14th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B

They anointed the sick with oil

Olive oil was most serviceable in the Mideast in Jesus' day, as it continues to be in the present. It is used for cooking and baking, as a base for perfumes, and as a healing agent. When Our Lord told his disciples to journey forth healing and preaching repentance, he instructed them to anoint the sick with oil.

Brother Andre Bessette of Montreal also had the power to heal, and often exercised this power by rubbing the disabled with olive oil. Andre was a modern miracle man, born 1845, died 1937. He was a member of a large and poor Quebec family. When he was old enough to work, he became a laboring man. In fact, he spent three years in Connecticut, working on a farm or in mills. Then in 1866, he returned to Canada for admission into the Congregation of the Holy Cross. His aim was not to become a Priest, but a lay-brother in vows.

The calling of lay-brother is a humble one, but Brother Andre became notable in spite of himself. He had great devotion to St. Joseph; and he spent his whole religious life spreading that devotion, and building the great basilica of St. Joseph that towers above Montreal. Meanwhile, he was daily increasing in holiness of life. Thousands of pilgrims came not only to honor St. Joseph, but to consult with The Brother, and he was always at the disposal of those in need. Countless Miracles were worked through his prayers. He would usually tell the sick to rub the diseased part with a medal of St. Joseph or with St. Joseph's oil (an olive oil blessed for the purpose). As he once explained "It takes faith to rub oneself with a medal or with oil." St. Joseph was obviously honoring that faith; but the fact remains that it was the little Brother who was St. Joseph's agent. That is one reason why Pope John Paul II proclaimed Brother Andre "Blessed" on May 23, 1982. As in Christ's day oil was the symbol, faith the real medicine. "They anointed the sick with oil, and worked many cures" (Mark 6:13, Today's Gospel).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

(Update: Brother Andre was canonized on October 17, 2010.)

Q379: What is the "thorn in the flesh" that St. Paul speaks about in the Second Reading today (2 Cor 12:7-10)?

First, let me give an example. I am currently a silent witness to a family situation over which I have no control. Many of your own families have been in this position: one member is temporarily without employment, and it affects everyone in that extended family. It can leave one with an anxious feeling of helplessness, not able to "fix" the problem. It is a very uncomfortable feeling; things are not in the "order" we are accustomed to follow every day. The feeling is further compounded when other family members are unable to help through financial means because of simple economics.

To me, that is one good definition of "a thorn in the side" - a pain of whatever kind that is beyond our control to change for the better. We really don't know what the "thorn" was for St. Paul. He was given extraordinary revelations and visions. In his own analysis, the danger he perceived was that he would become too proud because of those special blessings. For that reason he believed that he was "given" a thorn to remind him of his dependence on the Lord alone. Perhaps it was a physical weakness. Perhaps it was a psychological anguish, since he could not "reach" or "touch" the hearts of many of his listeners. Whatever it was, the thorn could not be removed; it was beyond his control.

Whether we are in a medical situation or a work dilemma, we are called upon to reach deep within, grab hold of our faith, and trust in the Lord that all will be well. We know that he is with us in our sufferings. As he told St. Paul, "My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection." Faith is all about trusting, even if we do not know what lies ahead.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! God who created everything can do everything; only faith can discern that this power is loving and is made perfect in weakness (CCC #268). If we humbly acknowledge our weakness and dependence on God, we will be drawn in faith to recognize that nothing is impossible with God, and that he will do the most lovable thing for us in answer to our prayers (CCC #273).

Tell It Like it Is

The prophet Ezekiel had been sent to remind the Israelites of their Covenant obligations, but they did not listen for they were a "rebellious houseā€¦but they shall know that a prophet has been among them."

St. Paul had congregations that did not like what he had to say, but when he complained to the Lord he was told "my grace is enough for you; for in weakness power reaches perfection." Jesus found that many of his own people did not accept him. They thought they knew him too well to be impressed, and so he could do little for them. Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus faced hostile and unreceptive audiences, but they spoke what God commanded whether they were listened to or not. There are times when we too must speak the Lord's word whether we are listened to or not.

Lord, give us the strength to do your will and speak your truth even when it seems to bring us only rejection and disdain. What we cannot achieve by our own efforts we beg you to bring about by your love and grace.