Homily for Mass of Anointing of the Sick (Ampleforth Lourdes Pilgrimage, 2017)
Homily preached by Fr Gabriel Everitt OSB at the Mass of Anointing during the Ampleforth Pilgrimage to Lourdes (July 18 2017).
As we all know, there are many miracles of healing in the Gospels: healings of men and women, young and old, people of Israel and some of other nations and of many diverse illnesses physical and mental.
Among them all, today’s story of the healing of the paralysed man [Matthew 9:1-12 / Mark 21-12 / Luke 5:17-26] is justly famous and stands out. It stands out because whereas normally the sick person asks Jesus for a cure or indeed is asked by him ‘what do you seek?’ in today’s story the paralysed man is silent throughout and says never a word; perhaps it was part of his illness that he could not. In a way though he does not have to because his helplessness is so evident; he is carried to Jesus by friends. This is indeed the second distinctive feature of today’s healing miracle. And then thirdly, and I suppose most memorably and dramatically, is the fact that because of the crush they remove part of the roof of the house where Jesus was and lower the paralysed man through the gap they have made, down to Jesus, in a feat of enterprise and ingenuity which is in itself an eloquent prayer for healing needing no further words.
I think we are justified in seeing the parallel to what we have done today. Those needing assistance have been carried, pushed and pulled up to this place of prayer for healing, as maybe in the case of the paralysed man perhaps not without some discomfort for all concerned. And it has been done by friends. It has been a physical activity, and also in its very doing a prayer. Like the friends in the Gospel, we have a hope. To those friends and also to his hostile critics Jesus responded with a physical healing, but he was concerned even more with a spiritual issue ‘My child your sins are forgiven’. The getting up, the picking up the stretcher, the going home were signs, certainly powerful ones as the bystanders all realised, nonetheless of something deeper. Jesus’ concern is always and ultimately for human salvation. For this he came.
When in the most moving of the gestures of the rite of anointing, you gather round those to be anointed, the words heard are ‘Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up’.
The peaceful awareness of the anointing is that we, all of us, have done what we can and what the Lord asks; the rest is his business. As in all the sacraments there is more than we see and more than we fully understand.
Only the paralysed man is healed but his friends also, along with all the bystanders needed the healing of forgiveness and the gift of salvation. Those who pray the Office of Readings know that there is a famous sermon by St Augustine on the shepherds; it is a sermon famous for being a shade long and as some think a shade repetitive and boring, but in it St Augustine has an interesting interpretation of today’s Gospel which brings out that while not all of us will be anointed today, all of us need God’s forgiveness and salvation; we are pilgrims together. In this need of ours Augustine invites us all to see ourselves as the paralysed man:
‘When the bearers of the paralytic could not bring him to the Lord, they opened the roof and lowered him down to the feet of Christ. Perhaps you wish to do this in spirit: to open the roof and to lower your paralysed soul down to the Lord. All your limbs are lifeless, empty of every good work, burdened with sins and weak from the illness brought on by evil desires. But you cannot come to the physician. But perhaps the physician is himself concealed within’ – Christ is already within you – ‘reveal therefore what is hidden and thus you will open the roof and lower your paralysed soul to the feet of Christ’.