St. Francis has a famous saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.”
Today was not the day for words.
Just as our pastor began his homily at the noon Mass today, a woman sitting with her husband near the front of the church began to feel faint. Father saw her keel over and immediately rushed to her pew to see if she was all right, and sent the altar servers to bring her some water and a wet cloth for her forehead. He made a joke about “swooning” to ease her mood a little. A few nearby worshippers quietly aided her as well, and Father started the homily again.
Not two minutes later it was obvious that the woman was in some distress and Father knew that he was needed for another purpose than preaching a homily. He hastily reached for the oil and calmed the woman: “I’m going to anoint you right here.” One of the ushers located a cell phone and called for an ambulance.
Everything was quiet except for Father murmuring the words of the Sacrament and some parents whispering words of comfort to their children who were a little upset. After completing the anointing, Father spoke to the whole assembly: “Now we will say a silent prayer for our friend who is ill, that she will be restored quickly to full health and return to our presence soon. Then we will pray the Creed in the silence of our hearts.”
There was a little frantic looking-around as everyone was visibly worrying about what was taking so long for the ambulance. Father announced that we would resume the Mass with the Offertory procession and begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As we knelt for the Consecration the ambulance finally came and the attendants wheeled the woman out of church on a stretcher. Someone offered to drive her husband to the hospital.
After Communion Father again asked for prayers for the woman, and observed, “The Lord Jesus Christ had a different homily in mind for today.”
Preaching isn’t always about words. Today our community took part in a sacrament that is not often celebrated publicly. And I believe that for that moment the community was truly focused on the sacrament being celebrated. Everyone was praying along with the priest for the ill woman. We were not worrying about what we were going to do after church, or what someone else was wearing, or our shopping lists for the week; we were relying on the grace of God to restore one among us to health.
As our second reading said today:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Grace doesn’t always need words. Neither does the Gospel. This afternoon, everyone in the church learned that.