One of my favorite traditions is gathering at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg for the annual chrism Mass. It is a glorious Mass celebrated by our bishop, Lawrence E. Brandt, concelebrated by diocesan priests, elevated by powerful music and attended by faithful people from all four counties of the diocese.
Priests renew their priestly promises, and the bishop blesses the oils of the sick and catechumens and consecrates the sacred chrism, which are then distributed to all 85 of our diocesan parishes to be used throughout the coming year.
Little did I realize as I prayed with the bishop, priests and assembly at the 2003 Mass that my younger son would be anointed with the oil of the sick the following year.
The call came on April 1, during Lent.
“We found a cyst on Michael’s cerebellum, and we need to do additional tests,” said his doctor.
Our family was paralyzed with fear of the unknown.
At the time, Michael was a strong, athletic, 16-year-old sophomore in high school. But he’d been having “zone out” episodes that prompted his doctor to order a CT scan. He wanted to rule out seizures.
We never really expected the test to reveal anything.
“Am I going to die, Mom?” are words no mother ever wants to hear.
Several dark days would unfold before an MRI and doctor consultations would reveal a benign brain tumor.
My husband, Michael and I gathered with our pastor in our church sacristy one Saturday afternoon, and he anointed Michael with the oil of the sick — the very oil that the bishop had blessed in the cathedral nearly a year before.
During this season of Lent, I realized how profoundly our lives are immersed within the liturgical seasons of our faith, the sacramental life of the church and the divine, sacred paschal mystery.
And Good Friday precedes Easter.
On a dark, rainy pre-dawn morning, our family of four and my mother squeezed into our blue Ford Focus and drove to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. We were blanketed in prayer and blessed with the absolute best surgeons and health care professionals.
Gamma Knife surgery successfully killed the tumor, and subsequent tests over the years have confirmed this.
And it changed the course of Michael’s life.
The next morning, I rose from the cot next to Michael’s hospital bed to open the blinds.
I didn’t want to see rain.
Upon opening the blinds, the glorious rays of the sun spilled into the room, bathing Michael in a field of light. His white sheet twisted around his body, I could not help but think of Le Brun’s 1674 painting titled “Louis XIV Adoring the Risen Christ.”
“That sun is so bright,” he said wincing. “It’s in my eyes.”
Nearly a year later at the 2005 chrism Mass, Michael stood in the balcony of the cathedral with my husband and me among the faithful as the bishop blessed and consecrated the oils.
Later that evening, Michael presented the oil of the sick to our parish at the beginning of the Holy Thursday Mass.
A few months ago, Michael, now 25, received another life-transforming phone call.
After five years of rigorous undergraduate work, many hours working as a patient transporter and clinical lab technician in cancer research, intense studying for the medical college admissions test, and numerous hours of shadowing the very doctor who first detected his brain tumor, Michael was accepted into Virginia’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
In a few short months, Michael will depart for Virginia to pursue that which he strongly feels called to do — touch and heal the lives of the sick and broken, not unlike the ways in which he was touched by those before him.
Thanks be to God, this story has a happy ending. Many don’t. But regardless of the way in which our lives play out, we have Christ’s promise that he will always be with us throughout our journeys, always present in the sacramental life of the church — and in others.
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