Thursday, September 17, 2015

St. Philomena

The Gospel reading today reminds me of the use of oils in the church. Now of course I realize that the sinful woman used ointment to anoint Jesus' feet, "Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears," but it just brought to my mind the story of Philomena and the use of oil.

"In the fifth century began the custom of pouring oil over the relics of saints and collecting it in vials and cloths. This oil was used in praying to the saint for people in need of spiritual and physical healing. The faithful also use oil that is blessed in honor of a saint.
In the nineteenth century, the body of St. Philomena was enshrined in Mugnano del Cardinale, Italy. As was customary, a lamp of oil was left to burn in honor of the saint. A woman from the town came to visit the shrine and, before leaving, dipped her fingers in the oil and anointed the eyes of her blind child. The child’s sight was restored. Today pilgrims bring oil to the Sanctuary of St. Philomena, and the bishop blesses it for distribution all over the world. The sanctuary offers very specific instructions that the oil is to be used “within the prayerful intention of the Church as a sign of divine blessing and an expression of faith.”
The Church offers careful instruction on the use of oils.  A 1997 directive, “On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest,” formally issued by the Congregation for Clergy and cosigned by several Vatican congregations and councils, states:
In using sacramentals, the non-ordained faithful should ensure that these are in no way regarded as sacraments whose administration is proper and exclusive to the Bishop and to the priest. Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the Oil of the Sick or any other oil."

Personal Story:

A gentleman comes into our bookstore often and purchases holy cards and pamphlets and Bibles to hand out to anyone interested or anyone in need. He’d tell you we are all in need. 

One Saturday, he was quite persistent that I order Philomena oil for him to give to some people in need of a special blessing. I really did not want to deal with it, but I went to the office and placed an order from the shrine in Italy. The oil came in a few weeks later. I got it to the gentleman, and all was well.

In the meantime, a friend from the old neighborhood had a nephew in great need. At nine years of age, he had had what doctors believed was a stroke. Immediately, schedules were coordinated online for round-the-clock prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for this boy. I was simply asked to print prayer cards so that all could pray the same intercessory healing prayer. People in different states were praying together for a life.

The next time the gentleman was in the store, I shared with him the story of this young boy and all the amazing “God incidences” that had occurred surrounding his family. He said, “You should send them some oil from St. Philomena.” I said, “No, no, it’s OK.” But he insisted.

I am not like this. Yes, I will pray for this child. I will spend time before the tabernacle. But don’t make me send this oil. So I went about my business and forgot about the oil.

When I got home, the update to the young boy’s condition was on my computer. I pulled it up and read about him, as well as his family. His sister’s name was Philomena! I blinked and stared at the screen. Philomena.

The following Saturday, the gentleman came into the store, and I told him what had happened. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his last full bottle of oil. I took it to the young boy’s aunt, who planned to see him in the next couple of days.

I am told that many, many stories of God’s presence surround this boy and his family. What a witness they are to those they meet!  Pure grace. 

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