Who among us has not either been sick personally or have loved ones suffering with serious health concerns? There is no escaping the physical weakness of the human condition. We know that a major part of Jesus‟ mission among us was to heal the sick. You are familiar with the many Gospel stories of Jesus‟ healing. People‟s lives were made whole again. They responded with incredible joy to the healing Presence of Jesus.
While Jesus had great solicitude for all those who were hurting, He did not heal every sick person while He walked the earth. Jesus‟ resurrection did not remove pain, suffering and evil from our world. Suffering and illness have been tests of faith for women and men through the ages.
In 1992, Pope John Paul II designated February 11, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, as World Day of the Sick. In his letter designating this day, the Holy Father desired to mark this as “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one‟s suffering for the good of the Church, and of reminding us to see in our sick brother and sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying, and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind” (Letter Instituting the World Day of the Sick, May 13, 1992).
Suffering is difficult to accept. Yet, how many brave family members and friends do we know who suffer through cancer treatments, endure mental illness, or cope with diabetes every day? Quietly, women and men struggle with Parkinson‟s disease, arthritis, allergies and asthma. Many of us have loved ones whose bodies and minds suffer disorders inflicted by accidents, strokes, abuse, violence, and terror. Hearts are broken and spirits depleted of those with family members suffering dementia or Alzheimer‟s disease. Yes, we are all touched by suffering and illness. We know well that when one member of the Body of Christ suffers, all share in those sufferings.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for this World Day of the Sick, encourages us to become more sensitive to our sick brothers and sisters so that “none of them feels forgotten.” We, as members of a family of faith show our solicitude for those who are poor in health through personal and communal prayer. The Church reminds us that when we care for the sick, we serve Christ Himself in the suffering members of His Mystical Body. Parishes throughout our diocese are so attentive to the sick in our families. Pastoral visits to the sick in our hospitals, nursing homes, and to our homebound are a regular part of parish life. Oftentimes, these visits include the distribution of Holy Communion—„Food for the Journey‟.
I encourage our sisters and brothers whose health is seriously impaired to approach the Church for the celebration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In many of our parishes, the anointing occasionally takes place within Mass that is celebrated in the local nursing home or the parish church. Our priests are also available for individual anointing of the sick in our hospitals, nursing homes, homes or wherever circumstances dictate. “The prayer of faith will save the sick persons and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15) What a great gift we have in this sacrament!
As a local Church, let us keep in mind and heart all those who suffer, as well as those who give compassionate assistance to them in the health care field. Pope Benedict has reminded us: “only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon Himself our wounds and our pain… is worthy of faith.” This World Day of the Sick we commend our hurting loved ones to the grace and power of our risen Christ. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on them.