Fewer than 10 months after being appointed chair of a new Ad Hoc Committee Against…
2020 has been all about prioritizing the critical
I just got off the phone with one of the most valiantly faithful people I know. She’s suffered every kind of illness and pain, it seems. Cancer has beaten her body in the most excruciating ways. And through it all, she rejoices in the Lord.
I have another friend whose 2020 experience included a leukemia diagnosis. With the help of the Lord and a top-notch medical team, he appears to be kicking it, and he and his family have done it with radiant grace. These loved ones are witnesses to amazing grace.
When you live what you believe, it’s such a resplendent light in the world, even when you are struggling to breathe, as the friend was just now on the phone.
During our conversation, she told me about her experience at a hospital in recent days. She asked for a Catholic chaplain to give her the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. They sent her a Pentecostal minister instead, who prayed with her fervently, but who obviously couldn’t give her the sacrament. She was told that the policy was that a Catholic priest could only come to the secular medical center for the sacrament if a patient’s death was pending.
Now, this is one of my biggest pet peeves about how we’ve handled coronavirus in America: All of our deaths are pending. Some of the gazillions of news stories you hear are how fewer people are being diagnosed or treated for some conditions that aren’t COVID-19. Could that have to do with the fact that people are avoiding doctors and the hospital for fear of coronavirus?
In the early days, especially, when we had no idea what we were dealing with, it made sense to take a few steps back and get some serious protocols in place. And, at the same time, we cannot live in fear and must always live to be ready to die. We don’t know the day or the hour.
The last thing my other friend expected was to have leukemia — and discovering it literally the same month he started a new job. He had been exercising all the pandemic precautions, but it wasn’t COVID-19 that had it out for him. We just never really know. Thanks be to God, prayer has given him and his family such strength for battle. He was healed by doctors and faith, I have no doubt. He had such a prayer cover and determined prayers. Bold prayers. This is the way we need to be: wielding the weapons of prayer in the battle with the evils of cancer and abortion and racism and you name the dark force prowling about the world seeking the ruin of bodies and souls.
Getting back to the Sacrament of Anointing of the sick — we are not meant to wait until we know we are dying. This woman I was talking to could have very well died in the hospital on this last encounter, as all kinds of complications ensue. And part of the point of the sacrament is to pray for healing if it be God’s will. A policy that does not allow someone with a serious but not necessarily immediately terminal condition to have the anointing of the sick is a policy that denies people an essential service — a gift God wants us to have.
Of course, in the height of coronavirus, there were protective reasons priests couldn’t be going about the ministry as usual. But there should be no question that this 2020 experience is about prioritizing the critical. There is an urgency to living love in bold humility. And the sacraments are tremendous gifts from God. This is at the heart of who we are — confession, Eucharist, bound to God by the sacraments of his Church! Thanks be to God! Our awareness and receptivity and gratitude must be heightened!
Now that many of us have Mass back, are we present? Are we pouring our hearts out to the Lord as heaven and earth meet?
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.