By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEAWOOD, Kan. — Rita Seago knew why she came.
“God’s will be done,” she said as she left the annual Mass and Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick April 2 at Cure of Ars Parish.
“I will be able to accept what comes in his way,” said Seago, a member of Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kan.
“If God desires that I be healed, that’s up to him,” she said. “But if he wants me to keep carrying my cross, I will.”
Hundreds of people came for the 15th annual Mass and sacrament, sponsored by the Dames and Knights of the Order of Malta.
The four bishops and priests from the two dioceses that share the Kansas City metropolitan area administered the sacrament, as Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn was the principal celebrant and Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann the homilist.
Young and old, suffering from a variety of conditions, they came, like Rita Seago, for the strength that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the celebration of Holy Mass and the Eucharist would give them.
And that is why the four bishops, including emeriti Bishop Raymond J. Boland of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Archbishop James Keleher of Kansas City, Kan., were “privileged” to be among them on a gorgeous early spring morning, Archbishop Naumann said in his homily.
It is especially appropriate, he said, that the annual Mass is celebrated on the third Saturday of Lent, near the midway between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
“The Lenten season is a time in which we are preparing ourselves to meditate on the central mysteries of our Christian faith,” he said. “It is a time to ponder, in a very special way, the passion of our Lord.”
It was doubly significant that the Mass this year fell upon the feast day of St. Francis of Paola, Italy, a 16th century hermit who was personally sent by Pope Sixtus IV to minister to the dying King Louis XI of France.
Such comfort did the future saint provide the dying king that the king’s son, Charles VIII, endowed several monasteries in France to St. Francis’s order, the Minims.
Though he continued to serve the French court for 25 years, St. Francis of Paola —chose to live a very simple and austere life which others sought to imitate.
Archbishop Naumann quoted the words of St. Francis of Paola:
“Death is certain. Life is short and vanishes like smoke. Fix your minds on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Inflamed with love for us, he came down from heaven to redeem us. For our sakes he endured every torment of body and soul and shrank from no bodily pain. He himself gave us an example of perfect patience and love. We then are to be patient in adversity.”
That example was followed by Pope John Paul II, who died on April 2, 2005, Archbishop Naumann said.
Growing frail, Pope John Paul nevertheless insisted on praying at Calvary during his 2000 visit to the Holy Land, even though he was well behind schedule.
“He slowly ascended the stairway, leaning on the balustrade, and once at the sight of Calvary, spent 20 minutes in prayer,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“The Holy Father’s insistence on being allowed to pray at the place of the Good Friday events reminds all of us, who are disciples of Jesus, that we must frequently reflect on the miracle of love and grace that transpired on Calvary, for it is the key for understanding much of our own life, particularly the place and meaning of suffering,” the archbishop said.
Jesus knew the agonies he would endure, and he endured them not only willingly but calmly, the archbishop said.
“Jesus came to liberate us from the power of sin and death,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“Jesus does not remove sin and suffering from the human condition,” he said. “Rather he submits himself to the most intense experience of suffering, offering us the opportunity to unite our suffering with his and there find meaning, hope and power.”
Jesus approached his suffering with calm dignity.
“We see Jesus not at all intimidated at his interrogation” (before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate), the archbishop said. “We see it is Pilate who is unravelling, looking desperately for a way out.”
“Jesus dismisses Pilate’s claim of power with the statement: “You have no power over me unless it is given you from above,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“Even on the cross, Jesus demonstrates this remarkable control and composure by the concern he continues to manifest for those around him,” he said.
“It is indeed very moving to see Jesus at this darkest moment focused on the needs of others as he entrusts both the beloved disciple, John, and his beloved mother, Mary, into each other’s care,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“Nothing, not even life itself was taken from him. He freely gave it,” he said.
“The message is clear. Jesus, the Son of God, our Redeemer, willingly enters completely into our human condition, embracing our suffering and submitting himself to death, even death on the cross,” the archbishop said.
“From this profound gift of himself, this absolute fidelity to the will of the father, his uncompromising faith in the truth, from this most terrible of tragedies, the greatest good would emerge, and the church itself was born,” the archbishop said.
“It is this total fidelity to the will of the Father that effects the liberation from the consequences of sin and death for all who place faith in the one crucified,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“Jesus took the cross, the symbol in his time of humiliation, of torture of defeat, of death and by his faith and love, transformed the cross into a sign of glory, of love, of victory, of life,” he said.
“Our gathering this morning reminds us that Calvary did not banish suffering and death from the human condition,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“However, Calvary does offer us the key to find meaning and strength and hope in the midst of our suffering,” he said.
“We pray that this sacrament (of Anointing of the Sick) will bind those who receive it more closely to Jesus,” the archbishop said.
“We pray with Paul —depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and share of his sufferings by being conformed to his death— that you will be given in your sickness the serenity that Our Lord himself possessed as he stood before Pilate, and the fidelity to his Father’s will manifested as he trod to Calvary,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and hold you up.”