After baptizing seven children last Sunday, witnessed by over a hundred people, a Mother battling with cancer, requested for the sacrament of the Holy Anointing. Sure, I said. I expected it. Your cousin sent me a message. Let me just get the oil of the sick and I’ll be right with you. As I walked to the sacristy, a helpless woman in her 60’s approached me and asked if I had a minute. She gawked as she looked at me. Absolutely yes, I replied. Let me just do an anointing and I’ll see you in a bit. Ok, Father. She went back and knelt before the Pieta. The expression on her face both seemed extremely anxious and terribly worried. I wondered what she needed. In the past, people coming to the church at this ungodly hour sought for either food, money or blessing. I supposed it was one of these and hopefully, not all of the above. It was around 2:30pm. The office must be closed. I remembered someone handed me 20 bucks and it was right in my pocket which should be enough if ever she insisted for something more.
I hurried to the crowd and administered the Sacrament. While reciting gently the formula, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up”, several members of the family slowly joined the circle and squeezed themselves in, wanting to be anointed, too. I had goose bumps. The power of the word, the grace of the sacrament and the spirit that descended at the crowd freely and without hesitation led people into the sacred. Immediately after, I was asked to hold the child for a photograph with the family, which was a perfect opportunity to share memories with friends and strangers. For the record, that was the most number of pictures taken for me in less than a minute. I seemed to feel like a star but it was nothing of that sort, actually.
On my way back to the sacristy, the lady stood right across the statue of the infant Jesus of Prague and her face drawn into it. Being mild-mannered, I didn’t pry but waited to be confided in. Just before I stepped into the door, I heard her say, Father, I needed help. What brought you here, my dear? I asked. She said she was desperately looking for a priest to administer last rites to her terminally ill Episcopal husband. Ohhh sorry to hear but there should be an on-call chaplain in TMC, I argued. She muttered something under her breath. Father, they couldn’t help me. I tried many times but to no avail. Is he dying? Not quite, but the Doctor almost gave up on him. The tumor is getting worse. He will be moved to the hospice tomorrow morning. I wanted my husband to go to heaven. Please, please…help me….
I was extremely starving. I could even hear my stomach growling. I overslept and had only milk, oatmeal and two slices of bread for breakfast. It was my fault, though. Exhausted after saying two masses, drained after posing for several pictures, I planned on getting a bite in the kitchen, take a nap and prepare for the Spanish Mass but in such a state of intolerable burden, my heart melted. Emotionally carried, I was about to say something, I had no idea yet, when to my surprise, I uttered, I’ll see you at TMC in 15 minutes. It was on the spur-of-the-moment decision.
That word sent her to hug me tightly around my neck, wept and said, baby Jesus, never let me down. Thank you, thank you, Father. Before taking off to TMC, she said it again in a much louder voice, pointing her finger to the statue of the infant Jesus of Prague, that baby Jesus never let me down. God told me to come to this church and find the answer.
She may not have studied theology but her faith, which enabled her to trust deeply in God in a hopeless situation, put me into tears as I drove to the hospital. When I got into the room, the ailing husband confessed, he was almost a Catholic after going to the church with his wife for many years. I didn’t know what to say. It didn’t matter to me. What was important was my presence and his willingness to enter into the ritual. I stammered as I spoke the words and recited the prayers. With my terrible accent, I wasn’t even sure whether or not he understood anything I said. Before I left, the woman said she knew me and uttered, God bless you, Father forever. Thank you and God bless you, too, I said in reply. On the way back, I stopped at Nico’s, cheap, quick, sweet and free and made it just in time for the Spanish mass.
You will never know who’s going to show up in your doorsteps. You will never know who’s going to move you on a given Sunday. This was an event I previously thought I couldn’t possibly do under that circumstance. She gave an average Priest a story to tell and a ministry yet to be filled with great memory.
In an age where society suggests to focus one’s attention only on the here and now and consider the physical world as the defining moment of life, her religious belief was a striking illustration of a radically different mindset. And part of the reason why religion seems irrelevant in modern times is that quite a number of people, Catholics included have continually lost the sense of the unseen, the immaterial and the hidden power and force that constantly communicate but rather ignored.