Written by Kelli Reutman, CWF '18
For the past few weekends, my priest (Fr Brian Doerr, an incredible example of the priesthood) has been giving homilies on the seven sacraments. Each one seems to be better than the last, but I don't think it can get better than today's: the Anointing of the Sick.
Like most people, I probably only thought about this sacrament a few times a year. It's not something you have to think about unless a loved one is dying, right? Well, last fall I was in that position. My grandma was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died a couple months later.
There was a point as I was traveling home for her funeral that I became overwhelmed with the fear that she didn't make it into purgatory, a fear that was paralyzing. However, I soon learned she had been anointed in the last week of her life and received the Eucharist frequently. My fear was conquered by my trust in the power of the Sacraments.
Since then, that Sacrament has been on my mind often when I remember her. How cool is it that the Church has given us a way to heal our souls while giving us the courage and peace to gracefully navigate a physical illness? Even with that awe, I didn't expect that I would soon be receiving this Sacrament myself.
Before you get worried, know that I wasn't on my deathbed. The healing I asked for wasn't a matter of life or death. Knowing he was talking to a largely young adult population, Father specifically mentioned that the Sacrament isn't only reserved for end-of-life issues. It just needs to be a serious illness of either mind or body, which means mental illnesses are also included.
As I told some people at SEEK, I have been dealing with severe anxiety over the past 6-8 months or so. A lot of it originated with my grandmother's sickness, but the anxiety certainly didn't go away when she passed. Fear had planted itself deep in my heart, which has often made daily tasks difficult, and sometimes even impossible.
There's no way to describe anxiety in writing because it can change so drastically from day to day. It's not always present so most people have no idea that it sometimes takes me two hours to get out of bed, or that not having the right food in the fridge can send me into an anxiety attack for the next 20-30 minutes. I'm usually laughing and going about life as normal when suddenly I'm not able to function anymore. Fear is paralyzing.
This morning happened to be one of those days that I woke up and just felt anxious without an identifiable reason. I managed to get myself out of bed for 9am mass as usual but knew it was going to be a struggle to sit through the mass. By the time the homily came around, my hands were trembling, my heart was racing, and tears were silently pouring down my face.
After Father's excellent explanation of the Sacrament, he invited anybody that wanted to be anointed to come forward along with anybody who wanted to pray over the sick. My best friend grabbed my hand and we walked up together.
I was mid-anxiety attack and about to beg God for healing.
The fear was present and trying to take over, but I kept remembering Father's words: we must trust in the power of the Sacraments in order for the graces to be poured into hearts. Fear and trust cannot coexist, so I focused all my attention on trust. On love. On freedom. I saw dozens of familiar faces in the congregation and knew they were praying for my healing (per Father's request).
I hope I never forget the gentleness with which the priest placed his hands on my head or his fatherly embrace of my hand after anointing me with the sacred oil. Or the way my friend looked as she hoped and prayed for my healing. Or the feeling of graces pouring over my mind and my heart as I received the Eucharist minutes later into my purified heart.
One thing I know I won't forget: a man from a few rows up saw me forgo shaking hands during Peace because mine were covered in oil. (Sacred oil, but still, it was slimy. I didn't want to surprise anybody with that.) He made his way to me, grabbed my hands, gave me a warm hug and whispered in my ear, "You will be okay. I'm praying for you, you will make it through this."
Instantly crying again.
Through ordinary people, Christ revealed His divine love for me today. Through my holy priest, through my best friend, through this one stranger, and through the prayers of each person in that congregation, He told me, "You are so loved, dear Kelli. You are cherished. There is no reason to fear because I am with you always."
My mantra for the past few weeks has been "Perfect love drives out fear." I didn't know how to let perfect love in though – in all my brokenness, how could Jesus remain in my heart? He showed me how today in the same way He has done dozens of times before. Using a community that I have isolated myself from over the past few months, Jesus reminded me that His perfect love is all around me and always waiting for me.
You all are part of that community, this beautiful Body of Christ, that encourages me and gives me strength. I beg you, dear Fellows, to go to the Sacraments. Find our Lord in them so that you can see Him in other areas of your life. He is waiting to pour His perfect love into your willing heart.
I feel like it's obligatory for me to mention this when talking about mental health: If you are struggling with any mental issues, find help. Friends and family are good but find professional help too. Therapy, counseling, medication, spiritual direction. Whatever it is you need, do not let fear stand in your way because love is so much greater. You deserve freedom! Christ gives you freedom. You are also not alone in your struggles and I hope my story can help you believe that.
May the peace of Christ be with you,