“Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Lk 17:19)
In his message for the 20th Annual World Day of the Sick, Pope Benedict XVI said that he "would like to place emphasis upon the “sacraments of healing”, that is to say upon the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and that of the Anointing of the Sick, which have their natural completion in Eucharistic Communion."
He particularly calls attention to the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which I agree deserves greater consideration. I've often thought the sacrament would be efficacious for people who suffer from depression and various forms of mental illness and other addictive disorders. Perhaps it is already in use for people in recovery, I don't know.
The encounter of Jesus with the ten lepers, narrated by the Gospel of Saint Luke (cf. Lk 17:11-19), and in particular the words that the Lord addresses to one of them, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (v. 19), help us to become aware of the importance of faith for those who, burdened by suffering and illness, draw near to the Lord. In their encounter with him they can truly experience that he who believes is never alone! God, indeed, in his Son, does not abandon us to our anguish and sufferings, but is close to us, helps us to bear them, and wishes to heal us in the depths of our hearts (cf. Mk 2:1-12).
3. From a reading of the Gospels it emerges clearly that Jesus always showed special concern for sick people. He not only sent out his disciples to tend their wounds (cf. Mt 10:8; Lk 9:2; 10:9) but also instituted for them a specific sacrament: the Anointing of the Sick. The Letter of James attests to the presence of this sacramental act already in the first Christian community (cf. 5:14-16): by the Anointing of the Sick, accompanied by the prayer of the elders, the whole of the Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord so that he may alleviate their sufferings and save them; indeed she exhorts them to unite themselves spiritually to the passion and death of Christ so as to contribute thereby to the good of the People of God.
This sacrament deserves greater consideration today both in theological reflection and in pastoral ministry among the sick. Through a proper appreciation of the content of the liturgical prayers that are adapted to the various human situations connected with illness, and not only when a person is at the end of his or her life (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1514), the Anointing of the Sick should not be held to be almost “a minor sacrament” when compared to the others. Attention to and pastoral care for sick people, while, on the one hand, a sign of God’s tenderness towards those who are suffering, on the other brings spiritual advantage to priests and the whole Christian community as well, in the awareness that what is done to the least, is done to Jesus himself (cf. Mt 25:40).
4. As regards the “sacraments of healing”, Saint Augustine affirms: “God heals all your infirmities. Do not be afraid, therefore, all your infirmities will be healed … You must only allow him to cure you and you must not reject his hands” (Exposition on Psalm 102, 5; PL 36, 1319-1320). These are precious instruments of God’s grace which help a sick person to conform himself or herself ever more fully to the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. - Vatican Radio
Photo: Blessed John Paul II during the anointing of the sick at St. George's, Southwark, 1982.