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home : from the bishop : from the bishop November 25, 2017


2/6/2015
'God is with us; have faith'-- A reflection on the 23rd World Day of the Sick
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.


So  often in the Gospels we read about the Lord Jesus’ love and concern for the sick.  Not only do they seek him out throughout his travels but he actively pursues them.  It would not be an exaggeration to describe his work as a “ministry of healing.”

In many instances in the Gospels, the Lord Jesus’ miraculous cures and interventions have more than one meaning and purpose.  In addition to physical healing, the Lord Jesus’ cures are intended to affirm in or elicit from the sick whom he heals, deep faith as well as to inspire faith in their caregivers or those who witnessed his miracles.  Nothing is impossible with God!

Scripture scholars number the Lord Jesus’ miracles at around 37 throughout the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament, most of them involving the sick and suffering: the royal official’s son (John 4: 46 ff.); Peter’s mother-in-law and the sick in Capernaum (Luke 4:38 ff.); many afflicted with leprosy (Matthew 8: 1 ff.; Luke 17: 11 ff); the centurion’s servant  (Luke 7: 1-10); the paralyzed man (Mark 2: 1 ff.); the man with the withered hand (Luke 6: 6 ff.); the woman with internal bleeding for 12 years (Luke 8: 43 ff.); the sick in Gennesaret (Matthew 14: 34 ff.); several blind people (Luke 18: ff.; Luke 11: 14; Mark 8: 22 ff.; John 9: 1 ff.), to name just a few. 

I list the citations here so that you might pick up the scriptures and read for yourself of the Lord Jesus’ interactions with those afflicted with various sicknesses and sufferings.  How can we conclude anything other than his special love and concern for the infirmed demonstrated by his many miraculous healings?  And all he asked for was faith.

Himself afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, Pope St. John Paul II first introduced “World Day of the Sick” on May 13, 1992 and set the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, as the day for its annual commemoration.  “World Day of the Sick” has become an opportunity for both the sick and those who love and care for them to pray for healing and peace of mind and body and to unite their sufferings with that of the Lord Jesus who not only sought out the sick and suffering, who not only touched them with miraculous healing, but who himself, sharing in our humanity, suffered for them and for us all.  “In the Cross of Christ,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II, “not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering but also human suffering has been redeemed (Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, para. 19, February 11 1984).”

There are very few of us who have not personally seen or known or loved someone who is sick and suffering.  And many of us have, continue to be or will at sometime in our lives suffer from physical illness.  The health situations and crises we confront (or will) in our own lives or in the lives of others may be the result of diseases or other sicknesses – inherited, contracted or suddenly arising – that are temporary or enduring, some perhaps even leading to eventual death.

Regardless of the ailment or age or social status of every human being, all of us must face the fact of our own mortality at some point. That means we have time to think about it.  Sick ourselves or caring for the sick or merely observing them, what should be our response to human sickness and suffering when we encounter it?

Pope St. John Paul II reminded us, “Christ suffered voluntarily and innocently (Salvifici Doloris, para. 18)” for us: to ransom and redeem us from sin; to prompt in us a deeper faith in and personal dependence upon God; to occasion hope in the reality of human experience; and to teach, inspire and model through the truth of his own example, a genuine abandonment to the mercy of God.  “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit (Luke 23: 46)” prayed the Lord Jesus as he died on the Cross.  Lord, teach us to pray!

People do not “ask” or “seek” to be sick; rather, they endure and face it when it arises – some willingly and with courage; others with fear and trembling. Some with faith and hope; others with desperation.  Some with trust and confidence in God’s will and mercy; others with the utter meaninglessness of their disbelief in the providence of God.  Some with peace and a sense of union with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus; others buried in unrelenting loneliness. Some with the promise of heaven in their grasp; others with the nothingness of hell before them.

And these reactions are not limited to the sick alone; they are also experienced and shared by caregivers; by family and friends; even by medical professionals as well as mere passersby in the face of human mortality.  It is not uncommon to hear the sick or those around them question, “How could God let this happen?  How could God allow sickness and suffering in the world?” 

These are hugely difficult questions to answer, even for the most learned and faithful among us.  Theologians may respond that sickness, suffering and death are the consequence of original sin.  And while that is a part of our Christian belief, most people find such an answer wanting and hardly comforting. 

Pope Francis wrote in this year’s “Message for World Day of the Sick 2015, para. 5”:

“People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full meaning.”

 In the end, we raise questions about sickness and suffering whose answers are simply mysteries defying our human reason, like so many other things we encounter in our lives.  Christian faith and acceptance are not merely glib, convenient responses of the believer to the unexplainable; this side of eternity, they are the only responses we have to offer. 

When speaking of the Holy Eucharist, another unexplainable mystery, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his well-known Tantum ergo: “What our senses fail to fathom, let us grasp through faith’s consent (Præstet fides supplementum, sensuum defectui).”  We can say the same for sickness and suffering.  They are mysteries.

Earlier in this message, I noted that, in the Gospels, all the Lord Jesus asked of the sick and suffering he miraculously touched or who sought to touch him as well as those who laid the sick at his feet was faith.  That was true in his day and, although the world has changed much since then, it is still true now. 

Modern medicine has developed incredible means to confront and treat sickness and suffering, to preserve life and the quality of life and the medical professions are light years beyond what our parents or their parents could have ever imagined or dreamt, thank God.  Yet, nothing can ever replace the healing touch of God’s love. 

“Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8: 38 ff.).”

God created the world and everything within it.  Christians believe that. God gave us the wisdom and skills that are evident in science and medicine as it has progressed and developed.  Christians believe that.  God inspired certain human beings throughout time to share his wisdom as instruments of healing.  Christians believe that, too. 

What is the common denominator?  God himself, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sustainer of humankind.  The talents and skills that we possess, including within the medical profession, do not replace God: they are God’s gifts given for our benefit.  And Christians believe that as well.

Those of us who are sick or suffering can never lose heart or allow discouragement to overwhelm us.  God is with us.  Have faith, like the sick and suffering of the Gospels.  It is all the Lord Jesus asks.  And then we pray and place ourselves in his loving hands. 

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 10),” the Lord Jesus taught us to pray.  That is our faith.  The “World Day of the Sick” is for you.

Those of us who care for the sick and love them can never lose heart or allow discouragement to overwhelm us.  God is with us.  Have faith, like those who brought the sick and suffering of the Gospels to the Lord Jesus.  It is all he asks.  And then we pray and place the sick and suffering and ourselves in his loving hands. 

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 10),” the Lord Jesus taught us to pray.  That is our faith.  The “World Day of the Sick” is for you.

Those of us trained in the medical professions to whom the sick are entrusted in our hospitals, medical facilities and nursing homes can never lose heart or allow discouragement to overwhelm us.  God is with us.  Have faith, like St. Luke, the physician, in his Gospel.  Again and again he reminds us that faith is all the Lord Jesus asks.  And then pray and place the sick to whom we minister and ourselves, as servants of healing, in his loving hands. 

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 10),” the Lord Jesus taught us to pray.  That is our faith.  The “World Day of the Sick” is for you.

Those of us who enjoy the blessings of good health and well-being, be grateful to God and pray for those who do not.  The “World Day of the Sick” is for you, too.

The sick and suffering among us may recover; or they may not.  But that is God’s decision, not ours.  All the Lord Jesus asks is our faith.  The rest is up to him.

It is no coincidence that Pope St. John Paul II chose the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes as the World Day of the Sick.  Few places in the world are as associated with healing as the Grotto of Lourdes, France, where Our Blessed Mother Mary appeared to a peasant girl, St. Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858.  Since that time thousands and thousands of people of faith have made pilgrimage there and received from the Lord Jesus, Mary’s Son, the gift of healing from their sickness and suffering.  Not everyone is cured but their faith is confirmed and strengthened by those who have been healed.

It is for us, then — all of us as people of faith — on this World Day of the Sick 2015 to beg the intercession of Our Blessed Mother Mary as we turn to her beloved Son, the Lord Jesus, and pray for the sick and seek his healing, if not of their bodies then of their spirit.  Give them faith and strengthen its conviction.  We pray, as well, for those who surround them as caregivers, family, friends, medical professionals and fellow travelers on this journey of life.  Give them faith and strengthen its conviction.

O Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes and Mother of the Sick, pray for us all now and forever.  Amen.

Most Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton






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