“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” / Anointing of the Sick
These words that Jesus shouts from the cross before he takes his last breath perplex me. How can Jesus, who is God, feel far from God?
On the cross, Jesus doesn’t just whisper these words, he “cried them in a loud voice” (Matt. 27:46). He shouts this pain and anguish from deep within himself. Each word takes a huge amount of effort, as each breath became harder and harder to manage as he hung on the cross for three hours. With these last words, Christ shows us that he has completely entered into our suffering and even experiences the feeling of being alienated from God. In the most radical act of love, the Author of Life has met death.
Because Jesus been in the place where we are farthest from him, when we feel alone, abandoned, or forsaken, he is there. I was able to understand just a little bit better Jesus’ haunting cry to his Father when my father passed away. There was much suffering in his drawn-out battle with Cancer, and in many ways my Dad’s face reflected that of Christ’s pain on the cross. In losing my Dad, there was a depth of grief and forsakenness that I had never experienced before. But at the same time, I knew that the Lord was close. He was my strength and I experienced his love in the outpouring of support from friends and family. “If I say, ‘surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Ps 139:11-12). This experience of closeness to the Lord, through the forsakenness of my Dad’s death, was a grace from Christ’s experience of forsakenness on the cross. Because Jesus knew this desert so intimately, he could share my forsakenness better than anyone else.
With Jesus’ words, we are given this gift of the sacrament that comes to us in the reality of the forsakenness of death. “The mysteries of Christ’s life are the foundations of what he would henceforth dispense in the sacraments, through the mysteries of his Church, for ‘what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1115). In the mystery of Christ’s life, he joins us completely in our bodily suffering and even experiences the feeling of being alienated from God. Anointing of the sick is usually done before death, which is the ultimate separation from God. But Christ, in taking on our humanity and suffering, bridges the gap of death. Our suffering, sickness, and forsakenness is real and Christ experiences it for real so that we can have new life in him. The celebration of Anointing of the Sick is both union and participation in the Passion and Jesus’ saving work (CCC 1521). In this sacrament, the sick are commended to the suffering and glorified Lord so that He may save them (CCC 1499).
When the sick are anointed in preparation for death, Jesus comes to them with his cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Ironically, it is in Christ’s forsakenness that our redemption is accomplished, and, in our forsakenness where we are closest to him.
May we remember on this day that is called Good because of our redemption, the radical act of Christ’s self-giving love on the cross and all those who are sick and suffering.
About the Author
Erica Pereira is a second year Master’s in Theology student with the University of Notre Dame’s Echo program. She currently works for the Diocese of Knoxville in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and will be joining the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, MI this Fall! She has super curly hair, loves Brazilian food, hiking in the Smokies, and rock climbing.