Healing the whole person: stories of spiritual, emotional and physical healing
"Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." (James 5:14-15)
In his epistle, St. James urges us to turn to the Church in our times of sickness, and we know that sickness can be spiritual, emotional and physical. On the bumpy road of infertility, most of us have turned to doctors, medical practitioners and therapists at some point for healing and help. How often do we count Christ among our team of physicians? The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:
“‘Heal the sick!’ The Church has received this charge from the Lord and strives to carry it out by taking care of the sick as well as by accompanying them with her prayer of intercession. She believes in the life-giving presence of Christ, the physician of souls and bodies. This presence is particularly active through the sacraments, and in an altogether special way through the Eucharist, the bread that gives eternal life and that St. Paul suggests is connected with bodily health.” (CCC 1509)
The Church makes available to us many forms of healing and aid, including (but not limited to):
The Sacraments of Healing: the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick
We are encouraged to seek healing in various forms and, depending on our circumstances, one or many of these may be appropriate. Below is Jennifer’s story of seeking healing from the Church in a time of great pain and grief for her family
After my last miscarriage, it was music to my ears to hear our baby’s heartbeat. Tears came - tears of joy and gratitude. The baby was measuring a little small, so they told me to come back in a week. Again, the heartbeat was there and sped up a bit, but not to where they wanted it. I went back yet again but this time the tears were different. There was no heartbeat. I gripped my St. Gianna holy card and tears slowly trickled down my face; that trickle soon became a full-fledged flood. My second miscarriage in less than three months.
Greeted by my other children at home, I had to look into their sweet faces and tell them the baby had died. My younger two asked me why God hadn’t listened to their prayers. I didn’t know what to say because I wondered the same thing myself. My 15-year-old daughter Gianna told me she was really angry at God. After crying alone in the bathroom because I didn’t want my kids to see, I found myself sinking into a bad place spiritually. Darkness began to seep in and the enemy began to circle in unrelenting accusations knowing I was weak:
“This is your fault.”
“Maybe you didn’t take it easy enough.”
“Prayer doesn’t do anything.”
“St. Gianna abandoned you. God did too.”
I immediately texted my spiritual director: “I cannot do this. I need the grace of the sacraments to help me bear this cross.” I was anxious about my impending miscarriage, discouraged that I may not be carrying pregnancies to term anymore due to my age, and tempted to doubt in God’s goodness. He told me that he would come to pray with me in the morning.
I gathered all my children in the living room and Fr. Jesus came wearing his purple stole and carrying the oil of the sick and the Body of Christ. He prayed over me and traced the sign of the cross on my outstretched palms and across my forehead. At that moment I pictured Our Lord on the cross, nails in the palms of His sacred hands and a crown of thorns on His precious head. “Lord, give me Your strength to bear this cross,” I prayed. Fr. Jesus read from the Book of Revelation 21:4-5. The verses that hit my heart were: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” Fr. Jesus said we should pray and tell God that we give this child back to Him. So we spiritually gave our baby back to God. I was absolved from my sins and the children and I were able to receive Holy Communion.
Five minutes after receiving the sacrament, a beautiful bouquet of white flowers arrived from a mentor of mine who had first taught me about the life of St. Gianna. I was reminded that in the liturgy, white is worn during Christmas, Easter and feasts: it is the color of light, joy and peace. This is exactly what I felt in my soul after receiving the grace from this sacrament. This sacrament dispelled all the darkness that was creeping into my soul. I knew that I did not have the strength necessary to walk this path again so soon, but I knew that God could grant me the grace…all I had to do was ask.
The sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, and the Church makes them available to us through the treasury of grace entrusted to it. The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for the dying only, it is a healing sacrament for the living! In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says, “The anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude” (CCC 1520). What woman going through infertility or loss does not struggle with anxiety, discouragement and temptation to doubt God’s goodness, love or mercy? We have a good and loving Father who does not intend for us to walk these hard roads alone. He has given us the guiding light to help us in times of darkness. The sacraments of healing are such a light.
I was reflecting on what makes this sacrament in particular so very powerful. Then I realized that in one sacrament we receive three sacraments! We receive an anointing with sacred oils to give us strength and enliven the activity of the Holy Spirit in our souls. As the priest anoints the forehead he says, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” When he anoints the palms, he prays, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” He finishes with the prayer:
“Father in heaven, through this holy anointing grant N. comfort in his/her suffering. When he/she is afraid, give him/her courage, when afflicted, give him/her patience, when dejected, afford him/her hope, and when alone, assure him/her of the support of your holy people. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”
The priest then allows us to make our confession or gives us a general absolution. Here we can heal from those negative thoughts that were creeping in or the temptation to doubt God’s goodness. Finally, we receive the Holy Eucharist which is the source and summit of our faith. In the Anointing of the Sick, the Eucharist is called “viaticum”, or “food for the journey” for those who are dying. Jesus’s body, blood, soul and divinity came to me in this sacrament to be food for my journey as I miscarried my baby and looked ahead to healing.
I believe it is a great gift for priests to encounter families struggling with these heavy burdens. They are also able to mourn with us and perform a great spiritual work of mercy. I pray that those who read this can attain spiritual healing from the sacraments and experience first-hand the great power in their effects.
A final note from The Fruitful Hollow
We would like to remind readers that the provision of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is at the discretion of the priest and may not always be appropriate. Information and background on this particular sacrament can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1499 onwards. If you wish to seek healing in relation to your infertility, we would encourage you to speak to your priest to explain your personal circumstances and ask their counsel on which blessing, anointing, sacrament or other offering he believes is most appropriate at the time.