World Day of the Sick
Just as the recent Catholic Schools Week reminded us of how the work of Christ the Teacher unfolds every day in our classrooms, World Day of the Sick, which we observe today, reminds us of the importance of carrying out the work of Christ the Healer.
Beginning in 1992, Blessed John Paul II designated February 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, “as a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding us to see in our sick brother and sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind.”
Blessed John Paul II had a keen insight into the importance of recognizing the God-given dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. In his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, he writes about how our secular world is often marked by “a culture of death,” while Christians today must work to build a “civilization of love.”
In her work with the sick and dying, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta emphasized the importance of seeing the face of Jesus in those who are suffering, and loving them as Jesus loves us.
The Gospels recount many examples of Jesus as a healer, such as when He touched a man and cleansed him of his leprosy (Mt 8:3), restored a man’s sight (Mk 10:49-52), cured a paralyzed man (John 5:1-9) and helped a deaf man hear (Mark 7:31-27). All three of the Synoptic Gospels recount the story of Jesus healing the woman who suffered from a hemorrhage (Mark 5:21-43, Mt 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56).
The early Church continued this healing ministry. According to tradition, Saint Luke was a physician. Saint Basil the Great in the fourth century built a network of hospitals and hospices in what is today Turkey. A century earlier, when an epidemic struck Rome, historians recorded the story of how Christians remained with the afflicted to feed them, wash them, clothe them and pray with them.
Today that legacy of bringing Christ’s healing to the sick continues in the nation’s 620 Catholic hospitals, which serve one in six patients in the United States each year. Worldwide, more than 25 percent of AIDS patients are cared for in Catholic health care institutions.
Here in our own community, Christ’s healing is carried out through the health care ministries of the Archdiocese of Washington. In a special way, the 250 volunteer doctors, dentists and specialists and the five participating hospitals and 35 participating clinics in the Archdiocesan Health Care Network serve as Good Samaritans to the poor and sick, serving about 2,000 patients each year, providing them with an estimated $4-5 million worth of medical care.
In his message for the 2013 World Day of the Sick, Pope Benedict XVI calls on Catholics to pray and live with daily concern, “like that of the Good Samaritan, for those suffering in body and spirit who ask for our help, whether or not we know them and however poor they may be.”
Those who are not medical professionals can be instruments of Christ the Healer and help bring about that healing of the heart by carrying out the corporal work of mercy of visiting the sick, and the spiritual work of mercy of comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and the dead. Family members, friends, neighbors, and people in the community who are suffering can experience Christ’s love and healing through such acts of compassion.
Those who are sick and dying can experience Christ the Healer by prayerfully uniting their suffering with Jesus on the cross. Through His passion and death and in His resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death, and invites us to new life, eternal life, with Him. Through the redemptive power of the cross, Jesus shows the afflicted that they too can triumph over suffering and death. May they know the loving embrace of Christ the Healer, who is with them now and forever.