By Christopher M. Riggs
Don’t wait until the anesthesiologist is ready to put the mask on you before you think about the Sacrament of the Sick, says Fr. John Hay. He urges everyone to seek an anointing before they are admitted to a hospital.
“It is a sacrament given to help us bear the suffering – the sickness that we have – to be able to unite that suffering to the suffering of Jesus Christ,” Fr. Hay said.
“And then it’s not suffering for suffering’s sake, it can actually become redemptive. We enter into the suffering of Jesus Christ – and that gives us a new power, a new strength, from the power of his grace, to help us carry our load, our cross, whatever sickness that might be.”
In addition, he said, it can be a comfort for the faithful going into surgery to have already received the sacrament.
Father Hay is the chaplain of the St. Paul Parish Newman Center at Wichita State University but his duties include a part-time chaplaincy of the Wesley Medical Center. Two of the three Catholic hospitals, Via Christi Hospital on North St. Francis and Via Christi Hospital on Harry, have full-time chaplains.
Fr. Hay makes rounds at Wesley twice a week and is on call for emergencies. Because he’s part-time there he asks that Catholics who are going to Wesley to request an anointing from their pastor before they go into surgery. “I can catch them beforehand, but it’s not always the case,” he said. “Oftentimes I’m seeing them after their surgery.”
When people see a priest walking into a room wearing a purple stole and carrying a black case, Fr. Hay said, you’ll often hear them say, “Oh, it must be bad, we had to call the priest.”
That’s not necessarily true, he said. “It doesn’t mean they’re taking their last breath, but that their sickness merits their receiving the sacrament that Jesus has given to his church.”
Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Sick – just as he instituted the Eucharist, Fr. Hay said.
In Matthew 6:13, he added, “Jesus sent the disciples out. The disciples came back…they had laid their hands on many, they had cured the sick and anointed them with oil.”
Father Hay said the faithful need to understand that receiving the sacrament doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be cured of their physical ailment, “but it does give them a grace and a strength – if we cooperate, just as we always have to cooperate with God’s grace – if we cooperate, then it’s a new strength to bear that sickness, that illness, whatever that might be.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in chapter 1514 that the sacrament is not only for those who are dying but for those who are in danger of death, he said.
“Anytime we undergo a surgery and anesthesia is administered, there’s always an outside chance that something could happen,” he said. “Because there is that danger there, that certainly would warrant receiving the sacrament of the sick.”
Father Hay reminded those who are in need or who might be in need to go to their pastor for the sacrament.
“Unlike Padre Pio, who could be in two places at once,” he said, “I can’t!”
Video of an interview with Fr. John Hay is available here.