The previous column left off with “Not only could Catherine of Genoa be quoted but Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and a host of other masters of the spiritual life who are unsparing in their description of the pains of purgatory.” Picking up the thread, we continue on. Let us be clear. Sin and pain go together as cause and effect. Had there been no sin in the world, there would be no pain. Absolutely speaking we have only one choice. As sinners we must either suffer here on earth or, even though we die in the grace of God, suffer in purgatory.
But there is one more choice. What is that? If we receive the sacrament of Anointing before bodily death, we can deserve to enter heaven immediately without the purgatorial sufferings that we had deserved. No human language can exaggerate the importance of being anointed before we enter eternity. This sacrament has the power of bringing us immediately in to the presence of God for whom we were made.
How fitting is it then to conclude this segment on the sacrament of Anointing with thanksgiving and gratitude for Jesus’ instituting such a marvelous sacrament.
Lord Jesus, we are deeply grateful for your institution of the sacrament of Anointing. It is your divine will that all of us will die in body as the price we have to pay for our sins. However, it is also by your divine grace that we can see you face to face the moment you call us into eternity. If we are anointed by your sacrament of mercy, we may hope to be received in your divine arms, provided our hearts are totally detached from every creature here on earth and totally united with your Sacred Heart. Amen.
May God bless each and every one of you as we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, Jesus the Christ, the Word become Incarnate on Christmas Day.
Next week, we will chart new waters and seek new horizons in this column. Stay tuned.
As of late the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing have been explored in this column. However, do we ever take into consideration of laying the groundwork, if you will, by preparing ourselves to receive the sacraments worthily. St. Ignatius of Loyola stressed in the spiritual life that we should make a daily examination of conscience and even better, if possible, twice daily an examination of conscience.
As one reads the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, we may be overwhelmed by the minute detail of his treatment of what this saint calls the particular examination of conscience. At the same time, he is careful to provide, "Some Notes on Scruples."
It is very important, therefore, that each of us form a clear and correct conscience. This means that we cultivate a sensitive judgment which is alert to the least offense against the Divine will and, at the same time, protect ourselves against the wiles and ways of the devil. "The enemy," says St. Ignatius, "considers carefully whether one has a lax or a delicate conscience. If one has a delicate conscience, the devil seeks to make it excessively sensitive in order to disturb and upset it more easily. Thus, if he sees that one will not consent to mortal sin or venial sin, or even to the appearance of deliberate sin, since he cannot cause him to fall in a matter that appears sinful, he strives to make the soul judge that there is a sin, for example in a word or passing thought, where there is no sin."
It is valuable to reflect on this tactic of the devil before we offer some practical norms for making our daily examination of conscience. Why? Because otherwise, we are liable to overlook the importance of a daily inventory of our moral conduct for fear of becoming scrupulous.
There is such a thing as growing in prudent sensitivity of conscience, without becoming a victim of the "enemy" as St. Ignatius likes to name him. This may be set down as a general principle, for those who are sincerely striving to do the will of God: It is characteristic of God and His angels, when they act upon the soul, to give true happiness and spiritual joy and to banish all the sadness and disturbances which are caused by the enemy.
It is characteristic of the devil to fight against such happiness and consolation by proposing improper reasonings, subtleties, and continual deceptions. What are we to conclude from this? That the more zealous we are in trying to please God, the more He will give us a deep interior peace of soul.
To be continued....
As promised in last week’s column we are picking up the thread and will weave our way through the warp and weft of the Church’s teaching on the efficacy of the sacrament of Anointing to heal the human body.
It is a defined article of the Catholic faith that Anointing sometimes produces the restoration of bodily health even in persons who were at the point of death. It is not coincidental that St. James distinguishes between two effects of this sacrament, one effect is to save a sick person and “raise him up.” The other effect is to forgive a sinner who is estranged from God.
Moreover, as we have seen, the new ritual for administering Anointing distinguishes between receiving grace from the Holy Spirit and being “raised up.” In other words, the primary purpose of Anointing is to receive divine grace. But another purpose is to heal the body.
What is the Church’s teaching on the efficacy of this sacrament to heal the human body? This effect is not produced directly in a miraculous manner. Rather Anointing indirectly influences the body through its healing of the human soul. We know on faith that, had there been no sin, there would had been no bodily sickness or death. Consequently, while the soul is being healed the body benefits accordingly.
One important proviso must be added. In God’s providence, this sacrament restores bodily health conditionally. The condition is that the healing of the body is of spiritual benefit to the soul. Anointing of persons who are expected to die has frequently, even regularly, restored these people to bodily health.
To be emphasized, however, is that this is not the primary purpose of Anointing. As instituted by Christ, the main reason is to restore persons in grave bodily sickness to divine grace if they are estranged from God by mortal sin, to give them the courage they need in their passage from time into eternity, and, depending on their dispositions, to remove much, or even all, of the penalties which they may still deserve for their sins they have committed. The more fervent their resignation to the divine will and the more deeply they love God, their purgatory is correspondingly lessened or may even be totally removed as their immortal souls leave their mortal bodies.
Next week’s column will look at anointing and purgatory. To be continued....