Patrick T. Brown | Associate Editor
In a grotto near Lourdes, France, Our Lady appeared to now-Saint Bernadette Soubirous on Feb. 11, 1858. Bernadette told the story of hearing the Lady say that she “did not promise to make happy in this world, but in the next.”
Every Feb. 11, on the anniversary of that apparition, the Church celebrates the World Day of the Sick, instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1992. If there is a group in our communities that need no reminding that God does not promise happiness in this life, but only in the next, it is often the sick and suffering.
That is why a global day, dedicated to all those suffering from physical or mental illness, was deemed a necessary and powerful reminder of “the living and comforting presence of the Lord,” as Pope John Paul II wrote when announcing the creation of the Day.
The three-fold purpose of World Day of the Sick includes calling the Church to remember to care for those who are seriously ill so they will not be forgotten or alone in their suffering; serving as a platform to remind all believers that, through faith in Christ, all suffering has meaning and is redemptive, and, honoring all who care for the sick, especially medical and healthcare professionals.
Of course, visiting the sick is one of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy, acts of living out one’s faith that have taken on a particular emphasis during this extraordinary jubilee of mercy announced by Pope Francis.
Recognizing the powerful impact that falling ill can have, not only on a person's physical but also mental and spiritual health, our current Holy Father wrote in this year's message for the World Day of the Sick that "Illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep...We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost."
Whether we suffer from physical illness, weary from our role as caretakers, or just struggle to maintain a healthy attitude in the face of daily challenges, Pope Francis encourages us to see these crosses as opportunities to grow in holiness.
“We too, whether healthy or sick, can offer up our toil and sufferings like the water which filled the jars at the wedding feast of Cana and was turned into the finest wine,” he writes. “By quietly helping those who suffer, as in illness itself, we take our daily cross upon our shoulders and follow the Master.”
Here in the Diocese of Trenton, the Office of Pastoral Care seeks to live out all aspects of the World Day of the Sick by raising awareness of the unique needs of those who are ill, facilitating the bishop’s pastoral visits to hospitals, and sharing papal statements on suffering.