VATICAN CITY — In his Wednesday general audience Pope Francis gave a brief catechesis on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, noting that its purpose is to bring Christ close to the recipient.
“Every time we celebrate this sacrament, the Lord Jesus, in the person of the priest, comes close to those who suffer and are gravely ill or elderly,” explained the Pope on Feb. 26.
“The special grace of this sacrament” should not cause us to fall into an “obsessive search for a miracle” or “the presumption that it can always obtain healing,” cautioned the Holy Father. Rather, “it is the certainty of the closeness of Jesus to the sick, the elderly.”
Pope Francis then went on to explain to the crowd of nearly 50,000 in St. Peter’s Square that the practice of this sacrament comes from Christ himself, who “taught his disciples to have the same predilection for the sick and the suffering and handed down to them the ability and the responsibility to continue to offer [it] in his name after his own heart of comfort and peace.”
The biblical image that shows the anointing of the sick “in all its depth [and] the mystery that shines through” it is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, noted the Pope.
A man who has been beaten, robbed and left lying for dead on the side of the road is ignored by everyone except for a Samaritan man, who not only stops to care for him, binding up all his wounds, but then takes the sick man to an inn and pays for him to be cared for there.
“The Good Samaritan takes care of the suffering man, pouring oil and wine on his wounds,” recounted Pope Francis.
“The oil makes us think about what is being blessed by the bishop each year at the chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, just ahead of the anointing of the sick,” he explained.
“The wine, however, is a sign of the love and grace of Christ that comes from the gift of his life for us and which expresses itself in all its richness in the sacramental life of the Church.”
“Finally, the suffering person is entrusted to an innkeeper, so that he can continue to take care of him, no expense spared,” continued the Pope.
“Now, what is this inn? It is the Church, the Christian community; it is we to whom every day the Lord Jesus entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we can continue to bestow upon them, without measure, all his mercy and salvation.”
Pope Francis noted that sometimes the sick or elderly are afraid to call the priest for anointing of the sick because they think “it brings bad luck” or they have “the idea that when there is a sick person and the priest comes, after [his visit] comes the funeral.”
“That is not true!” exclaimed the Pope.
“The priest comes to help the sick or the elderly. This is why it is so important for priests to visit the sick. Call him!” he urged.
“Because it is Jesus who comes to lift up [the sick person], to give him strength, to give hope, to help him. And to forgive his sins. And this is beautiful!”
Addressing Venezuela’s Violence
At the end of the audience, Pope Francis made an appeal for peace in Venezuela, where violent clashes between police and those protesting the 10-month-old government have led to at least 13 deaths.
“I sincerely hope that violence and hostility will cease as soon as possible and that the whole Venezuelan people, beginning with political leaders and institutions, will endeavor to promote reconciliation through mutual forgiveness and a sincere dialogue, respectful of truth and justice, that is capable of dealing with concrete issues for the common good,” he said.
“As I assure you of my constant prayer, especially for those who lost their lives in the fighting and for their families, I invite all believers to lift up prayers to God, through the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Coromoto, so that the country might quickly find peace and harmony.”