“My salad days, when I was green in judgment.”
When I arrived at their barangay home address to give him the Anointing of the Sick, K gave me a blank stare. At sixteen, his life seemed at a dead-end.
It was like I was before a corpse, except that he was moving. His parents told me that that was all he did all night and day—move from one side of his huge bed (they had to find one big and wide enough) to the other, upward or downward. He couldn’t speak. He was fed through what looked to me like a hose attached onto an opening on his throat. I asked what happened to him. Haltingly K’s parents recalled to me his near-fatal accident late last year at which, drunk from a halloween party, he drove his speeding motorcycle against an iron highway barrier. Apart from some bone fractures, his head was seriously injured in a way that affected his brain’s functions. He could not speak nor communicate clearly. It was mostly his mother’s instincts that interpreted his needs or wishes.
I paused and just stared back at K in silence before I went through the rite of the sacrament. I could not help but wonder at the cruel consequences of a mistake many teens and adults often commit in this country, that is, drink one beer too many and drive a motorcycle, tricycle or car to go home. Most of them somehow arrive safely at their destinations. A few like K have their dates with tragedy.
“Through this Holy Anointing,” I muttered in the most prayerful manner I could muster as I anointed his forehead, “may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then, doing the same on his hands, I prayed, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”
After I spoke with his mother and father, I felt sorry for them. At the same time I felt moved by their quiet and dogged determination to fight for his life and give him their best loving care as parents and as his family. As I turned to say goodbye, I urged them to continue praying in faith for the sake of their son and that I would be one with them in this. Then, quietly, I left their San Saturnino home, turning K and his family over to the Lord. They were only a poor farmer’s family. On leaving, I saw a huge oxygen tube on a corner of the house and I could only imagine how K’s condition must have weighed heavily on the family’s finances. They thanked me profusely as I made my way back to the highway to return to the rectory.
There were two voices that I heard talking to me that morning: one from my heart, the other from my head. My heart told me K’s parents had an admirably strong faith and that will see them through their family’s tribulation. My head told me to be simply realistic and accept that K could go any time, his condition being beyond reasonable hope.
Then, just like K’s condition, my conscious focus on this one episode of my ministry went blank.
The Sunday after the anointing, before Mass, the extraordinary minister of holy communion whose wife is related to K asked me if I still remembered him. I answered, “Of course. Why do you ask? How is he?” I was expecting doom. He said, almost matter-of-factly: “Well, he is better. He is up, he already speaks and communicates, although he still has speech and memory lapses.” I was stunned, but overjoyed. I said to myself, “That young man in that condition is still alive? And he can now speak? Wow. Is this for real?”
Apparently it was. The following Sunday the same extraordinary minister of holy communion asked me to take a peep into the congregation attending the Eucharist. Without asking why, I walked towards the altar to read the Mass intentions and casually glanced at the people present. There, quietly seated on a middle pew to my right, was K with his mother, beaming. I turned to the extraordinary minister who was now smiling and all I heard was: “I urged them to thank the Lord for the miracle of recovery in the best way possible—by coming here to offer the Eucharist with the community.”
My mind raced to one morning in a classroom when our sacramentology professor read the letter of James: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the presbyters of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
I looked again at K, once so close to death, now so close to life.