Sadly, I received no question for my October column, so I am offering you a homily for the Oct. 18 feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist, who wrote my favorite Gospel. My homily includes some reflections on the sacrament of the anointing of the sick:
St. Luke is the only Gospel writer to give us the parable of the Good Samaritan. He doesn’t tell us how much first-aid training the Good Samaritan had, but Luke, who seems to have been a medical doctor, would have approved of the Samaritan’s treatment.
Luke, too, probably would have poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds — oil to cleanse them and perhaps to help them heal better, and an alcoholic drink like wine to sterilize them. Such are the very evident and practical reasons for pouring on oil and wine.
St. Augustine, who always loved to find meanings deeper than the surface ones, found some deeper significance in this parable of the Good Samaritan. In one of his sermons he explains:
“All sins were blotted out in the sacrament of baptism, all entirely, of words, deeds, thoughts, all were blotted out. But this is the ‘oil and wine’ which was poured in. You remember that man who was wounded by the robbers, and left half dead by the way, how he was strengthened by receiving oil and wine for his wounds. His error indeed was already pardoned, and yet his weakness is in process of healing in the inn. The inn, if you recognize it, is the church. Now we are staying at an inn, because in life we are passing by; in the future, we shall be at home, and we shall never leave it; we shall have reached the kingdom of heaven in perfect health. Meanwhile we gladly receive our treatment in the inn. Weak as we still are, we do not glory in sound health, lest through our pride we gain nothing else, and never be cured in spite of all our treatment.”
Augustine is speaking here about the saving effects of baptism, but his words might also describe the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
Augustine sees the oil and wine as signs of the healing power that comes to us through Jesus Christ, the true Good Samaritan. The sacrament of the anointing of the sick is broader than “last rites” for the dying. Those who are seriously impaired by sickness or old age should be anointed, as well as those facing surgery because of serious illness. Sick children may receive the sacrament of anointing if they have sufficient use of reason to be strengthened by it.
When we come to receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, we admit our need for God’s healing, and Jesus comes to us and pours the oil and the wine of his grace into our wounds of body and spirit: freely, lavishly, abundantly. Then he binds up all our wounds of body and spirit. And Jesus gives more than first aid to us. Through his life of teaching and healing, and through his cruel death on the cross, Jesus came to be raised up as the source of eternal life for all who share in his sufferings.
Jesus entrusted the ministry of healing to his church, whose members we are. We who form his body are to bring the oil and wine of his love and peace to each other.
The Spirit of God calls us to bring healing to the lonely, the suffering and the poor. None of us is in completely sound health before the Lord. We are in continual need of the comfort and healing that he gives us through our fellow believers.
But we, too, are called to give that healing and comfort to others. We can pour oil and wine on each other’s wounds by our acts of kindness, of patience, of encouragement, of comfort.
The Gospel according to Luke is the best medicine that he could have given us for our spiritual healing and strengthening. For like the oil and wine in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan that Luke gave us, the Gospel cleanses us of sinful attitudes and purifies our hearts. The Gospel is a premier way that Jesus, the Divine Physician and the true Good Samaritan, is with us to help us. His office hours, like his love, have no end.
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.