All across the country, the face of medicine and health care delivery is changing and, in some cases, bringing new challenges. However, the motivation that brings the Catholic faithful to the health ministry remains constant.
Tomorrow, Laetare Sunday, at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, we will celebrate the 23rd Annual Rose Mass to invoke God’s blessings on the many dedicated lay people, religious and priests who are involved in the medical, dental, nursing and related professions in our area. Sponsored by the John Carroll Society and celebrated since 1992, it is named the “Rose Mass” because the vestments are rose-colored on this fourth Sunday of Lent.
The rose is a symbol of life as well, and this Eucharistic celebration also provides a special opportunity to give thanks for the splendid work of the volunteers of the Catholic Charities Health Care Network, which connects low-income and uninsured patients with specialized, pro bono health care services. Overall, in the Health Care Network and other programs of Catholic Charities combined, more than 15,000 people last year received desperately needed medical, dental or mental health services.
Why is the Catholic Church involved in health ministry at all? We are involved because care of the sick is an important part of our mission of service, to see Christ in others and to be the face of Christ ourselves to those in need.
The Gospels recount many examples of Jesus as a healer, such as when he cleansed a man of his leprosy (Matthew 8:3), cured a paralyzed man (John 5:1-9) and helped a deaf man hear (Mark 7:31-27). This Sunday, we will hear in the Gospel how Jesus cured a man who was blind from birth (John 9:1-41).
The early Church continued this healing ministry. On the eve of this new millennium, Blessed John Paul II, who himself was often hospitalized and the beneficiary of the health ministry of doctors, nurses and others, recounted how “history records great men and women who, prompted by their desire to imitate Christ through a deep love for their poor and suffering brethren, started countless initiatives of social assistance, brightening the last two millennia with good works” (Message for World Day of the Sick 2000). For example, when an epidemic struck Rome, while others fled, Christians remained with the afflicted to feed them, wash them, clothe them and pray with them. A century later, Saint Basil the Great in the fourth century built a network of hospitals and hospices in what is modern-day Turkey.
That legacy of bringing Christ’s healing to the sick continues today. “Daily experience shows how the Church, inspired by the Gospel of charity, continues to contribute with many works, hospitals, health-care structures and volunteer organizations, to promoting health and to caring for the sick, paying special attention to the most underprivileged in all parts of the world,” wrote John Paul.
Our involvement in health care ministry is a part of God’s plan. What we bring to health care is the profound faith conviction that this is more than a job – it is God’s mercy at work among us through our hands, words, actions, hearts, witness and faith.
The Church’s commitment to health care in all its manifestations is rooted in the recognition that human life is a sacred gift that will some day flower into the fullness of life. All healing, physical and emotional, psychological and medical, is directed to and should be a sign of the more profound spiritual healing that unites us to God.
As we celebrate the Rose Mass, offering prayers and thanks for those working in health care, while also making final preparations for Holy Week, we can ask ourselves how our own living faith might be an instrument of healing. All of us in various ways are called to minister to one another. In that sense, we are all expressions of the Church’s commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was and continues to be our Lord, Redeemer and Healer.