Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for World Day of the Sick,
Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mourne Road, 5 February 2012
The Gospel which the Church proposes for this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time is interestingly a most opportune Gospel for our celebration of the World Day of the Sick.
If we look closely at the Gospel reading we see that, taken with the Gospel of last Sunday, it covers practically speaking one full day, or as we would say today: “24 hours, in the life of Jesus Christ”. Let us look at such a day.
The particular day was a Sabbath day which Jesus spent in Capernaum. In a special way the day was a day in which Jesus encountered and healed numerous sick people and various forms of sickness. He cured men and women who were wounded in their bodies and in their identity or entrapped by heavy personal burdens. Jesus is present then, if only for a day, passing through a town doing good and changing lives.
Last Sunday’s Gospel presented Jesus in the Synagogue on the morning of the Sabbath and recalls the double reaction to his presence there: the reaction to his teaching which was a teaching with an authority that was way beyond what his audience had ever experienced before; and the reaction to his power, he was able to free a man from an unclean spirit and restore him to the fullness of his humanity. Jesus teaches and Jesus heals. Jesus reveals his truth in his caring.
The reaction of the population of the city to Jesus was obviously one of great excitement and hope. At the very first opportunity open to them, as soon as the Sabbath officially ends, at sunset, the people bring huge numbers of their sick relatives and friends to the house where Jesus was staying, to that house where Jesus had already cured Simon Peter’s mother in law and where he had eaten with his disciples. Now he cures many more from diseases and he frees those who were possessed or troubled in the depths of their being.
Jesus always had a special relationship with the sick. He does not preach resignation or simply tell people to offer up their sufferings; nor does he work “show miracles” to demonstrate the power that he possesses, in a manner in which to win quick converts through dramatic gestures. Miracles do not substitute faith. It is in the depths of our faith that we understand what the Lord is saying to us. It is our faith that enables us to stand up with confidence and with trust in the Lord.
Jesus does not put himself at the centre of attention. Indeed Jesus rebukes the evil spirits, the ones who know his true identity, and tells them not to reveal who he is. Faith is not imposed. The encounter of every sick person with Jesus is not programmed in advance; Jesus brings healing in unexpected ways which really touch hearts and give both the sick and those who care for them new courage.
Jesus encounters and engages with the sick as individual persons. He comes close to them, imposes his hands on each of them individually, he bows down over each sick person in a sign of respect reminding them of their dignity and giving them once again a true understanding of their own dignity as persons. Jesus leads us to understand who he is through the way he shows his love and his care for those who are weak in body or mind. This is the all-powerful God in action; this is the love of God being revealed through Jesus’ interaction with those who are weakest in society.
In working in this manner with the sick, Jesus’ healing miracles not only restore the sick to their full physical integrity, but also remind all of us that in sickness we are always the objects of a special love and care on the part of Jesus. The true miracle which the sick encounter when they meet Jesus is the miracle of being loved by God.
This should make each of us think of the manner in which we encounter the reality of sickness and human inadequacy. In the face of trials we tend so often to close in on ourselves, to become self-centred and loose trust in others. Opening ourselves to the love of God and to the love of others is the only way in which the suffering, the tensions and all the upsets we find in life can take on meaning and can be addressed, if not cured, in an integral way.
The Christian community has to reflect the Jesus we have encountered in today’s Gospel, the Jesus who passes among us doing good and changing lives. Our communities must be such that they have the same care for each individual as Jesus did, having time for each one in the difference of their troubled lives.
Our population is ageing. Just at a time in which increased investment in the care of the elderly is necessary the reality is that we are facing cut-backs. The cut-backs in public social services which are the outcome of the current economic situation are already hitting in particular those who are sick or aged but who up to now had received the help which enabled them to live on in their own homes, which is what they dearly want. I appeal to our parishes and communities to be more alert to ensure that such people, whose lives contributed so much to building our communities over decades, are not left forgotten by those communities in the difficult times ahead. Community care needs active and attentive communities. I thank the organizers of this World Day of the Sick celebration for their generous contribution to the community awareness on these issues.
Jesus dedicates himself totally to his work of preaching and healing, but he does not allow that to take over or dominate his life. At the conclusion of the 24 hours on which we are reflecting, Jesus finds times and places of solitude, to listen to his Father, to pray and to be in communion with him. Early in the morning, Jesus rises and goes out to a lonely place to pray.
A lonely place! Some translations use the term “wilderness”. In any case it is about realising that we can only really live our faith in the world if we also take our distance from the pressures of the day. To find our identity and mission we must go out into what the fashion of the moment might consider a wilderness, a lonely place. The problem is that at times we are so much children of that dominant culture that we are unable to realise how our witness can become stale and flavourless. We need to turn to the uncomfortable wilderness of counter-cultural criteria. We need to overcome our fears of the loneliness that authentic and courageous witness may call us.
Prayer is not a running way from the realities of the World, but something quite different as we find in the very final part of the Gospel. Renewed and strengthened by a time of prayer, Jesus moves on, we are told; he moves forwards to other towns and other communities. When we pray, rather than being trapped in a world of the past or the present, we are enabled to open our hearts to a future, to newness, to a better world, but one which still requires the Word and the love of Jesus Christ.
Further information on World Day of the Sick is available on www.dublindiocese.ie
Further information on the Eucharistic Congress programme, announced today, is available on www.iec2012.ie