I Became Your Father

 The Sacrament of Holy Orders

And Michas said:
Stay with me, and be unto me a father and a priest,
and I will give thee every year ten pieces of silver,
and a double suit of apparel, and thy victuals.
Judges 17, 10

Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ,
you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus
I became your father through the gospel.
1 Corinthians 4, 15

The Sacrament of Holy Orders is the continuation of Jesus Christ’s priesthood, which He bestowed upon His Apostles. This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Sacrament of Holy Orders as “the sacrament of apostolic ministry” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1536).

The priesthood of the New Covenant has its roots in the priesthood of the Old Covenant. God’s chosen people have constituted “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6; Isa 61:6). But from among the twelve tribes of Israel, God chose the tribe of Levi and set it apart to minister liturgical service (Num 1:48-53; Josh 13:33). The Levite priests were “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb 5:1; cf. Ex 29:1-30; Lev 8). This priesthood was instituted to proclaim the Word of God and restore communion with God by sacrifice and prayer (Mal 2:7-9). However, this priesthood was powerless in bringing about salvation in the Christian meaning. The sacrifices for sin had to be repeated ceaselessly and were unable to achieve definitive sanctification and justification, which only Christ’s single sacrifice of himself could and would accomplish at the appointed time in salvation history (Heb 5:3; 7:27; CCC 1539, 1540).

In the New Covenant, there are two participations in the one priesthood of Christ. Our High Priest and unique mediator between God and humanity has made his Church “be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Rev 1:6). We who are baptized “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). God’s chosen people in the New Dispensation are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special protection” (1 Pet 2:9). The entire community of believers is as such priestly in their baptismal vocation according to their particular spiritual gifts. Christians are anointed first and foremost in the Sacrament of Baptism and then again when their baptismal grace is perfected in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

As anointed priests in the Church, Christians are united to Christ and his sacrifice in the offerings they make of themselves in their daily lives. Paul exhorted the Christians in Rome to “offer [their] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, [their] spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). The Second Vatican Council affirms, “[The laity] exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.” (Apostolicam actuositatem, 2).

Catholics profess Jesus Christ to be “the one (heis / εἷς) Mediator between God and man” (1 Tim 2:5), by which St. Paul means He is the one who has ‘universally’ redeemed the world and has reconciled all humanity (Jew and Gentile) to God by serving as a ransom for sin which was paid through the outpouring of his most precious blood (2:6). Our Lord’s principal mediation in his humanity does not preclude the mediation or intercession of the faithful in and through His merits by prayer and sacrifice “so that everyone might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:1-4). The apostle has no intention of emphasizing that Jesus is the “one and only” (monos / μόνος) mediator in the entire economy of salvation. The Christian faithful are indeed called to participate in our Lord’s mediation as active and living members of His Mystical Body who partake of the divine life (1 Pet 2:5; 2 Pet 1:3-4). This prerogative is conferred on these members by right of adoption as sons and daughters of God, who participate in Christ’s divine nature; since it is in his humanity – not divinity – that Christ as Head of His Mystical Body intercedes for us all before the Father as both eternal High Priest and sacrificial victim.

The ministerial priesthood of bishops and priests and the common priesthood of believers participate each in their own way in the one priesthood of Christ (CCC 1546, 1547). While the common priesthood of the faithful “is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace –a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason, it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders” (CCC, 1547).

The ordained minister acts in the person of Christ. Our Lord is present in the ecclesial service of his anointed minister as Head of his body. The priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis, representing the person of Christ. “It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself. Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ” (CCC, 1548).

The ministerial priesthood is a divine office that extends from the common priesthood of the faithful through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. This is an office that our Lord has committed to his pastors to serve as shepherds of his flock in his name and in him. It depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood for the good of all people and the communion of the Church. The sacred power of Christ is communicated to the ordained minister through the sacrament of Holy Orders. The exercise of this authority in the divine office “must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all” (CCC 1551). The ministerial priesthood acts in the name of the whole Church when offering to God the prayer of the Church, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice (CCC 1552). “The prayer and offering of the Church are inseparable from the prayer and offering of Christ, her head; it is always the case that Christ worships in and through his Church. The whole Church, the Body of Christ, prays and offers herself ‘through him, with him, in him,’ in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to God the Father. The whole Body, caput et membra, prays and offers itself, and therefore those who in the Body are especially his ministers are called ministers not only of Christ but also of the Church. It is because the ministerial priesthood represents Christ that it can represent the Church” (CCC, 1553).

Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders priests “share in the universal dimensions of the mission that Christ entrusted to the apostles.” The spiritual gift they have received in ordination prepares them for the fullest universal mission of salvation, that is to the ends of the earth, to preach the Gospel and minister the sacraments (Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). (CCC, 1565) It is in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful (synaxis) that ordained priests exercise their divine office in the “supreme degree”… “acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass, they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once and for all a spotless victim to the Father” (CCC, 1566).

Priests are called “to the service of the People of God.” Together with their bishop, they constitute a unique “sacerdotal college” (presbyterium) in which they fulfill all their duties. Priests can exercise their ministry only on “dependence on the bishop and in communion with them.” The vow of obedience priests make to the bishop at the time of ordination and the “kiss of peace” at the end of the ordination liturgy signifies they are in communion with him as his fellow workers in Christ (CCC, 1567). “The unity of the presbyterium finds liturgical expression in the custom of the presbyters’ imposing hands, after the bishop, during the Ate of ordination” (CCC, 1568).

Finally, the Sacrament of Holy Orders also includes the ordination of deacons. They are situated at a lower level of the Church hierarchy. These candidates also receive the imposition of the bishop’s hands “not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry” to serve the Church. Not unlike the priest, the deacon is a co-worker with the bishop together with the priest (CCC, 1569). Moreover, deacons also serve in Christ’s mission in a special way apart from the common priesthood of the faithful. “Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity” (CCC, 1570).

The ordinations of bishops, (selected by the pope), priests, and deacons preferably take place in a cathedral on Sunday. All three ordinations take a proper place in the Eucharistic liturgy (CCC, 1571). “The essential rite of the sacrament of Holy Orders for all three degrees consists in the bishop’s imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand and in the bishop’s specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained” (CCC 1573).

The effects of the Sacrament of Holy Orders are the indelible character and the grace of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament “configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king. As with the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the Sacrament of Holy Orders “confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily” (CCC, 1582). Although an ordained person could be discharged from his office for grave reasons, “the character imprinted by ordination is forever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently” (CCC, 1583). It is by the grace of the Holy Spirit proper to this sacrament that the ordinand is configured to Christ as “Priest, Teacher, and Pastor, of whom the ordained is made a minister” (CCC, 1585).

The Sacrament of Holy Orders and the ministerial priesthood have a biblical basis. We find the verb form for the noun hiereus or ἱερεύς in the New Testament. The word means “priest” or one who “sacrifices to a god.” Paul writes to the church in Rome: “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering (hierourgounta / ἱερουργοῦντα) the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Rom 15:15-15, KJV). What we literally have is “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God” (NASB), “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God” (NIV), or “in the priestly service of the gospel of God” (ESV).

The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) has this: “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Thus, the ministers of the New Covenant were essentially priests and had priestly tasks. The supreme act of theirs was to offer up the Eucharistic sacrifice to God in worship (1 Cor 10:16, 18, 20; 11:26; Heb 13:10, 15). There is no ministerial priestly function ascribed to deacons, but there is to apostles, bishops, and elders.

Our Lord Jesus definitively chose and sent his apostles to act like priests, or “mediators between God and men.” For instance, after the Resurrection, our Lord appeared to the apostles and said to them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so, I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”(Jn 20:21-23). On this occasion, Jesus communicates or transfers the sacred power to forgive and retain sins. The apostles are to do what the Lord has done in his priestly ministry with divine authority. The power or authority Jesus invests in them is the one he has been invested in by God the Father in his humanity (Mt 5:17-26).

Ministering the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a ministerial priestly task that is rooted in the Old Covenant. For example, ‘ but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him’ (Lev 19:21-22, RSVCE). The ordination of the New Covenant priests, therefore, began with Jesus and the apostles. The Sacrament of Holy Orders was instituted by Christ himself.

The Scriptures reveal that the ordained ministers of the nascent New Covenant Church had a share in Christ’s priestly ministry and authority that originated from the Father. Jesus says he does nothing of his own authority. Likewise, the apostles will do nothing on their own authority but on the same authority that comes from God (Jn 8:28). The father’s authority is transferred to the Son. The Son does not speak on his own. This is a transfer of divine authority (Jn 12:49). Jesus gives to his apostles what the Son has been given from the Father (Jn 16:14-15). The authority isn’t lessened or mitigated. Jesus declares to His apostles, “He who receives you, receives Me, and he who rejects you, rejects Me and the One who sent Me” (Mt 10:1, 40). Jesus gives the apostles the authority to make visible decisions on earth that will be ratified in heaven (Mt 16:19; 18:18). The power to “bind and loose” was given to the priests of the Old Covenant. Jesus tells his apostles that “he who hears you, hears me” (Lk 10:16). When we listen to our bishop on matters of faith and morals, we listen to Christ whom he represents.

The Christian faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles. The word “foundation” shows that the apostolic teaching authority does not die with the apostles but carries on through a physical line of succession (Eph 2:20). As soon as Jesus ascends into heaven Peter implements apostolic succession. Matthias is ordained with full apostolic authority (Acts 1:15-26). Only the Catholic Church can demonstrate an unbroken apostolic lineage to the apostles in union with Peter through the Sacrament of Holy Orders and thereby claim to teach with Christ’s own authority.

At the outset, one had to be ordained by an apostle to witness with the apostles and teach with the authority of Christ which our Lord had invested in them (Acts 1:21-23). This apostolic authority is transferred through the imposition of hands and has been extended beyond the original Twelve as the Church has grown (Acts 6:6). Paul himself becomes an ordained minister by the laying on of hands (Acts 9:17-19). The sacrament of ordination is necessary to invest Christ’s authority in the ordinand. The apostles and newly-ordained men appointed elders (Acts 14:23). Preachers of the Gospel must be sent by the bishops in union with the Church with the authority that can be traced back to the apostles (Acts 15:22-27). Paul is referring to the Sacrament of Holy Orders when he writes that “God has commissioned certain men and sealed them with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor 1:21-22).

It is Paul and the council of elders that ordain Timothy (1 Tim 4:14). Again, apostolic authority is transferred through the laying on of hands. And Timothy himself is instructed by Paul on how to properly ordain someone by the imposition of hands (1 Tim 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6). Paul uses the word episkopēs (ἐπισκοπῆς) which means “bishop” and thereby requires an office (1 Tim 3:1). Paul’s use of this Greek word presupposes the office of the bishop shall carry on after his death by those who will succeed him through the sacrament of ordination until Christ returns.

I wish to conclude by explaining how it is that Catholics call ordained priests “Father.” Dr. Scott Hahn tells us that in the Old Testament the priesthood can be divided into two periods: the patriarchal and the Levitical. The patriarchal period is covered in the Book of Genesis while the Levitical period begins in Exodus. These two periods differ significantly. “Patriarchal religion was firmly based on the natural family order, most especially the authority handed down from the father to the son – ideally the firstborn – often in the form of the ‘blessing’.” (See Genesis 27.)  There is no separate priestly institution or caste as there is from the time of Moses, as well as no temple and prescribed sacrifice. “The patriarchs themselves build altars and present offerings at places and at times of their own choosing (See Gen 4:3-4; 8:20-21; 12:7-8). Fathers are empowered as priests by nature.”

Dr. Hahn continues: “There are vestments associated with the office. When Rebekah took the garments of Esau, her firstborn, and gave them to Jacob, she was symbolically transferring the priestly office (Gen 27:15). We see the same priestly significance, a generation later, in the ‘long robe,’ Jacob gave to his son Joseph” (See Gen 37:3-4). Thus, fatherhood is the original basis for the priesthood. “The very meaning of priesthood goes back to the father of the family – his representative role, spiritual authority, and religious service… priesthood belonged to fathers and their ‘blessed’ sons.” On the other hand, the Levitical priesthood “became a hereditary office reserved to the cultural elite. And the home was no longer the primary place of priesthood and sacrifice” (Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots: Doubleday, 2009). Still, when a Levitical priest comes knocking at Micah’s door, he pleads, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest” (Jdgs. 17:10).

When Paul said, “I became your father through the gospel,” he was referring to himself as being a priest. The community of believers in Corinth comprises his sons and daughters and heirs to the kingdom of heaven. Not unlike Paul, his successors in the Catholic Church – through the Sacrament of Holy Orders – are fathers and priests by their role of representing Christ, their spiritual authority, and religious service: the preaching of the gospel and ministration of the sacraments for the family in the house of God which is the Church.


“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of
the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect
foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterward gave
instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their
St. (Pope) Clement of Rome,
1st Epistle to the Corinthians, 44:1-2
(c. A.D. 96)

“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye
would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do
anything connected with the Church without the
bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist,
which is [administered] either by the
bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the
bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ
is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate
a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything
that is done may be secure and valid.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch,
Epistle to the Smyraens, 8
(c. A.D. 110)

“Since, according to my opinion, the grades here in the Church, of bishops,
presbyters, deacons, are imitations of the angelic glory, and of that economyz
which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who, following the footsteps of the apostles,
have lived in the perfection of righteousness according to the Gospel.”
St. Clement of Alexandria,
Stromata, 6:13
(A.D. 202)

“And before you had received the grace of the episcopate, no one knew you; but after
you became one, the laity expected you to bring them food, namely instruction from
the Scriptures…For if all were of the same mind as your present advisers, how would
you have become a Christian, since there would be no bishops? Or if our successors
are to inherit the state of mind, how will the Churches be able to hold together?”
St. Athanasius,
To Dracontius, Epistle 49:2,4
(c. A.D. 355)

“The Blessed Apostle Paul in laying down the form for appointing a bishop and creating by his
instructions an entirely new type of member of the Church, has taught us in the following words the
sum total of all the virtues perfected in him:–Holding fast the word according to the doctrine of faith
that he may be able to exhort to sound doctrine and to convict gain savers. For there are many
unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers. For in this way he points out that the essentials of
orderliness and morals are only profitable for good service in the priesthood if at the same time the
qualities needful for knowing how to teach and preserve the faith are not lacking, for a man is not
straightway made a good and useful priest by a merely innocent life or by a mere knowledge of
St. Hilary of Poitiers,
On the Trinity
(A.D. 359)

“There is not, however, such narrowness in the moral excellence of the Catholic Church as that I
should limit my praise of it to the life of those here mentioned. For how many bishops have I known
most excellent and holy men, how many, presbyters, how many deacons, and ministers of all kinds of
the divine sacraments, whose virtue seems to me more admirable and more worthy of commendation
on account of the greater difficulty of preserving it amidst the manifold varieties of men, and in this
life of turmoil!”
St. Augustine,
On the Morals of the Catholic Church, 69
(A.D. 388)

“It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you,
just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my
table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of

Luke 22, 28-30

Pax vobiscum

Is Anyone among You Sick?

 The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick

And He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God,
and do what is right in His sight, and listen to His commandments,
and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which
I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.”
Exodus 15, 26

Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the
church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name
of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the
Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
James 5, 14-16

In the Catholic Church, the Anointing of the Sick, also known as Extreme Unction, is a sacrament that is administered to a Catholic “who, having reached the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age,” except in the case of those who “persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.” The sacrament provides physical and/or spiritual healing according to God’s will. It offers necessary graces so that the sick person may prepare for death; it pours out consolation and hope and provides an opportunity for the forgiveness of sins even when the sick person is too ill to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Anointing of the Sick is often administered near the time of death to bring the person receiving the sacrament spiritual and physical strength. As a sacrament (an outward sign of something internal), it is performed to give God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. Only priests (presbyters and bishops) have the authority to minister the anointing of the sick using oil blessed by the bishop since Christ gave his apostles and the men they appointed in the ministry special power over natural and supernatural phenomena.

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has its foundations in “the economy of salvation.” Because sin has entered the world, illness and suffering plague our human condition. “In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude.” Those who are gravely or chronically ill catch a glimpse of death and are humbled by their illness. They acquire the wisdom of the fact that health and happiness aren’t permanent, and their lives must eventually come to an end (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1500). The acquisition of wisdom is a good thing, but illness, suffering, and the thought of approaching death do carry a negative influence. Although an ill or dying person might become more mature and able to discern the more important things in life than what one had previously thought were essential for happiness and contentment but, in reality, were temporal and fleeting in their shallowness, “illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God.” Still, suffering and/or dying can be good in that it often prompts a person to search for God and be reconciled to Him (CCC, 1501).

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is particularly important in the life of the Church because it is a medium through which Jesus extends his love to the sick and dying. Our Lord heals the person in body and soul by conferring his graces to help them overcome their anguish and despair and make peace with God for peace of mind and spiritual rest.

God’s chosen people of the Old Covenant lived their sicknesses in the presence of God. They lamented their illnesses and misfortunes before God because they believed God was punishing them for their sins. Illness served as a means of conversion and prompted the Israelites to seek God’s forgiveness. With forgiveness should come restoration. The true Israelite in spirit sought the grace of being at peace with God in spite of their unfavorable condition unlike those who were seeking a temporal change of fortune for the better. In any event, “illness was linked to sin and evil, while faithfulness to God restored life” (CCC, 1502).

In the New Covenant, Christ is the physician in his consubstantial oneness with the Father. Christ’s compassion for the sick and the lame and his numerous miraculous healings of a variety of infirmities was a radiant sign that God had visited his people and that the kingdom of God was in their midst (Lk 7:16; Mt 4:24). Our Lord came into the world to heal the whole person, body, and soul, with the forgiveness of sin. The physically and spiritually infirm were in need of him (Mk 2:5-12). Jesus went so far as to identify himself with the sick to remind us that we should have the same love and compassion for them as he had (Mk 25:36). 

The Magisterium of his Church reminds us that “His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them” (CCC, 1503). In carrying out the sacramental rite, the priest acts in persona Christi as a physician. He is essentially a spiritual healer, but there have been occasions in which physical healing has been miraculously brought about with the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God by the grace of sanctification or justification bestowed through the sacrament.

Jesus offered his apostles a share in his priestly ministry and invested in them the authority to preach the gospel and call people to repentance. And this commission included the power to cast out demons and heal the sick by anointing their heads with oil (Mk 6:12-13). In the Catholic rite, a priest prays over the person and anoints their head and hands with chrism (holy oil). The anointing is the means by which there are supernatural results. The act of anointing someone is a power in itself that comes with the manifestation and operation of the Holy Spirit. The anointing is the presence and power of God through which the efficacy of divine grace heals the soul and restores it to good health.

If miraculous physical cures accompany spiritual restoration, they serve as visible signs to remind us of the connection between suffering and sin. Jesus healed the paralytic to show that he had the authority to forgive sins. If he hadn’t had this authority, he couldn’t have produced the miracle that happened (Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26). The scribes and Pharisees who told Jesus in their rage that only God could forgive sins had no idea that he was, in fact, God incarnate. Nor did they see that as a man Jesus was given the divine authority from the Father to absolve people of their sins and the power to miraculously cure them in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was this authority and power that was transferred from Jesus to his apostles since it was in his humanity that the divine Person carried out his priestly ministry.

This same authority and power lie with the Catholic priest. The chrism that he uses in conjunction with the formula of prayer is symbolic of its effects. When a priest anoints the head and palms of the hands (Roman rite) of those who are gravely or chronically ill and close to death in most circumstances, the primary purpose is to give spiritual strength, notably the graces of faith and hope, though the sacrament does address the physical, bodily conditions of the illness. The anointing is regarded as a means of health and comfort, and as a symbol of being consecrated to God. For the sacrament to be effective, the recipient must have faith in God and in His power which is communicated through the sacrament. He or she must also be repentant for the forgiveness of sin.

The Universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches: “A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace, and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will. Furthermore, “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (CCC, 1520).

Again, in almost all cases, the body isn’t physically healed and restored to health by God’s will as a grace of this sacrament. But there are beneficial psychological and emotional effects produced by the Holy Spirit. Miraculous cures are extremely rare because suffering unites us with the passion of Christ. “ By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior’s redemptive Passion. Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus” (CCC, 1521).

Christ conferred redemptive value on suffering and death which are penalties for original sin. He transformed what was evil into something good. But our Lord and Savior’s objective act of redemption must be joined with our subjective redemptive participation. We remit our temporal debt of sin by joining our suffering with Christ’s suffering so that we reap the full benefits of the eternal debt he alone has paid on our sinful behalf, provided we accept our suffering as a means of temporal reparation for our sins. The grace of the sacrament gives us the power and wisdom to discern this truth and the strength to accept our cross and carry it together with Christ so that we might be saved and rewarded with eternal life (Mt 16:24; 2 Tim 2:11-12).

By the grace we receive, we may be configured to Christ in his passion, death, and resurrection. Thus, the grace in the sacrament not only benefits the person receiving it but also the whole Church and the people of God. In this sense, it is called “ecclesial grace.” By “freely uniting themselves to the passion of Christ,” the sick who receive this sacrament “contribute to the good of the People of God.” The Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person by celebrating the sacrament, while he or she “contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father” (CCC, 1522). By configuring themselves to Christ in his passion and death, and having a share in his self-sacrifice, the sick person can merit grace (de congruo) for the entire body of Christ (cf. Col 1:24).

Finally, in preparation for the final journey, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick should be ministered to by a priest or bishop without hesitation when death is imminent. In addition to the anointing, those who are gravely ill or dying should receive the Holy Eucharist as Viaticum. “Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of passing over to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ (Jn 6:54). The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father” (CCC 1524).

The Latin word viaticum means “provision for a journey,” from “via” or “way”. For Communion as Viaticum, the Eucharist is given in the usual form, with the added words “May the Lord Jesus Christ protect you and lead you to eternal life”. The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist form a triad called “the sacraments of Christian initiation.” The sacraments of Reconciliation or Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist as Viaticum constitute the end of the Christian life. These latter are the sacraments that “‘prepare for our heavenly homeland’ and the sacraments that ‘complete the earthly pilgrimage'” (CCC, 1525).

Perseverance is a particularly important character trait for us to have to be successful in life. It means determination at working hard regardless of any odds or obstacles that may exist. It is to insist and to be firm on getting something done and not give up. This practical definition can be applied in a spiritual sense and in a Christian context:

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do:
forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ
Philippians 3, 13-14

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful.”
Hebrews 10, 23

“For you have need of endurance,
so that when you have done the will of God
you may receive what is promised.”
Heb 10, 36

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing.”
James 1, 2-4

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test
he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.”
James 1, 12


O God who sanctifiest this oil as Thou dost grant unto all who are anointed
and receive of it the hallowing wherewith Thou didst anoint kings and priests
and prophets, so grant that it may give strength to all that taste of it and health
to all that use it.”
St. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 5:2
(c. A.D. 215)

“In addition to these there is also a seventh [sacrament], albeit hard and laborious
In this way there is fulfilled that too, which the Apostle James says: ‘If then, there is
anyone sick, let him call the presbyters of the Church, and let them impose hands
upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith
will save the sick man, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.’”
Origen, Homily on Leviticus, 2:4
(A.D. 244)

“Of the sacrament of life, by which Christians [baptism], priests, kings and prophets
are made perfect; it illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick, and by
its secret sacrament restores penitents.”
Aphraates the Persian Sage, Treatises, 23:3
(A.D. 345)

“Why, then, do you lay on hands, and believe it to be the effect of the blessing, if
perchance some sick person recovers Why do you assume that any can be cleansed
by you from the pollution of the devil? Why do you baptize if sins cannot be
remitted by man? If baptism is certainly the remission of all sins, what difference
does it make whether priests claim that this power is given to them in penance or at
the font? In each the mystery is one.”
St. Ambrose, Penance, 1,8:36
(A.D. 390)

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions,
and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you.”

Luke 10, 19

Pax vobiscum

I Will Harden Pharaoh's Heart

 Grace & Free Will

“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.
But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army,
and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”
Exodus 14, 4

Double predestination is a theological doctrine held by traditional “hyper” Calvinists which basically means God has willed to create some people to be saved and others to be lost. In other words, human beings cannot freely choose whether they want to be reconciled to God and be saved or to reject God and risk losing their salvation. Their eternal destiny is a predetermined fate that is beyond their control: spiritual as opposed to biological determinism. This particular Protestant teaching rejects the idea that our salvation partly depends on human desire and effort. It’s grounded on the conviction that no one is deserving of God’s mercy because of their sins and cannot, therefore, merit their salvation by any natural means. This part is true and acknowledged by Catholics, but Reformed Protestants of the classical tradition even deny the idea of supernatural merit through the efficacy of actual and cooperative grace.

These super-extreme Calvinists believe that, because of our common sinful nature and original fall from grace, God can act with partiality. God can choose the people whom He wills to be merciful to and those whose hearts He will deliberately harden so that they cannot be saved. Hence, human free will and supernatural merit within the system of cooperative grace hold no place in this theological doctrine. Human beings are either formed of clay for either a special purpose (the glory of God) or common use (for the glory of God). Salvation, however, is no longer a merited gift or reward but an undeserved favor (irresistible grace) only so that God can demonstrate His omnipotence and mercy, and consequently flaunt His divine will on a whim. There is justice insofar as Christ’s alien righteousness is imputed to the believer only because of their faith in His redeeming merits.

To support their belief system, hyper-Calvinists usually cite Exodus 14 and Romans 9, which we will examine later, since Paul uses Pharaoh as an example for all the wicked. For now, let’s look at Exodus and see whether it’s true that God has intentionally created some people for eternal destruction, who, because of their sinfulness, can’t justly blame God for His choice; since God could have withheld His mercy from everyone if He so chose – all having fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Is the clay in no position to argue with the potter? The answer is Yes, but in a Catholic sense. Can God justly show or withhold His mercy from whoever He chooses in His sovereignty? Again, the answer is Yes, but in a Catholic sense.

But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief,
he hardened his heart and did not heed them,
as the Lord had said.
Exodus 8:15

But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also;
neither would he let the people go.
Exodus 8:32

And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased,
he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants.
Exodus 9:34

Our non-Catholic friends fail to see what is actually meant by the idea of God hardening one’s heart. They single out and isolate Exodus 14 to support their preconceived notion that has been formed from their interpretation of other Scriptural passages in the New Testament. Chapter 14, Verse 4 doesn’t mean, that God somehow predetermined or molded Pharaoh from wanting to release the Israelites from slavery. Rather, it means that God permitted Pharaoh to freely remain unyielding to His command. Pharaoh, unfortunately, was obstinate in heart. He refused to be persuaded even after Egypt had been hit by several devastating plagues. In fact, because of his pride, he grew even more intransigent after each plague was sent by God. Pharaoh defied God and became even more defiant. God had hardened his heart, but only because of the plagues which resulted in its increased hardening.

Thus, Pharaoh grew more defiant and unheeding with each plague because of his pride. They served to boost his ego which influenced him in his decision to remain intransigent. In this way, God hardened his heart by being physically responsible for having sent the plagues. Pharaoh, on the other hand, was morally responsible for them by his persistent disobedience to the divine command: “Let my people go!” God wouldn’t have commanded Pharaoh at all if he had no free will and choice in the matter. I’m afraid God doesn’t mold us so that we should act against His will for the sake of His pleasure of being merciful to a selected few other than ourselves and demonstrating how merciful He can be when He wants to be by acting arbitrarily apart from our desires rendering them moot.

On the contrary, God reveals His true intentions and what he truly desires for everyone who is made of the same original clay through the prophet: ‘Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord GOD: and not that he should turn from his ways, and live?’ (Ezek 18:23; cf. 1 Tim 2:3-4; 1 Jn 2:1-3; 2 Pet 3:9). The truth is God permitted Pharaoh to become more obstinate of his own accord, and then purposefully used his pride and ego to free the Israelites from slavery in such an awesome way, as to display His glory and might to the Egyptians.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says
to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on
whom I have compassion.” 16 So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon
God’s mercy. 17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very
purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the
earth.” 18 So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of
whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can
resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded
say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?” 21 Has the potter no right over the
clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? 22
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured
with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, 23 in order to make
known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand
for glory,
Romans 9

The basic principle embedded in Romans 9 is this: Those who will not see and hear, shall not see and hear. Consequently, God has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills (cf. Jn. 9:41). In Vv. 14-16, Paul is simply affirming that there is no injustice on God’s part in not granting what another has no natural right to (the forgiveness of their sins) since all of us who have sinned justly deserve punishment. God isn’t indebted to showing us His mercy in His justice. If, on the other hand, God shows His mercy on some people, it is because of His goodness and liberality despite their sins. If He leaves others in their sins (Pharaoh or the Pharisees) by withholding his grace because of their stubbornness of heart, they are punished for their just deserts.

God’s mercy shines upon His elect, those who are willing to receive His grace and open themselves to His word, but the divine justice is handed out to the wicked and the reprobate according to what they deserve through their moral liberty and obstinacy of heart. There is no just reason why God must show His compassion to those who refuse it. We cannot force our will on God and expect Him to be merciful to us while remaining in sin. Nor can we blame God for being sinful and punished for our sins by how we choose to act against His will. No command of God is impossible for us to obey because we have all received sufficient grace in our fallen condition. God’s efficacious grace assists us in being righteous once we have directed our will to His goodness. If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us and shower us with His grace, not by any natural merit of ours because of our sinful state, but through the sacrificial work of Jesus who has merited grace for us (Jas 4:8; Heb 10:2, etc.). There are at least thirty-five Bible verses about drawing near (not being drawn) by God which presuppose we have free will and can either accept or reject God’s merciful gift of salvation.

In v. 19, Paul responds to the objection that if God rules over faith through the principle of divine election, God cannot then accuse unbelievers of sin. The apostle, however, shows that God is far less arbitrary than what might appear at first glance. He suggests in v. 22 that God does endure with much patience people like Pharaoh who obstinately resist His will. He reiterates why God might, without any injustice, have mercy on some and not on others, grant particular graces and favors to His elect and not equally to everyone. All humankind is liable to damnation, composed of sinful clay which is the state of original sin. No single soul has a just claim on the Divine Mercy by any natural merit outside the system of divine grace.

So, those whom God chooses to remove from this sinful lump to bestow His graces and favor upon are for the purpose of displaying His justice and hatred for sin. This is the underlying meaning in v. 23. God is glorified by leading any of us to repentance by the riches of His kindness and His mercy which we mustn’t disregard if we hope to be saved according to the divine plan (Rom 2:4). The “vessels of mercy” are those who by the grace of God acknowledge their sins and repent with a firm desire for amendment with the help of divine grace.

By leaving others as “vessels of wrath” that are lost in their sins, Paul simply means that God has endured patiently as much as He could, thereby abandoning them in their obstinate sinfulness and withholding His grace and favor from them through their own intransigence and willfulness. God knows the hearts of everyone, and so He knows who to touch and how to touch their hearts so that they come to accept His will for them. Those who are fettered by pride and selfishness are less likely to be drawn by divine persuasion. God coerces no one, and so He might decide to leave some people alone and in their sins while patiently waiting for them to have a change of heart. He has already granted them the sufficient grace they need. Only those who are humbly willing to align their wills with God benefit from His mercy by answering the call and cooperating with his helping grace. These are the ones who make every feeble effort to draw near to God with the help of His grace that He will draw near to them. We can do nothing without God despite our desire to be reconciled to Him, and so we must ask for the graces we need and will receive just by asking (Mt 7:7).

Hence, the allegory of the Potter and the Clay is by no means intended to show that human beings are destitute of free will and liberty, and so are completely passive in God’s plan of redemption, unable to decide for themselves whether they want to be saved. It is used only to stress that we are not to question God why He confers his graces and favors on some and not on others, since we are no better than each other in our sinfulness. If there is any difference among us it’s that some of us are humbler and less proud by the grace of God and thereby most likely to acknowledge our sins and be saved.

It is owing to the divine goodness and mercy that God wills to create vessels of honor by His grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit. And it is just that others, because of their refusal to repent and convert, should be given up as vessels of wrath undeserving of God’s mercy. Meanwhile, Paul’s point is that God sovereignly decides whatever purpose He has for His elect when bestowing His gifts of the Holy Spirit on them. God has a unique plan for each of those who choose to love Him and obey Him, just as He has a plan for those who choose to reject Him. It’s God and not any of us who takes the initiative. But our collaboration is called for if we truly want to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth as God desires everyone to be (1 Tim 2:1-4).

Early Sacred Tradition

“And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men; for there is hope of
the repentance, that they may attain to God. For ‘cannot he that falls arise
again, and he may attain to God.’”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, 10
( A.D. 110)

“And this is your condition, because of the blindness of your soul, and the
hardness of your heart. But, if you will, you may be healed. Entrust yourself to
the Physician [God], and He will couch the eyes of your soul and of your heart.”
St. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, To Autolycus 7.
(inter A.D. 168-181)

“Now, in the beginning the spirit was a constant companion of the soul, but the
spirit forsook it because it was not willing to follow. Yet, retaining as it were a
spark of its power, though unable by reason of the separation to discern the
perfect, while seeking for God it fashioned to itself in its wandering many gods,
following the sophistries of the demons. But the Spirit of God is not with all,
but, taking up its abode with those who live justly, and intimately combining
with the soul, by prophecies it announced hidden things to other souls.”
St. Tatian the Syrian, To the Greeks, 13
(A.D. 175)

“That eternal fire has been prepared for him as he apostatized from God of his
own free-will, and likewise for all who unrepentant continue in the apostasy,
he now blasphemes, by means of such men, the Lord who brings judgment [upon
him] as being already condemned, and imputes the guilt of his apostasy to his
Maker, not to his own voluntary disposition.”
St. Justin Martyr, fragment in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, 5:26:1
(A.D. 189)

“All indeed depends on God, but not so that our free-will is hindered. ‘If then it
depend on God,’ (one says), ‘why does He blame us?’ On this account I said, ‘so
that our free-will is no hindered.’ It depends then on us, and on Him For we must
first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. He does not anticipate our
choice, lest our free-will should be outraged. But when we have chosen, then
great is the assistance he brings to us…For it is ours to choose and to wish; but
God’s to complete and to bring to an end. Since therefore the greater part is of
Him, he says all is of Him, speaking according to the custom of men. For so we
ourselves also do. I mean for instance: we see a house well built, and we say the
whole is the Architect’s [doing], and yet certainly it is not all his, but the
workmen’s also, and the owner’s, who supplies the materials, and many others’,
but nevertheless since he contributed the greatest share, we call the whole his.
So then [it is] in this case also.”
St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Hebrews, 12:3
(A.D. 403)

“‘No man can come to me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him’! For He
does not say, ‘except He lead him,’ so that we can thus in any way understand
that his will precedes. For who is ‘drawn,’ if he was already willing? And yet no
man comes unless he is willing. Therefore he is drawn in wondrous ways to will,
by Him who knows how to work within the very hearts of men. Not that men who
are unwilling should believe, which cannot be, but that they should be made
willing from being unwilling.”
St. Augustine, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, I:19
(A.D. 420)

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.

Matthew 7, 7

Pax vobiscum