we have comes to us as gift, and for all of us there is a time when everything we have and are must be handed back again. But our open hands are not left completely empty. They are marked with the sign of the Cross, traced upon the palms with holy oil. They are, if you like, etched with the mark of the nails that pierced the flesh of Jesus himself. Though there are many lonely moments for those who are seriously sick, they are never truly alone. They are always and everywhere accompanied by the Lord.

Yesterday, when I was anointed, the priest did not leave my hands stretched out before the altar but joined them together again, just as the bishop joins together the hands of a priest at his ordination. For me, it was a reminder that, although much of my work may now be done, and I must accept that many of the things I want to do must be laid aside unattempted, the most important work, the one for which I became a nun, is not only NOT ended, it is intensified. I am referring, of course, to the work of prayer, which is God’s work in us and never done because it continues into eternity.

Today, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, we are asked to pray for the sick and those who have care of them. I believe our prayer should be joyful and hopeful. That does not mean pretending to a courage and resignation we do not feel. It does not mean refusing to ask for healing. I think it means something much more difficult than that. I think it means that all of us, sick or well, need to stand before the altar, real or metaphorical, with open hands, as ready to give as to receive, to allow the Lord to do his work in us as he chooses. Today my own prayer is simply one of gratitude and praise, a heart-felt Gloria Patri.

Personal note
Some of you know that I have an aggressive form of cancer. The treatment plan may or may not succeed in keeping the illness at bay for a long while yet. I rather hope it does, but we just don’t know. I ask your prayers for the community but — an important but — please understand that we don’t want to enter into correspondence about this, etc, etc. It’s just a fact of life (and I do mean life, not death). I have no intention of giving up, nor has Quietnun; we don’t do glum, so please just go on treating us as usual, aware that we may not always be as available to people as we’d like. Thank you.


39 thoughts on “The Sacrament of the Sick: a Personal View”

  1. Dear Sister.
    It saddens me to hear of your illness. Please know that I will keep both you and Quietnun in my prayer, asking for your healing.

    I lost an Uncle yesterday. He lived to the very old age of 95 years, so it was his time to go. Please pray for his soul.

  2. How lucky you are to be on that final stage on the pilgrimage. This is a blessed road, a final spurt to your birth day in heaven.

    I knew in my heart that you had cancer and told my wife that I suspected that last week.

    I say the Divine Office and at each hour I commend the Monastery and both of you to Our Lord. I will do so now and always until I come to join you in our true home.

    Blessed be the Lord

    • Thank you, Stuart. I appreciate your prayers and those of all the others who have commented, but I must emphasize that I have every hope and intention of living as long as possible! I may be on the final stage of the pilgrimage, or not. Right now, I am trying to live as well as possible. ‘Every one of my days was decreed/Before one of them came into being.’ This is only the fourth degree of humility, going on and not giving up.

  3. Thank you, Sister, for sharing this. There is so much of nourishment in what you write, and I know I’m not alone in feeling great gratitude for your presence to us, and your prayer.

    I know someone else in a very similar situation to yourself, and will be keeping you and Quietnun in my prayers just as surely as I keep him & his family.

    Blessings go léor, D

  4. Sr Catherine, my heart and prayers are with you always. We feel so privileged and grateful to have benefitted from yours.

    Most of all, I pray for the peace which passes all understanding and that you will know the embrace of our Heavenly Father in Jesus Christ and the tender ministrations of Mary, Our Lady.

    There is power in praying with Expectant palms upturned. You will be with me at the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Healing and Reconciliation.

    It is not whether hope delivers our dreams, but that Hope delivers…

    Most certainly, we shall meet…

    May you know underneath and roundabout the everlasting arms of love.

  5. Prayers going out daily for you and Quiet Nun – this post resonated with me so powerfully – the time in my own ordination where my hands were anointed and joined together (bound with a linen cloth)… May you find strength and comfort in the power of Christ who called you heart soul and mind to dwell in His life of ministry.
    Thank you for reaching out to us all.

  6. Dear Sister, to life and living! I have had the challenge as well and like you placed myself in God’s care. I know a little of what you all maybe experiencing and the greatest gift one can give, well for me, was loving humour. I send you my best wishes and prayers and will continue to enjoy your living. Lord, give me a full heart so that with gratitude I can empty myself. Lord, give me LIFE, so I can lavish it in the service of the world. Ansari

  7. Thank you for your thoughts on hands. A few years ago I had very bad eczema and psoriasis on my hands, leaving me unable to touch or hold anything. I was surprised how much I’d taken my hands for granted, and how little I could do without them. It made the idea that ‘Jesus has no hands but ours’ much more meaningful.

    Prayers for quietnun and you, and the community [‘]

  8. My dear sister in The Lord,praise God for your faith and realism. This life is all about “knowing God” and ) He takes and uses all things to accomplish this;so many have been used by our Father in this sort of situation,and so many have been blessed as a the years that are left (and none of us know how many we have) ,may you continue to be used by Him and for Him;and I know that you will not lose your sense of humour.

  9. When I was diagnosed with a progressive auto-immune condition my first thoughts were of death. But a voice was shouting inside my head “I have come that you might live abundantly”. I have managed, thanks be to God, to live more or less abundantly ever since. Prayers for you and yours, for your abundant life now.

  10. I will say the serenity prayer for you Sister and will pray for quiet nun as well. You have offered support to me in your prayers and I feel blessed by that. I know that your belief is absolute and that however long you are here, when your end comes you will surely meet with God and the Virgin Mother. I strive to recapture my belief and faith and you have helped me on the road I travel. Peace be with you.

  11. I was moved by today’s blog, your mention of hands made me think of my mother. She had arthritis from sixteen years of age, but her hands,, deformed by the disease, worked harder and cared more than anyone I knew. Our home was filled more often than not with the unloved, the sick and the dying, and as a young person I sometimes bitterly resented it, can you imagine? When I think of the picture of ‘The Praying Hands’, it is my mothers arthritic hands I see in my mind. I have the most beautiful story about hands, but it must wait just for now. Hx

  12. A theme that comes through your writing is living fully in the moment. It is a lesson I have taken from this blog–just one of many, but an important one.

    Thank you for who you are and all you do- especially your honest sharing and your wonderful (shall I say British?) sense of humor. You brighten many a day!

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and the community now as always.

  13. The anointing of my hands at ordination remains perhaps the most helpful and life-changing thing that anyone has ever done for me…because somehow it turned my hands into a sacramental sign in themselves. I’d guess that maybe the anointing you received could have a similar impact.
    Prayers continue for you and your community – but your “business as usual” agenda also noted!
    God bless you, Sister

  14. Humm… I was beginning to get suspicious. I will pray for you and for Quietnun and also that Bro. Duncan will be a helpful monastery dog and do his bit to keep spirits up rather than chewing curtains or whatever 😉

  15. We will be anointed at Mass this evening, and will keep you both in our prayers. It can’t be emphasized enough that Anointing is a Sacrament of the living, and we are called to live in the here and now to the best of our ability and strength. Easy enough to say, difficult to do. May Jesus, through the Sacrament of Anointing, strengthen all who call upon Him.

  16. Very sad news …
    I haven’t been a follower of yours for very long but I often feel blessed and sometimes amused by what you write. A special gifting you have.
    I will pray daily for your healing.
    We will see what He decides.

  17. I am so sorry to hear this- my very best thoughts and prayers to you and to the rest of the community. It’s hard for most of us to know how to put what we feel into words at such times, but please know you are in so many people’s thoughts, even if the expression is lacking.

  18. Am so sorry to hear of your illness. Your blog and your tweets are a daily pleasure, often thought provoking , in a good way. I look forward to hearing lots more from you, QuietNun & Brother Duncan for a long time to come. Positive and happy thoughts to you and the community. Remember that rest is as important as “doing”, listen to your body.

  19. Your wisdom, your unfailing love of God and the beauty of your character sign through your posts. He continues to fill us as surely as He empties us. Thanks be to God! and thank you Sister!

  20. So sorry to hear of the challenge you are facing.

    About a year ago, I requested that you and your house might pray for the dangerously sick daughter of a friend of mine. A month later, no change. I wrote to let you know, and you reminded me that The Lord does not necessarily on human timescales, and i should be patient as you were still praying. I withdrew, chastened. Three months later, the girl experienced what her doctors called a ‘miraculous’ recovery. She is back at school and is flourishing, a real light of her community.

    I am so grateful to you, for that and for the opportunities you give us to learn and reflect (often with a wry sense of recognition) each day through your blog. Thank you. It is a pleasure now to offer my prayers again for you, and for your community. As Spock would say, ‘live long and prosper’…D.V.

  21. Dear Sister It is grey and blue outside, and a strong wind through the trees, but they stand firm . Whatever lies ahead may you continue to show that strength so evident in your blog, held in the wounded hands of the Lord. I have found illness to be a an unexpected gift. I am not able to go to Mass at present, but shall remember you in the prayers of the Office. Ut Unum omnes sint.

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