Perhaps in this time of pandemic, it can be fruitful to look at the Scriptures the Church prescribes for rituals with people who are sick or dying.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus on a mountainside delivering a discourse that ranges from the Beatitudes to an urging of his disciples to be holier than the holy people they see in Jewish culture. What would that be like today for Catholics? Be holier than your pastors and clergy. Be more saintly than the volunteers, teachers, and ministers you admire. Strive for the very best in your closeness to God’s ideals.
Jesus has come down from the mountain in Matthew 8, and finds himself in a fishing town on the Sea of Galilee. He encounters a prominent Gentile military man who makes a serious request. Let’s read:
When (Jesus) entered Capernaum,
a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying,
“Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.”
He said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a person subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this,
he was amazed and said to those following him,
“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel
have I found such faith.
I say to you,
many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven,
but the children of the kingdom
will be driven out into the outer darkness,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
And Jesus said to the centurion,
“You may go;
as you have believed,
let it be done for you.”
And at that very hour [his] servant was healed.
There are two remarkable things in this passage. First, you readers notice the origin of the Prayer of Humble Access. The centurion seems to be well aware of Jewish purity traditions; he does not wish to cause difficulty for the Lord, who was well-willing to enter the house of a Gentile in order to assist a suffering person. But let’s not get carried away with a sense of unworthiness. To God, human worth is irrelevant. Every person has value. God honors this, especially in those who approach with a humble perspective.
Second, we see Jesus cautioning his listeners, those witnessing the display of faith in someone not of their own faith. Who might that be today? Non-Catholics? Certainly. Also LGBTQ persons, members of an opposite political party, the divorced and remarried, and those who have erred most gravely.
Jesus tells us we will be surprised at the citizen profile in the Reign of God to come. Should that make us nervous or gleeful? I think we go back to the lessons of Matthew 5, 6, and 7. And we attend carefully to the witness of the centurion. Have faith. Trust Jesus. Keep our nose clean and close to the grindstone. There is one Last Judge. He no longer lives on Earth.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.