Catholic priests are able to see the mercy of God in the final hours — and the effectiveness of His grace

“I have tried to live my life with dignity, and I think that I have done a good job, Fr. Michael,” a very ill man once said to me. “Now, I am going to try to die with dignity. I have never done this before — so I am asking for your prayers as I begin this final journey.”

Moments later, I gave this gentleman, who was dying of cancer, the sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick, Confession, and Holy Communion. He smiled and said in front of his whole family, “I am ready to go. There is nothing more I need. I am at peace.”

He lived his final days with great dignity, making his children laugh with his clever sense of humor and showing a level of graciousness and gratitude that brought everyone to tears. Moments like these are special to every priest, as we are able to see the mercy of God and the effectiveness of His grace at work.

Several years ago I received a phone call to visit a tennis pro at a country club. The man had taken a hard fall, hitting his head on the street; he spent several days in a coma. His mother and sister were crying in the hospital room when I walked in, and as I observed his pale face and bandaged head, I realized things did not look good.

I gave him the Anointing of the Sick, prayed quietly with his mom and sister, and left the room with a heavy heart. Two days later, I received a phone call saying he had snapped out of the coma and the doctors were amazed at the minimal neurological damage he had suffered. Within a few weeks, he was back on the court teaching tennis.

He later told me that though he was in a coma, he actually remembered my presence in the room and the immediate effect the prayers had on him. He told me it gave him tremendous comfort.

I also had the privilege of giving a final blessing to a 98-year-old woman who had just a few days to live. As I walked in the house and was escorted into her room, a bright light seem to radiate from this frail woman’s face. Her smile was angelic. The peace she exuded was tremendous.

I blessed her and prayed for her. Having been told she had attended daily Mass and had lived an exemplary Christian life, I asked if she could pray for me when she was with Our Lord. She gently nodded her head and held my hands with a glance of love, and said, “Thank you so much for coming, Fr. Michael. I am so grateful … and I will pray for you!”

These are just a few of the special experiences I have had with souls in their final moments or simply in difficult moments. I consider this to be a tremendous privilege from God. It shows how much God the Father truly cares about each and every soul, from cradle to grave — and the effectiveness of our prayer and of His saving grace.

Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.