Fittingly, the Church celebrates the World Day of the Sick each year on February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, as a reminder not only of that holy place of physical and spiritual healing where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared, but also of her role in leading us to Jesus, who brings us true healing through his love and mercy.
This day comes this year during the Jubilee of Mercy, and the theme chosen by Pope Francis is “Entrusting Oneself to the Merciful Jesus like Mary: ‘Do whatever he tells you,’” reflecting on the solicitude of the Mother of Mercy at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11). This day dedicated to prayer and lifting up the dignity of our sisters and brothers who are ill or dying comes also as we are facing the challenge locally and nationally of a “culture of death” which continues to press for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and other efforts to hasten the deaths of those whose lives have been deemed to be no longer worth living (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 64-67).
In his Message for the 2016 World Day of the Sick, our Holy Father observes that “illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis.” It is in these situations, when one might despair that things no longer have meaning, that faith “offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the Cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first hand.”
The lesson of Cana, where Mary took action when she noticed that there was no more wine, is that our Blessed Mother watches out for us, her spiritual children. Furthermore, our Holy Father says, “In Mary’s concern we see reflected the tenderness of God. This same tenderness is present in the lives of all those persons who attend the sick and understand their needs, even the most imperceptible ones, because they look upon them with eyes full of love.”
In turn, Jesus is ready to “change the water of our lives into precious wine,” affirms Pope Francis. That miracle can unfold in homes, in hospitals and nursing facilities as we obey the words of Mary, “Do whatever he tells you,” the sick and infirm entrust their lives to God, and their caregivers offer them the love and mercy of Christ.
Today, the need to do what the Lord tells us, to love and care for one another, and to especially defend and protect the most vulnerable among us, is ever more pressing as we confront the despair spreading throughout society which has led to an increase in suicide generally and calls for the legalization of assisted suicide.
At the recent Adult and Family Rally for Life, the keynote speaker was Mark Pickup, who has lived with multiple sclerosis for three decades. In his talk, he referred to the campaign for legalized physician-assisted suicide as “cultural poison,” a poison he might have succumbed to himself in moments of darkness. Instead, the love he experienced from his family and from God helped him to understand what true quality of life means. “What gives my life quality today is to love and be loved,” he said. “Our value comes from being image bearers of God and recipients of his immense love.”
Warning against the manipulation of language in the push to legalize assisted suicide and even direct euthanasia, Mr. Pickup noted that phrases like “death with dignity” and “medical aid in dying” were meant to make killing people look compassionate and legitimate. In truth, it is a false compassion, a false mercy, and a fundamental violation of human dignity.
For this reason, the Archdiocese of Washington has been diligently working with a broad coalition of medical experts, family and disability advocates and people of many faiths to oppose proposed bills in Maryland and the District of Columbia that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. Please visit the websites for Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide and No DC Suicide, as well as our own #TransformFear, to learn more about how you too can help.
In a particular way, on this World Day of the Sick let us join with Pope Francis and the whole Church to “ask Jesus in his mercy, through the intercession of Mary, his Mother and ours, to grant to all of us this same readiness to be serve those in need, and, in particular, our infirm brothers and sisters. . . . We too can be hands, arms and hearts which help God to perform his miracles, so often hidden. 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.”