ABBOT ELIAS DIETZ, O.C.S.O.
Homily: Anointing Mass, Nov. 9, 2017
[Is 61:1-3; Heb 4:16, 5:7-9; Mt 11:25-30]
Isaiah 61:1-3 The Good News of Deliverance
61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
His Loud Cries and Tears
It is almost impossible for a Christian to hear this prophecy from Isaiah without picturing Jesus reading it to the assembly in the synagogue. Ideally we not only hear it as coming from his lips, but also experience it as already fulfilled in him.
Although it announces great things (healing, reparation, freedom, and an end to suffering), Jesus does not proclaim it or accomplish it as an impressive display of power. He comes gentle and lowly of heart. He speaks as one who has been shaped through suffering. When the letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears,” it does not seem to limit his suffering to the great trial of the Passion. He offered these kinds of prayers “in the days of his flesh,” that is, throughout his life. In fact, it seems to imply that he learned gradually the obedience that carried him through the unspeakable sufferings of his agony and death.
So when we hear Jesus proclaim freedom for captives, comfort for mourners, and so on, he is not listing a catalogue of afflictions and promising specific remedies. He is pointing to the common ground of all these afflictions, ground with which he was personally familiar.
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick brings us into touch with this common ground of suffering beneath the many varieties of human afflictions. Jesus does not promise avoidance of suffering, but redemption, which comes through the dying and rising he passed through himself. He healed many people along the way, but his main mission was the ultimate liberation of salvation through his Passion and Resurrection.
We might consider the oil used for this sacrament in light of Isaiah’s prophecy, spoken by Jesus, that is, to grant to those who suffer “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” In this sacrament we ask the Lord to lighten the burden of our brothers and to ease their pain, but most of all we ask him to strengthen their spirit if it has grown faint, and to cloth them with the mantle of praise, that is, to fill their hearts and minds with gratitude for all the Lord has done and is doing for them and for us all.