The complete Christ is the Christ united to the concourse of the faithful who will live for ever; the complete love of Christ is the love of the Heart of Jesus, united to the love of millions of Christians who will love with Him and in Him to the end of time. This is the great masterpiece Divine Love has accomplished. This alone has succeeded in quenching the infinite love-thirst which Christ had for His Father.

                                                                       Of me then, Jesus asks alike my body and heart, my mind and my will. He asks everything of me. Himself He has given wholly to me. He has given me His flesh, His blood, His life. Now in return He asks mine of me. “Allow Me to live in the place of the self in you; allow Me to substitute Myself for you,” He says to me; “For through you and in you I would yet love the Father to the limit of love.” [87]

A few years ago, in the middle of the night, a call came into the rectory where I was living.

The call was from a Catholic ER nurse in the city hospital.

She was desperately trying to find a priest who would come and anoint a young husband and father, seriously injured in a car crash.

I went immediately to the hospital, anointed the young man, comforted his wife, was present when he died and prayed both the prayers for the dying and then for the deceased.

Afterwards the nurse took me aside and confided she had called the nearest parish first but the priest who answered the phone had said: “We don’t respond outside of office hours.”

Some months later I was asked to help hear confessions in another parish where they were having a “healing” mission.

What happened there I found deeply troubling – lay people where mimicking the actions of priests when we celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, using oil and making the Sign of the Cross on the people who came to them, on hands and forehead.

This after the very clear instruction from the Vatican:

                                                                    In using sacramentals, the non-ordained faithful should ensure that they are in no way regarded as sacraments whose administration is proper and exclusive to the bishop and to the priest. Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the oil of the sick or any other oil. [88]

As with all sacraments there is a direct connection between our faith in the sacraments as encounters with our loving Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in which we participate as recipients and also as celebrants, and the care with which we protect the integrity of the sacred – or not.

We need also to be careful of the way we use language, for words are powerful.

Hence to speak of a ‘healing’ Mass as some extra particular celebration of Holy Mass is erroneous, for every Holy Mass heals.

It is understandable the hunger of people for physical, psychological, spiritual healing – but to confuse the power of the specific Sacrament as being somehow of lessor important than certain para-liturgies such as mentioned above speaks of a lack of faith and trust both in the Sacrament of Anointing and in the very sacred power which is ours in persona Christi.

We need to rediscover, heed and be generous with the Church’s own appreciation of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, as articulated, for example, by the Second Vatican Council:

                                                                         “Anointing of the Sick,” is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly arrived. [89]

The Catechism extends this to include: “….just prior to a serious operation….” [90]

I may be too generous here but having worked with people suffering eating disorders and other serious mental health issues, addicts, people suffering with HIV, etc., etc., I prefer a charitable lavishness with the sacrament, trusting that whoever asks be anointed.

I apply the same when it comes to the matter of time of death.

This I learned from my own bishop who ordained me, now long gone to his eternal reward.

He was truly pastoral and once asked me to attend a rooming house where the police were waiting.

A man had died a few days before and the elderly couple who owned the home did not want the body moved until the man had received ‘the last rites.’

The Bishop said: “Go and under your breath say softly first: ‘If there is life within you then I….’, and the old couple will be at peace.”

Sometimes the needs of the living ask of us what God in His love fully understands and undoubtedly appreciates! [cf. Canon 1005]

Not only when I am travelling on the busy highways where, as we all know serious crashes are unfortunately all too common, but also when just walking around the city, I keep the Holy Oil with me, for at any time we may come upon someone, for example, collapsed on the sidewalk who may be in need of the sacrament.

Simply put as priests we should always be ready to respond to all souls at all times whatever their need.

I believe we priests should accept and understand we are serving Jesus, the Church, the human family, in a time of war, the war which has raged across all of human history, but is perhaps more intense in our own day: spiritual warfare.

Sometimes the casualties in this war are because of actions of we human beings who often act recklessly, sometimes because of the direct, albeit limited as we know from the Book of Job, actions of the devil and his minions – always we priests must be ready!

One winter’s night I was traveling along a narrow highway in a severe snowstorm.

Usually I would not drive under such conditions but it was critical to get a lay missionary to the airport some hundred miles to the south as she was going to a country where the window of opportunity to enter was limited.

Missing the flight meant it would be months, perhaps years, before the proper visa would be granted again.

So there I was cautiously driving through the storm when coming around a tight bend in the road numerous lights were flashing.

We had come upon a terrible crash involving so many vehicles and deceased and seriously injured people, as the first officer who approached the car asking for help told me, all available ambulances, from the nearest city itself an hour away, had been called to the scene.

I got a small stole kept for such emergencies out of the glove box, and as I stepped out of the car, telling my passenger who had already gone pale never having witnessed such a scene to stay put as there was nothing she could do, got the oil from my pocket.

Bodies were strewn about, some dismembered, all deceased, so I simply anointed and absolved with the ‘if there is life within you’ formula.

So many crashed vehicles, so many dead, near a dozen already rushed to hospital among the living, of which only two were uninjured, a man and his little girl, the wife and mother having perished.

The police already knew the lead car had been speeding and crashed into a van from the opposite direction triggering the pile up.

The father and child were in the back of a cruiser and I spent some time comforting them, then turned my attention to the officers and once that was done, my feet soaked as much with blood as wet snow, returned to my car where my passenger was in tears and we spent the rest of the trip praying for the dead and injured. [Mk.6:6-13]

I tell the above simply to underline part of our call must be our readiness at any moment to be present to, with our people whatever their need is.

If we have fallen into some type of 9-5 functional mentality, see priesthood as some sort of job, well then we won’t keep, for example, the Oil on our person.

Who among us priests would ever want to be the one who ‘passed by’?  [Lk. 10:29-27]

His people, our people, are mainly good, sincere people doing their best to love one another, care for their families, be good citizens yet at the same time, as Jesus Himself points out [Mk.6:30-34; Mt.9:35-37] they often act as if sheep without a shepherd, experiencing confusion and fear, especially in these days of such extensive global anxiety fed by a media which reports more on the state of terrorism, economy, climate, disaster, than on giving priority to stories about human kindness, goodness, efforts for peacemaking.

I see a direct connection between the anxieties of the human family and an attitude among priests which fails to see our vocation in persona Christi as one of total availability and as true shepherd, guarding by effective use of all the Sacraments and our priestly intercessory power of prayer and fasting to confront evil, that is to be good fighters in spiritual warfare.

St. Jude speaks directly to this responsibility of ours to be engaged in the struggle for the salvation of souls in union with Jesus, powerfully, among other things, urging us to save our brothers and sisters by ‘snatching them out of the fire.’ [Jude 17-25]

Nothing that concerns the salvation of souls should be outside of our willingness to serve.

                                                                          Precisely because it is a humble reflection on the zeal of Christ Himself, the devotedness of the priest for others can know no limits; its field lies wherever men are to be saved. Like God Himself, the priest wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For this reason the office of priest was summed up by St. Ambrose when he wrote that “it belongs to the priestly office to do harm to no one and to be desirous of helping everyone; to accomplish this can only come from God.”

                                                                      The apostolate of the priest is to the great and the lowly, to the powerful and the weak. It is his duty to adapt himself to the particular needs of each soul. “Let them mount the heights,” wrote St. Augustine, addressing himself to priests, “that they may lift up the great; let them come down into the depths in order to feed the little ones.”

                                                                      St. John Chrysostom declares: “No matter how insignificant or lowly may be the one who appeals to us, no matter how hard and painful may be what he asks, still if he needs our help, then all the difficulties should seem light and easy to bear. God showed us that the soul is worthy of every care and attention when He did not even spare His own Son. [91]

I am well aware of the attitude many priests have, indeed I admit sometimes I reacted the same way, towards those who seem always to be demanding ‘healing Masses’ or to be prayed over, delivered, anointed, have ever new devotions to Mary or some Saint, who even if given all that are never ‘healed/delivered/satisfied’, yet these are the very anawim who flocked to Jesus.

Sure in the vast crowds clamouring for more bread or a new king or more miracles, there were also those who quietly – not necessarily because they had greater faith, trust, maturity or were less wounded, sinful – followed Jesus, accepting whatever He offered without ‘needing’ more.

We, for we priests too are of the sheepfold, we His flock come in all shapes, sizes, colour, maturity, and lack thereof, simplicity and complexity, sinfulness and holiness.

Why do we expect the composition of our parishes, of the human race today, indeed of the priesthood itself, to be any different?

I believe we priests need to spend less time concerned about the composition of our parishes, the make-up of the population of the Church and the world, even of our own ranks, and leaving all that in Our Lady’s hands to sort out, become more adept at combatting real evil, the evil one and his destructive hordes, in a word being true priest-fighters and true vessels of compassion.

We suffer, our people suffer, all people suffer and within the expansive variety of suffering we must never forget, nor deny, evil is afoot for the diabolical hyena preys on those weakened by physical and emotional suffering.

                                                                         It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil.

                                                                           In the midst of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes the individual to suffer.

                                                                          While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.

                                                                       Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil. [92]

I remember when this powerful teaching from Pope John Paul came out and the resistance, some of it rather harsh, to any suggestions of the connection between sin, suffering, punishment, repentance, conversion, intercession as being a rather pre-Vatican II, outmoded, almost medieval approach, understandable if regrettable because of the Holy Father’s Polish background!

O Lord sometimes we priests can be rather arrogant, Lord have mercy!

Granted no human being wants to suffer and it can be difficult at times to dispassionately look at the cause, trigger of the why of some suffering we endure.

However what the Holy Father is challenging us to do is not to spend time trying to figure out how we came to be suffering, but rather what will we do with our suffering?

This applies to those who suffer who come to us for healing, for hope.

If, except when absolutely necessary in order to serve them all the more, when we are approached by so and so, yet again, and their hypochondria or other emotional wounds are self-evident, it is wrong for us to dismiss them out of hand, or deny their request for anointing or to be prayed over.

 It is a golden opportunity to engage them in conversation, urge them to embrace their suffering in union with Jesus for the salvation of souls, an end to abortion, for peace – the needs of the human family are vast!

Our vocation of joy is to serve and our joy will be the greater the less we judge and simply wash feet!

Our hearts then should be filled with the same generosity of heart as St. Paul who constantly prayed for those he served, always eager for their growth in holiness. [1Thess.3:9-13]

The entire baptized community in particular, but truly every human being, dwells in the reality of spiritual warfare.

As priests we should, we must, be in the forefront of the battle.

We live in extremely dangerous and often confusing times.

To be blasé about, ignore or worse deny the reality of satan, evil, sin and the devastating consequences for souls, while perhaps understandable among those of no or weak faith, should cause immense concern when priests have such an attitude.

Perhaps it is not comfortable to ask, but we need to ask ourselves: do I take seriously the threat satan poses to the souls of every human being? To my own?

Satan, as we know, does not only entice to sin individuals and entire peoples, but also, when he fails to seduce with evil will seek to entrap by some other means, such as discouragement, those who struggle to be faithful and virtuous.

                                                                 The devil hates God, but as he cannot reach Him in Himself, he turns against His creatures, and especially against His privileged creature, the priest, the living image of Christ.

                                                                    By our vocation, by the mission and duties which it prescribes for us, we, priests, are especially exposed to the attacks and the cunning of these enemies. [93]

When we cut back on accessibility to confession, anointing, daily Mass, fail to arrange easy access to the Blessed Sacrament for adoration, cut back on home, school, hospital visits, prefer tv or internet to contemplation and lectio divina, when we allow the media and other enemies of Jesus and His Church to form our attitudes then we are clearly being wounded in the war.

In the ‘outer’ world we know how terrorism works with its sneak attacks, i.e.ds., disinformation and other ruses all designed to dispirit whole populations, to create a climate of constant fear.

We know too that in that world governments and their security forces can only protect the population through constant vigilance.

Much like the Cure d’Ars, a good priest, a real fighter in this warfare, worn out and discouraged, came one day, in Russia, to a holy Abbot seeking help:

                                                                         “My parish, Father Abbot, is large,” the Pastor said, “and we have no sects here, but people are indifferent. They rarely come to church. I do not see any reason to celebrate frequently in an empty church.” “Father,” the distressed Abbot answered, “if your parishioners neglect their important duties, you, their pastor, must never neglect yours. The temple of God is never empty. Since it was consecrated it has its own guardian angel. If your people neglect their duties, their guardian angels do not. They fill the temple. When you celebrate, the angels concelebrate with you. You must celebrate regularly, and pray God to convert your people to prayer and penance. The Lord will order their guardian angels to persuade them to come. You are responsible for your own soul and those of your flock. You must realize that.” [94]

Discouragement and anxiety are among satan’s most powerful weapons because they wear us down by degrees.

We rarely wake up one morning suddenly discouraged, rather progressively over time, especially if we have been feeding on negative thoughts, neglect of interior silence, contemplation, fidelity to the Divine Office, daily Mass, etc., interior grumbling becomes anger becomes discouragement and the spiral can continue into deep inner darkness.

We then are vulnerable to not simply neglect of the good but to choose sin.

We have been wounded, perhaps not mortally, wounded nonetheless.

                                                                      Those who are trying to lead a spiritual life have to carry on a most skilful and difficult mental warfare, a spiritual warfare, every moment throughout life; it is necessary that the soul should have every moment a clear eye, able to watch and notice the entrance into the heart of thoughts sent by the evil one, and to repel them. The hearts of such men must always burn with faith, humility and love; for otherwise the subtlety of the devil finds an easy access to them, which is followed by a decline, or even by an entire loss, of belief, and afterwards by every possible evil, difficult to wash away, even by tears. [95]

Among the texts in the New Testament which place before us this reality of spiritual warfare and of demonic activity in the lives of all human beings, particularly the baptized and priests are: Jesus in the desert, in the garden, the cautionary words found in the teachings of St. Peter and Revelations: Mt.4: 1ff; Mk. 1:12ff; Lk.4:1ff; 22:39ff; 1Pt.5:6-11; Rev.12].

Both in the desert and in the garden in particular, Jesus is engaged in the most intense aspects of spiritual warfare.

 The Gospels are replete with encounters between Jesus and evil spirits, for St. Luke points out in his conclusion to the battle in the desert that satan only left Jesus alone for ‘a time’, Lk.4:13.

It can happen that at times we feel as broadsided by the evil one as any soldier stepping on a landmine, sometimes with spiritual consequences akin to those inflicted upon the hapless soldier – or innocent villagers simply on their way to work the fields or go to market – for we must never forget our willingness to be engaged in struggles against the evil one is for all souls and their protection and salvation.

What Jesus took upon Himself and experienced in the Garden, and His prayer, should be ours, and if we can we should willingly spend entire nights in such vigil and intercessory prayer. [Lk.22:39-46]

Our call is to be one with Jesus in all aspects of His life and ministry, which means also in the desert, in the garden, engaged in the battle with satan – without fear: Christ Himself is the Victor and He is with us in the struggle and He engages the enemy in front of us, for us.

Christ was alone in the desert, His disciples failed to keep vigil and fell asleep in the garden.

We are never alone in the desert; let us beg the grace to be vigilant, side by side with Jesus in the garden.

The more we strive to be faithful as priests in persona Christi, the more the evil one will hound us [Rev.12.] but it has always been thus [1Pt. 5:1-] so we should call upon the assistance and protection of all our brother priests in heaven and then continue the struggle with deep peace and intimate confidence in Jesus.

In these days of scepticism, relativism, scientism and the myriad of other isms, when it comes to the reality of spiritual warfare and the activities of the evil one, we can do well to heed this wisdom from a brother priest:

                                                                                    Science insists that the New Testament’s “possessed” were simply insane; the age did not recognize their symptoms and therefore held demons responsible for them. In this respect it concludes, Jesus was a man of His time. True, the external manifestations then were probably similar to the symptoms recorded by specialists in our clinics today; but what is behind those symptoms no psychiatrist can tell. When the Lord commanded an evil spirit in one who is mentally ill, He worked from an approach that no modern doctor can share. Evil does not function so that one can say this or that is unnatural, therefore demonic. Neither the supernatural nor the unnatural in Christian life makes its appearance by stepping into some gap in the natural order. Everything is also ‘natural’; the chain of nature events never breaks. Everything is the result of something else – but it is precisely here, in natural cause and effect that satan works as well as God. Therefore, when Jesus addressed the demon in a sick man, He did so because He knew that ‘something else’ lay at the bottom of the psychosis. [96]

Nowadays every variation of human physical, psychological, spiritual life is simultaneously justified, explained, excused as one having been ‘born that way; my choice; its genetic; I’m addicted; I have…..[name the flavour of the month]’: in other words we increasingly eliminate any responsibility for the ‘something else’ and therefore enable the evil one, more and more, to, in a sense supply, or at least motivate, the ‘something else’.

The culture of darkness and death, of relativism and of ‘my rights’ trumping responsibility is part of the ‘something else’ which animates the horrific crimes and sins which cast their poisonous fog into the depths of countless lives, countless souls, from abortion to euthanasia, from child abuse to violence against women, into the dank places where terrorism is planned, where human trafficking unfolds.

Wherever evil lurks, there is the battlefield.

In a sense the evil one ‘hides’ in plain sight in the culture of death.

                                                                             Because of this hidden deceit and the fraudulent methods the devil uses, all who do not cleave to the name of Christ and the Holy Spirit – that is the Spirit of truth, knowledge, understanding, and divine guidance – easily fall prey to the devil’s wiles and do his work quite unawares. Instead of rightly perceiving the works of the evil one, they see them simply as the way of the world or the prevailing customs or the natural product of human nature or perhaps the result of sickness, chance, unintentional errors, or rash speech or action. These are the threads the devil cleverly weaves together till they invisibly encircle the mind, gradually and fiendishly shutting out the lights that bring discernment between truth and falsehood. They close in upon the conscience, stifling it till it slowly and almost imperceptibly loses its sensitivity to truth. Finally these perceptions penetrate so deeply that they enslave not only the mind, but even the body itself, and in the end the law of sin occupies a person’s very being and controls the mind, tongue, conscience, body and behaviour. [97]

Yesterday I was visiting a dear brother priest and as is our custom, from time to time, we prayed over each other, absolved each other and anointed each other.

He has a serious and chronic lung condition which at times brings him to the brink of death.

I too have a chronic, but much less serious, medical condition and we both are wearied by the warfare, so the reality of shared sacramental and priestly blessing is essential.

Since we began doing this for each other we have both noticed a reduction in stress, improvement in physical, emotional, spiritual health, renewed commitment and joy.

Sometimes it does please Jesus to heal, to deliver, instantly [Mt.8:1-4]; sometimes to do so, as it were, progressively [Mk.8:22-26]; to grant forgiveness of sin and then to heal [Mt.9:1-8]; always there is communion of love: by glance, by word [Jn.4:4-42; Lk.9:37-43] but always all ultimately is to reveal the glory of the Father, which is His love for us [Jn.9], and to do as Jesus did/does is not only to be fully engaged in spiritual warfare, it is to love, it is to spread the fire of hope and compassion [Lk.10:25-37].

Here, the final word to a great priest of compassion, a true fighter:

                                                                         In the Book of Revelation, the ‘great portent’ of the ‘woman’ [12:1] is accompanied by ‘another portent which appeared in heaven’: ‘a great red dragon’ [Rv.12:3], which represents satan, the personal power of evil, as well as all the powers of evil at work in history and opposing the Church’s mission.

                                                                 Here too Mary sheds light on the community of believers. The hostility of the powers of evil is, in fact, an insidious opposition which, before affecting the disciples of Jesus, is directed against His Mother. To save the life of her Son from those who fear Him as a dangerous threat, Mary has to flee with Joseph and the Child into Egypt [cf. Mt.2:13-15].

                                                                   Mary thus helps the Church to realize that life is always at the center of a great struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. The dragon wishes to devour ‘the child brought forth’ [cf. Rv.12:4], a figure of Christ, whom Mary brought forth ‘in the fullness of time’ [Gal.4:4] and whom the Church must unceasingly offer to people in every age. But in a way that child is also a figure of every person, every child, especially every helpless baby whose life is threatened, because – as the Council reminds us – ‘by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every person.’ It is precisely ‘in the flesh’ of every person that Christ continues to reveal Himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ. This is the fascinating but revealing truth which Christ reveals to us and which His Church continues to untiringly proclaim: ‘Whoever receives one such child in My Name receives Me.’ [Mt.18:5]; “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brethren, you did it to Me’[Mt.25:40]. [98]