Have you ever had one of those days when everything happens at once?  One of those days when everyone seems to need your attention right this very second?  Many of you are thinking, “um, yeah, that’s called being a parent.”  It seems that we all have days like these, and in our gospel reading today, Jesus is also having one of those days.

The gospel reading today is a story within a story.  Jesus is on his way to lay hands on the synagogue official’s daughter and heal her.  He is slowly moving forward, unable to get there quickly because of the crowds, when he gets sidetracked by this woman who is trying to touch him.  But Jesus doesn’t mind getting sidetracked.  Even though he was on his way to do something very important and extremely urgent, he stops when the hemorrhaging woman touches him.  Jesus is not too busy for her.  He came to seek and save the lost, and here is a soul who is in desperate need.  So, he stops, engages the woman, listens to her story, and praises her for her faith.  Jesus had time for her, and he always has time for us.

Your faith has saved you

St. Mark places this story within a story for a reason.  The main question St. Mark wants to answer in his gospel is the question, “Who is Jesus?”  These stories give us yet another clue.  Jesus is the Son of God, the one thru whom all things were created.  He is to be the victor over death, and his resurrection is prefigured in the raising of the official’s daughter.  St. Mark wants to inspire in us faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The end of Mark’s gospel holds the key.  St. Mary Magdalene is the first one to witness the risen Lord, and she immediately goes to tell his disciples.  But they do not believe.  Then Jesus appears to the two companions on the Road to Emmaus, and they return and tell his disciples, but the disciples still do not believe.  Finally, the risen Lord says, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to do this myself…”  and he goes and appears to the eleven Apostles and rebukes them for not believing!  He instructs them to go and proclaim the gospel, and that whoever believes will be saved.  So, it is evident that the whole purpose of Mark’s gospel is to inspire faith in the risen Lord.

These stories today are a step along that journey.  They show us the saving power of Jesus Christ.  They show us that he is the author of life and has the power to save, even from death.  And in both cases, both the hemorrhaging woman and the official’s daughter, the key to their healing was faith.

Notice the subtle shift in urgency with the synagogue officials.  At first, they are saying, “Come quickly!  The little girl is on the point of death!”  But by the time Jesus has finished speaking with the woman, they have given up.  It’s too late, they think.  Now, we have to give some credit here.  They actually have some faith in Jesus’ healing power.  They believe that he can heal the sick, but they assume that Jesus does not have power over death.  Their faith is incomplete.  And this is the whole reason St. Mark inserts this story of the hemorrhaging woman.  Her faith is complete.  Her faith is so complete that she knows even just touching his clothes will heal her.  And immediately her hemorrhage was cured.

Jesus has the power to heal, even to raise us from the dead.  But he makes it contingent on our faith.  The hemorrhaging woman is cured because of her faith.  The official’s daughter is raised because of their faith—even an incomplete faith.  In the next chapter of Mark’s gospel, which we will hear next week, Jesus is unable to perform any miracles, because of a lack of faith.  And again, at the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus instructs his Apostles to preach the gospel, and “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”[1]  It is by faith that we have access to God’s saving grace.

Anointing of the sick

This story today gives us a good opportunity to talk about the healing and saving grace of God available to us thru the ministry of Jesus’ Church—specifically in the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  It’s one of the seven sacraments, instituted by Christ, but I think it’s perhaps one of the more misunderstood sacraments.

Now, many of us still call this sacrament “Last Rites,” and so we are under the impression that this sacrament can only be received at the point of death.  But the sacrament of anointing is only one of the Last Rites.  The Last Rites actually include the Sacrament of Penance, Anointing, and the Eucharist as “food for the journey.”  Additionally, the priest reads from Scripture, gives the Apostolic Pardon, receives the dying person’s profession of faith, and prays a litany of the Saints, in which we ask those in Heaven to intercede for this soul who is about to join their company.  It is most fitting for the family and friends to be present for these Last Rites whenever possible, because we pray together for the dying, and it is a richer sign of our belonging to the one Body of Christ.

But the Anointing of the Sick is so called because it is not merely the Anointing of the Dying.  The Second Vatican Council advises that “as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.”[2]

Let me interject here that it’s better to call the priest sooner rather than later!  It does not have to be administered literally at the point of death.  The Sacrament of Anointing can be received multiple times, if the condition of the sick person worsens.

There are other times when the Sacrament of Anointing can be received.  The Catechism says that “it is fitting to receive the Anointing of the Sick just prior to a serious operation.  The same holds for the elderly whose frailty becomes more pronounced.”[3]

So, what is involved in the Sacrament of Anointing?  The two key components of the sacrament are the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil.  We see in Jesus’ healing ministry that he often used sacramental signs when healing the faithful.  Once he made mud out of spittle to cure the blind man, another time he placed his fingers in the ears of the deaf man.  In today’s gospel, he takes the little girl by the hand, and the hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ clothes.  In these signs, we see that Jesus is not afraid to touch the sick and the dying.  It is thru touch that these people are healed.  So, in the sacrament of the sick, the priest lays his hands on the sick person.

Second, the priest anoints the sick person.  Usually this is done on the forehead and on the palms of the hands.  The priest says the words, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.  Amen.”

With these actions, we receive the healing grace of Jesus Christ, who acts thru the ministry of his priest.  The sins of the sick are forgiven, and the soul is prepared for eternal life.

Now, it sometimes does happen that the sick person will recover.  Again, in the final chapter of Mark’s gospel, we find that “these signs will accompany those who believe…they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”[4]  While this is not a guarantee, it is a sign of God’s mercy and generosity.  God does indeed provide whatever we need in order to save our souls.  If it is for the good of our souls, the grace of God can save the body as well.  After all, the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and it is the body that will rise again on the Last Day.  The little girl prefigures the Resurrection of the Lord, who, after he appeared to the Apostles, asked them for something to eat.  It prefigures our own resurrection, when in Heaven we will eat the Bread of Angels.

The Author of Life

The God who created us, body and soul, is the God of the living.  He is a God who calls himself, “I AM.”  He is the God of all being.  He is the God of existence, not the god of non-existence.  And this is the meaning of the words at the beginning of the first reading:  “God did not make death.”[5]  You see, death is not a positive reality, but a negative one.  Just like cold is the absence of heat, in a similar way, death is simply the absence of life.  God created life.  He did not make death.  That is why the presence of God always means life, healing, and salvation.

The God who raised others from the dead and who himself rose from the dead, will also raise his faithful from the dead.  We have no need to fear death.  We can live in this world with a sense of ease and freedom that the world does not have, and cannot understand.  We can have confidence that this life is not all that there is.  We are merely preparing for real life—eternal life—life the way God intended it.

That fearlessness, that sense of ease, that confidence comes from a profound trust that God can accomplish all things, even rising from the dead.  In a word—faith.  May God increase and perfect our faith, that we, too, will experience his healing touch.

[1] Mark 16:16

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium 73

[3] CCC 1515

[4] Mark 16:17-18

[5] Wisdom 1:13