The Dying Wish
Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, Apoc. 14:13
In June of 1909, a stagecoach rumbled on a long journey to Gillette, Wyoming. One of the passengers, a priest, had sent word to the Catholic settlers out there that Mass would be offered on Sunday. The Northern Prairies had been so long without a priest that the reception of the Sacraments was only a fond memory.
After Mass, the visiting priest watched a man, whom he had seen in the pews, riding up to him. He led another saddled horse.
“Father,” said the fellow smiling widely, “the stage doesn’t leave until late. What about a ride in the hills?”
“Wonderful!” responded the priest, and promptly mounted the saddled horse.
They had gone ten miles on the trackless prairie, when they saw something white flickering in the distance.
“What can that be way out here…?” asked the priest.
“Hmmm, Possibly a cowboy?” So they veered in the direction of the signal.
As they approached, they realized that the “something white” was a sheet being waved by a young woman.
On seeing the priest, she greeted him gladly, yet unexcitedly.
“Father, I’ve been looking for a priest, my brother is dying.”
The priest was mystified how a woman, out in the middle of no-man’s-land could have been “looking for a priest”, and on seeing one, received him in such a matter-of-fact manner.
But leaving such musings for later, he followed her to a tent. As she held open the flap, the priest caught sight of two candles gleaming on a small table. Between the candles was a crucifix, and a prayer book opened to the litany of the dying.
On the cot next to the table was the woman’s brother, about thirty five, thin and worn. The priest quickly heard his confession, absolved and anointed him. In those days priests carried holy oils at all times.
As soon as the man received the last rites, he breathed his last.
And then the young woman told her story.
“Father, every day of his life my brother prayed for the assistance of a priest at his death. I hadn’t heard that you were visiting our region, and I had no idea where I would find a priest around here. This morning, my brother and I prayed for the last time. We said three Hail Marys, and then I went outside and waved the sheet.”
Later, returning in the coach, the priest thought back to his visit, and that amazing, miraculous encounter, as a young man’s answer to a life-long prayer not to be allowed to die without the last sacraments of Confession and Extreme Unction or, as we say today, Anointing of the Sick.
Believing as he did, it’s no wonder the young man had prayed for such a grace his whole life.
Confession gives the penitent the assurance of complete pardon of all sins. Extreme Unction remits temporal punishment for sin, strengthens the soul against the last attacks of the devil, and further cleanses and prepares it for the supreme crossing. The last Anointing is such a powerful Sacrament, that, sometimes, it even restores bodily health.
Fingering the small bottle of holy oil in his pocket, the priest marveled at the courage of these two brave pioneers. As good Catholics, who gave their all in this life, they also knew the importance of dying in God’s Grace to be assured of God’s pardon and thus the right to eternal life.
References: based on a story from Treasury of Catechism Stories by Rev. Lawrence B. Lovasik
SAINT OF THE DAY
Pope St. Callistus I
She promised a portentous sign “for all to believe” which set Portugal abuzz.