‘God sometimes cures but always heals.”
I heard this statement over 30 years ago from a priest chaplain. This statement has been my basic belief when I visited or prayed with sick people.
On July 5, three priest friends came from Dubuque to celebrate with me the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as I have acute myeloid leukemia. As we began, I thought, now in regard to me, “God sometimes cures but always heals.”
I am at peace with this belief. I have witnessed many healings — healings of relationships, self-centeredness and even sin — in sick people. God always wants to heal. God desires that we get better spiritually, not bitter emotionally.
I believe sometimes God cures miraculously. I grew up as a skeptic. I majored in science in college. If I could not explain something scientifically, I doubted that it was true.
Several experiences changed my mind. For example, I have read miraculous stories of people visiting Mary’s Shrine in Lourdes, France. I read a book by a doctor at Lourdes. I prayed at Lourdes three times myself with people from several countries. I saw dozens of crutches, canes and braces left behind by people who were cured. Miracles do happen.
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Of course, some people left Lourdes with their crutches, canes, cancer, and other serious illnesses. They were not cured. Sometimes God cures, and sometimes God does not. I hope all who were not cured were healed significantly. I have read stories by people who said they were not cured but experienced healing in some way.
Before Vatican II (1966), this sacrament of anointing that I received was unfortunately called Extreme Unction. The common understanding of this sacrament was that it was for someone on the edge of death. Because of this, some adult children avoided asking for this sacrament for their sick parents. The children were afraid that if the priest came, their parents would become frightened and give up hope. The common understanding was “When the priest comes to anoint, the hearse just turned into the driveway.”
When I was young, we carried a card in our billfold that read “I am a Catholic. In case of an accident, please call a priest.” There was a sense that by getting Extreme Unction at the last minute before death, we would sneak into heaven just before the gates closed.
Fortunately, Vatican II went back to the Scriptural basis for the sacrament. It is James 5:13-16. “Is there anyone sick among you? He should ask for the priests of the church. They in turn are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. … If he has committed any sins, forgiveness will be his.” Consequently, the name of the sacrament was more correctly called Anointing of the Sick.
During my anointing there was a prayer for a cure. While I believe a cure is possible, I am not attached to it.
Both Jesus and Buddha teach that the path to wholeness and healing is to let go of attachments. Buddha teaches the cause of suffering is attachments and explains the path of letting go.
Jesus told stories that to follow him means one must let go of attachments. For example, the story of the rich young man who went away sad because he could not let go of his possessions. Jesus even said it directly. If one is attached to mother or father more than to Jesus, that one is not worthy of Jesus. Perhaps this statement involves hyperbole, but the message is clear: wholeness or holiness requires the letting go of attachments.
Many other religious and psychological traditions speak to the necessity of letting go of attachments to become more whole or holy and free. This is counter to our cultural value of adding on. When I go to my basement, I know I am not immune to this cultural value.
The prayer that touched me most deeply was the prayer after my anointing. I repeat it here.
“Gracious God, through this anointing, grant our brother, Vince, comfort in his suffering. When he is afraid, give him courage; when afflicted, give him patience; when dejected, afford him hope; and when alone, assure him support of your holy people. We pray through Christ our Lord.”
I responded with an enthusiastic “Amen!” I am not attached to, nor expect, a cure, but this prayer promises future healing. I believe that is what God always wants.
Vince Hatt has been a spiritual director for over 40 years. He has a master’s degree in religious education from Catholic University and a master’s degree in theology from the Aquinas Institute.