Our readings in Sacred Scripture present us with suffering that is brought on by human weakness, frailty and sickness. Jesus has been sent by the Father to lead us into an abundant life. Jesus says to his disciples in the gospel of John: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10,10) Sickness and illness are obstacles to this abundant life and stand in the way of Jesus’ mission to reveal the tender mercy of God and preach the good news of salvation. Wherever Jesus encounters sickness he immediately begins healing, to restore people to freedom and wholeness and to reunite them with the community and with their loved ones. When Jesus is told about the sickness of Peter’s mother-in-law in the gospel of Mark, he immediately, “approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.” (Mk 1,31) Peter’s mother-in-law leaves her place of isolation and returns to doing the daily tasks that she so easily did before but that had become a great burden in her sickness.
When we are sick we often are isolated from others and begin to feel alone and abandoned. The little things that we were able to do so easily in the past now become a struggle for us and it seems that we have been consigned to constant struggle in our lives. Life itself becomes a burden to us and it seems like we are never going to experience happiness again. Job reminds us of this condition of human weakness, sickness and suffering: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?/Are not his days those of hirelings?/He is a slave who longs for the shade,/a hireling who waits for his wages./So I have been assigned months of misery,/and troubled nights have been allotted to me…Remember that my life is like the wind;/I shall not see happiness again.” (Job 7,1ff.7)
In the gospel we find all of the world of sickness and brokenness gathering at the door of Jesus’ home and he cures many of them and drives out the demons from those who are possessed. Liberation from sin and death begins with liberation from our human weaknesses and frailties and continues on in the sacraments of penance and reconciliation to heal the lacerations of the soul caused by sin. Jesus has been sent into the world to bring the healing of God’s love and to restore human persons to their dignity and the joy of communion.
This next Thursday, February 11, is the World Day of the Sick which is held each year on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We will offer the anointing of the sick following the morning mass and our priests will be available to anoint all those who seek our Lord’s healing. Pope Francis has sent a message to the Church on this World Day of the Sick: “The experience of sickness makes us realize our own vulnerability and our innate need of others. It makes us feel all the more clearly that we are creatures dependent on God. When we are ill, fear and even bewilderment can grip our minds and hearts; we find ourselves powerless, since our health does not depend on our abilities or life’s incessant worries (cf. Mt 6:27). Sickness raises the question of life’s meaning, which we bring before God in faith. In seeking a new and deeper direction in our lives, we may not find an immediate answer. Nor are our relatives and friends always able to help us in this demanding quest. The biblical figure of Job is emblematic in this regard. Job’s wife and friends do not accompany him in his misfortune; instead, they blame him and only aggravate his solitude and distress. Job feels forlorn and misunderstood. Yet for all his extreme frailty, he rejects hypocrisy and chooses the path of honesty towards God and others. He cries out to God so insistently that God finally answers him and allows him to glimpse a new horizon. He confirms that Job’s suffering is not a punishment or a state of separation from God, much less as sign of God’s indifference. Job’s heart, wounded and healed, then makes this vibrant and touching confession to the Lord: “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you” (42:5).”
Jesus feels drawn to the sick and the suffering in his time of mission and ministry. He sees people as “sheep without a shepherd”, wandering alone, isolated from others and lost in their sin, sickness, suffering and weakness. He will himself be one who is acquainted with suffering and physical afflictions and will feel the weight of suffering in his carrying the cross. Long before he was crucified on Calvary, he had taken upon himself the cross of sharing in the suffering of the people to whom he ministered. He calls all of us to take up the cross daily and be willing to share in the sufferings of others in the world. We have a vocation to compassion and mercy. The sick are standing at our door, let us go out to meet them, minister to them in their need, and bring healing to our world.
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