We’ve been teaching our students about the Sacraments—“visible signs of invisible grace,” and last Monday I had the opportunity to witness these treasures of the Church first-hand. Fr. Joe invited me to come for a ‘sickbed wedding’ up in the mountains. The couple had been civilly married for fifteen years, and now desired the blessing of the Church. Rizalindo, the husband, is extremely ill and confined to bed. His wife Leonilla lovingly cares for him. The local chapel leaders had taught them catechism classes and prepared them for the sacrament.
It was still cool when we left, and the morning sun shone brightly on the groves of coconut trees. When we arrived at the simple bamboo home about half a dozen family members were gathered for the occasion. They greeted Father with the respectfully affectionate term “Dre” (short for ‘Padre’, a product of the 300 years of Spanish colonization.)
[pullquote1 align=”right” variation=”blue”] “This man, wracked with pain and barely able to sit up, was now a son of God!” [/pullquote1] As Father began to fill out the paperwork, he discovered that the couple had not received many of the other sacraments. The husband was not baptized, and both he and his wife needed to be confirmed. Father administered all the necessary sacraments right there in the tiny bedroom. I was asked to be a godparent for Rizalindo’s baptism. This man, wracked with pain and barely able to sit up, was now a son of God! He had been “buried with [Christ] by baptism into death.” As Christ was “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,” Rizalindo now also “walks in newness of life!” (Romans 6:4)
Immediately after the baptism, both Rizalindo and Leonilla were confirmed. Again I had the honor of being her sponsor. Although I may never see her again in this life, I hope and pray that we will meet one day in Heaven. I will continue to pray for her, trusting that unity in the Lord transcends space and time. I wanted to give her a wedding gift, but all I had with me was my rosary. It was made of beautiful turquoise stones, and very dear to me. A family friend had made it, and the medals were blessed at various holy places throughout Europe. After daily Mass on the morning I left home to begin missionary training, she pressed it into my hand. “I want you to have this,” she said. “As you serve God’s people throughout the world, please remember to pray for us here.” I know that Leonilla’s fingers will pass over those beads many times, and that God will hear her faithful prayers.
As the couple exchanged wedding vows I was struck by the truth of their promise to be faithful to each other “in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.” These weren’t vague promises for ‘someday’ when hardships might arise. They were made in the face of very real, very present struggles. Sickness and poverty were a constant part of Rizalindo’s and Leonilla’s lives. Their love and commitment had been tested through suffering, and was found to be lasting.
When Rizalindo and Leonilla received Holy Communion I realized that I was reliving some of my favorite Gospel stories; literally walking with Jesus as he entered into people’s homes and healed them! The same Jesus who had visited Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and Jairus’s daughter was here present with us. He came in the humble appearance of bread but was truly present—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity! Rizalindo, for the first time ever, received the Bread of Life, and was united to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Within a span of an hour Rizalindo and Leonilla had received six of the seven sacraments! What incredible graces they experienced; the floodgates of Heaven were open wide! To our earthly senses everything seemed placidly ordinary—a gentle breeze through the palm trees, kids laughing outside, the heat of the day rising. But just beyond the grasp of the physical senses a wild, joy-filled jubilation was breaking forth. All the saints and angels in Heaven were rejoicing over God’s boundless love for Rizalindo and his wife Leonilla!