And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, Who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, establish and strengthen you.
I Peter 5:10
O Master Almighty, Holy King, Who chastens yet does not put to death; Who supports those who fall and raises those who are downtrodden; Who heals our physical afflictions: we entreat You, our God, that You bring Your mercy on this oil, and to those, who are anointed with it in Your name; that it may be effectual unto the healing of soul and body, unto cleansing and deliverance from every infirmity, illness, malady, and every defilement of body and soul. Yes, Lord, send down from heaven Your healing power; touch the body, quench the fever, soothe the pain, and banish every hidden ailment. Become the Physician of these, Your servants; raise them up and heal their suffering; grant that they may be given to the Church whole and in restored health, pleasing You and abiding by Your will. For Yours it is to show mercy and to save us, O our God, and to You we give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to ages of ages. Amen. (3rd Prayer)
Will I ever feel whole again? This is a question that we will ponder many times in life. It comes to mind whenever we get sick for more than a day. When we are laid up in bed, even for a short period of time, we wonder, “will it ever go away?” When we have a serious illness, this question is front and center in our minds. Sometimes, the answer is “yes, we will feel whole again at some point.” Sometimes the answer is “we will feel better but not return back to our old normal.” And sometimes the answer is “no, we are not going to feel physically whole again, in fact, we will not recover.”
There are spiritual consequences to these circumstances. We may wonder “will God intervene and speed up healing?” We may wonder “Is there a God, because if there is, why am I not healing?” And in the case of not recovering, when we are on the path to physical death, there will be a point where we will all confront the truth of the Gospel and our faith (or lack thereof) in Jesus Christ. In any of these circumstances, spiritual healing is needed.
More common than our need for physical healing is the constant need for spiritual healing and our constant pursuit of spiritual wholeness. Because one can feel physically whole and spiritually empty. When life has disappointed us, or when we’ve consciously fallen away from God, there is a spiritual emptiness.
In the third prayer of Holy Unction, we are praying for both kinds of healing, physical and spiritual. We pray for “cleansing and deliverance from every infirmity, illness, malady.” We pray for God to “touch the body, quench the fever, soothe the pain.” These are the prayers for physical healing.
We also pray for deliverance from “every defilement of body and soul.” This means when we’ve defiled ourselves through sin, we pray for forgiveness and to renew spiritual joy. The prayer mentions “every hidden ailment.” These are the wounds that doctors and science cannot detect. A broken leg can be diagnosed through an X-ray. But what about a wounded spirit and a burdened soul? There is no diagnostic test to measure these, no prescription medicine that will cure them. We look to Christ to help us diagnose our inner sufferings. We lean on priests, through counsel and confession to help us understand and identify what ails our spirits. And we come in prayer, and in sacraments (Eucharist, Confession, Unction) to receive a measure of healing for our hidden ailments.
We ask Christ to become our physician in our times of suffering. We are all destined to have a physical death, which will be the result of incurable illness. The illness which will end our earthly lives may be extremely short, such as a car accident or massive heart attack, or it may be more prolonged, such as cancer or a stroke. While we will all inevitably succumb to physical illness, Christ can deliver us from the suffering associated with all physical illness, just as He can deliver us from the suffering associated with sin and spiritual illness. It is possible that even when one is afflicted with a life-threatening sickness, he or she can feel cured from any associated mental or spiritual suffering.
There are some bodies that will never be whole again. We will all reach a point when our bodies will perish, they won’t be whole at all. However, Christ can make the spirit whole again. In those times when we wonder, will we ever feel spiritually whole again, we can take joy from the fact that through Christ, this is always on the table. This sacrament reinforces the strength of God’s ability to forgive and be merciful to even the worst of sinners. And it reinforces the strength of God’s ability to alleviate spiritual suffering even in the direst of physical ailments.
Let no interposition of malignant demons, O Savior, touch the senses of those, who are in God anointed; hedge them under the shelter of Your Glory. (6th Ode)
We may come to a point where physical wholeness is not possible. However, we will never come to a point where spiritual wholeness is not possible. Through God’s mercy, love and forgiveness, spiritual healing and wholeness are always possible.