God wants to heal the whole
On Thursday, 11 February , the
Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and the 18th World Day of the Sick, the
Holy Father presided in St Peter's at a Mass for the sick and their
carers. In addition to the Memorial of the Marian apparitions it was
also the 25th anniversary of the Pontifical Council for Health-Care
Workers, thus many members of the Dicastery were celebrating with the
Pope. The Mass began with a tribute to the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes
set beside the altar of the Confessio and a moment of prayer before the
relics of St Bernadette de Soubirous, placed in the middle of the aisle.
The following is a translation of the Pope's Homily, which was given in
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In their concise descriptions of Jesus' brief but intense public
life, the Gospels testify that he proclaimed the word and healed the
sick, a sign par excellence of the closeness of the Kingdom of Heaven.
For example, Matthew wrote: "He went about all Galilee, teaching in
their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing
every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Mt 4:23;
The Church, entrusted with the task of extending Christ's mission in
time and space, cannot neglect these two essential tasks: evangelization
and the care of the sick in body and in mind. Indeed, God wants to heal
the whole of man and in the Gospel the healing of the body is a sign of
the deeper recovery that is the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mk 2: - 2 ) .
It is therefore not surprising that Mary, Mother and model of the
Church, is invoked and venerated as "Salus infirmorum
Health of the sick". As the first and perfect disciple of her Son,
in guiding the Church on her journey she has always shown special
solicitude for the suffering. Witness to this are the thousands of
people who go to Marian shrines to invoke the Mother of Christ and find
in her strength and relief.
The Gospel account of the Visitation (cf. Lk 1:39-56) shows us how,
after the announcement of the Angel, the Virgin did not keep the gift
she had received to herself but immediately set out to go and help her
elderly cousin Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John. In the
support that Mary offered this relative who was experiencing a delicate
condition such as pregnancy at an advanced age, we see prefigured the
whole of the Church's action in support of life that is in need of care.
The Pontifical Council for Health-Care
Workers, established 25 years ago by Venerable Pope John Paul II, is
without any doubt a privileged expression of this solicitude. Our
thoughts turn with gratitude to Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, the first
President of the Dicastery and ever an enthusiastic animator of this
area of the Church's activity; as well as to Cardinal Javier Lozano
who continued and developed this service until a few months ago. I then
address my greeting with warm cordiality to the current President, Mons.
Zygmunt Zimowski, who has taken on such a significant and important
inheritance. I extend it to all the officials and personnel who in the
past quarter century have collaborated laudably in this office of the
Holy See. I also wish to greet the associations and bodies who see to
the organization of the World Day of the Sick, in particular the Italian
National Union for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International
Shrines (UNITALSI) and the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi.
The most affectionate greeting of course, goes to you, dear sick
people! Thank you for coming and thank you especially for your prayers,
enriched by the offering of your efforts and your suffering. And I then
address a greeting to the sick and the volunteers in Lourdes, Fatima,
Czestochowa and at the other Marian shrines connected with us, and all
those who are following us via radio or television, especially from
clinics or from their own homes. May the Lord God who watches constantly
over his children give them all comfort and consolation.
The Liturgy of the Word today presents two main themes: the first is
Marian in character and links the Gospel and the First Reading, from the
last chapter of the Book of Isaiah, as well as the Responsorial Psalm
taken from the Judith's canticle of praise. The other theme, which we
find in the passage from the Letter of James, is that of the Church's
prayer for the sick and, in particular, the sacrament reserved for them.
On the Memorial of the apparitions in Lourdes, where Mary chose to
manifest her maternal solicitude for the sick, the Liturgy appropriately
echoes the Magnificat, the canticle of the Virgin who exalts the
wonders of God throughout salvation history: the humble and the poor,
like all who fear God, experience his mercy which overturns earthly
destinies, thus showing the holiness of the Creator and Redeemer.
The Magnificat is not the canticle of one upon whom fortune
smiles, who has always had "the wind in her sails"; rather it is the
thanksgiving of one who knows the hardships of life but trusts in God's
redemptive work. It is a hymn that expresses the faith tested by
generations of men and women who placed their hope in God and were
personally committed, like Mary, to helping their brothers and sisters
we hear the voice of many Saints of
charity; I am thinking in particular of those who spent their life among
the sick and suffering, such as Camillus de Lellis and John of God,
Damien de Veuster and Benedict Menni. Those who spend a long time beside
the suffering know anguish and tears, but also the miracle of joy, the
fruit of love.
The Church's motherhood is a reflection
of God's tender love of which the Prophet Isaiah speaks: "As one whom
his mother comforts, / so I will comfort you; / you shall be comforted
in Jerusalem" (Is 66:13). It is a motherhood that speaks without
words, that awakens in hearts consolation, deep joy, a joy that
paradoxically lives side by side with pain, with suffering.
The Church, like Mary, preserves within
her the tragedies of humankind and the consolation of God, she keeps
them together on the pilgrimage through history.
The Church down the centuries has shown
the signs of the love of God who continues to work great things in
humble and simple people. Suffering, when accepted and offered up, and
solidarity, when sincere and selfless: are these not perhaps miracles of
love? Is not the courage to face evil unarmed
with the power of faith and hope in the Lord alone a miracle that God's
grace continuously inspires in so many people who spend their time and
energy helping those who are suffering?
For all these reasons we live a joy that
does not forget suffering but rather understands it. In this manner the
sick and the suffering in the Church are not only recipients of care and
attention, but first and foremost they are protagonists of the
pilgrimage of faith and hope, witnesses of the wonders of love, of the
Paschal joy that blossoms from Christ's Cross and Resurrection.
In the passage of the Letter of James
that was just read, the Apostle asks that the coming of the Lord, now at
hand, be steadfastly awaited. In this context he addresses a special
exhortation concerning the sick. This placement is very interesting
because it reflects the action of Jesus who, in healing the sick,
demonstrated the closeness of the Kingdom of God. Illness is seen in the
perspective of the last times with the realism of hope that is
characteristically Christian: "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him
pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise" (Jas 5:13). Listening to
these words seems similar to listening to those of St Paul, when he
invites the Corinthians to live all things in relation to the radical
newness of Christ, his death and his Resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 7:29-31).
"Is any among you sick? Let him call for
the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with
oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick
man" (Jas 5:14-15).
Here the extension of Christ in his
Church becomes clear: it is he who acts through the presbyter; it is his
same Spirit who works through the sacramental sign of the oil; it is to
him that faith expressed in prayer is addressed. And, as happened to the
people healed by Jesus, one might say to every sick person: your faith,
sustained by the faith of your brothers and sisters, has saved you.
At the same time this text, which
contains the foundation and the praxis of the Sacrament of the Anointing
of the Sick, also inspired a vision of the role of the sick in the
an active role in "provoking", so to speak, faithful prayer. "Is any
among you sick? Let him call for the elders".
In this Year for Priests, I am pleased
to emphasize the bond between the sick and priests, a sort of covenant
of evangelical "complicity". Both have a task: the sick must "call"
priests and priests must respond, to draw the presence and action of the
Risen One and of his Spirit into the experience of illness. And here we
can see the full importance of the pastoral care of the sick. Its value
is truly incalculable because of the immense good it does, first of all
to the sick person and to the priest himself and then also to relatives,
acquaintances, the community and, in unknown and mysterious ways, to the
whole of the Church and of the world. In fact, when the word of God
speaks of the healing, salvation and health of the sick person, it means
these concepts in an integral sense, never separating soul and body. A
sick person healed by Christ's prayer through the Church is a joy on
earth and in Heaven, a foretaste of eternal life.
Dear friends, as I wrote in my
Encyclical Spe Salvi, "The true measure of humanity is
essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer"
(n. 38). In setting up a Dicastery dedicated to the pastoral health
care, the Holy See also wished to make its own contribution to promoting
a world that is better able to accept and heal the sick as people. It
wanted, in fact, to help them live the experience of sickness in a human
way, not by denying it but by offering it meaning.
I would like to end these reflections
with a thought from Venerable Pope John Paul II, to which he witnessed
with his own life. In his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, he
wrote: "At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by
his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this
double aspect he has completely revealed the meaning of suffering" (n.
30). May the Virgin Mary help us live this mission to the full.