Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for World Day of the Sick
Church of Our Lady of Victories, Ballymun Road, Dublin
The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 was one of the most significant events in the life and ministry of Pope John Paul II. He personally recalled on more than one occasion that immediately after his election as Pope the aging Polish Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, had said to him that he would most likely be the Pope who was to lead the Church of Jesus Christ into the Third Millennium. Pope John Paul took that responsibility very seriously and he used the occasion of the Millennium to call for a worldwide renewal of the life of the Church. The celebrations of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 became then indeed an event with wide-ranging and worldwide influence in the Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul hoped that the Jubilee Year would become a stimulus for renewal of the Church and a pattern of renewal for the subsequent years as a new century and a new Millennium unfolded. He wrote an Apostolic Letter to the entire Church in that sense. He chose as a leitmotiv for that document the words of the Gospel that we have just heard: “Put out into deep water”: Duc in altum.
It was a clarion call, a call to mobilization and courage on the part of the entire Church, a call to renewed energy and enthusiasm to all Christians to develop a new climate of prayer and reflection and action to ensure that the enthusiasm of the Jubilee Year would not just be a passing emotion, but would lead to a vigorous renewal in the life of the Church. That call is still valid today, even though perhaps our energies have sometimes dried up.
Today we come together to celebrate the World Day of the Sick. I welcome all of you: the sick, those who accompany you, the priests and religious, the Ambulance organizations, the members of this parish which offers us such a warm and thoughtful welcome. I thank Bishop Raymond Field and all those who have worked with him to prepare this day.
We have listened to the Gospel reading, which is the Gospel proposed by the Church for this Fifth Sunday of the Liturgical Year. We are still at the beginnings of the Gospel of Saint Luke and at the early days of Jesus’ preaching and the call of his first disciples.
Let us look more carefully at the scene in today’s Gospel. Jesus had already become a figure who was arousing popular interest. People were hearing about him and going out to see him and trying to understand what was the message of this teacher and healer of the sick, who seemed different to the other teachers who continually emerged among the people but who equally quickly vanished from sight and memory. Jesus spoke with a different kind of authority. There was something in his presence and in his message and in his caring actions which rang of an aura of authenticity which others lacked.
Various times in the Gospel we see how Jesus, when the crowds were very large, would get into a boat and preach just a short distance from the shore so that all could see and hear him. On this occasion he noted two boats which had obviously been fishing together. It would have been the normal custom for two boats to go out together so that they could help each other in the event that they had a large catch.
Jesus asks to get into the one of the boats; that of Simon Peter, someone who was there on that occasion just like the others out of a sense of curiosity and interest in this new teacher. In Saint Luke’s narrative it is the very first time that Simon sees Jesus.
When Jesus had finished speaking, he turns to Simon and his friends in the other boat and asks them to put out into deep water and to put out their nets for a catch. Simon and his friends were expert fishers. You can imagine that they had the experience and the astuteness of local fishers with much good practical sense learned from earlier generations. They knew everything about tides and movements of fish. They knew that if they had not made a catch during the night there was even less chance of making a catch in daylight.
Yet somehow they listen to the words of this teacher who knows nothing about fishing. For some reason they do as he suggests. It may have been simply through politeness or more likely because of the impression that Jesus, the teacher, had made on Simon and his companions. Not knowing really why, they somehow realise that this Jesus has a different understanding of reality and looks on realities in a different way to anyone they had ever met. They do as he told them and the result is that they make a catch that it so great that both boats almost sink. The fishermen are so struck by this event that they answer the call of Jesus, calling him Lord, bringing their boats back to land and leaving everything there to follow him.
This Gospel story of the miraculous catch is not just about an event. It is a story of what being a disciple means. It is about an encounter with Jesus which moves from the casual or the curious, into realising that Jesus opens a new understanding about reality, about our reality. It is about how, if we follow his way of thinking, rather than the wisdom which we feel ourselves to possess then our lives can take on richness that we could never have imagined ourselves.
I began by speaking about the ideas that Pope John Paul had set out as the follow-up to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. I spoke in terms of “mobilization” and “courage”, of “renewed energy” and “enthusiasm” and “action”. I am sure that many of you who are here today and who are sick are saying to yourselves: “I would very much like to be able to make such a contribution to the renewal of the Church, but how can I respond to “mobilization and courage and renewed energy and enthusiasm” if my energies are so weakened”. “I may often”, you will say, “feel more a burden than someone with something to offer, with the pain and the suffering which drains me of my energies”.
The Gospel reading we have heard is not just about Peter and his companions: it is about each of us whatever our situation. Some of us may feel that we can live our lives certain of our own certainties. Others of us will be burdened by our weaknesses and feel there is little we can do. The Gospel reminds us that, whatever our situation, if we stick to our own wisdom we will inevitably end up where we started with an empty catch. It is only when we abandon our own logic and opt for the logic of Jesus – even though we cannot understand it in advance – that we will begin to see that there are other values in life and there are other roots of hope than outward worldly success and efficiency. In our sickness we can realise that Jesus acts precisely through out weakness. In the Sacrament of the Sick we realise that Jesus call us and Jesus gives us the strength to answer his call, in whatever our situation.
This is a message for you who are sick. The Lord frees you. But it is not just a message for those who are sick. It is a message to the Church that in our interaction with those who are weak or are troubled that we must become the community of those who allow ourselves to be captured by the logic of Jesus, by his Word, and transform that interaction we have with others into love. The Sacrament of the Sick is an expression of the faith and the love of the entire Church.
Pope Benedict in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est reminded us of the need for Christian love. That need remains even today in the midst of all the technical progress which accompanies medical science. The Pope noted: “There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love… There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable”. No one lives “by bread alone”. Health care is enriched by the contribution of the loving voluntary commitment and action which the Church community can offer.
To play its role in society, the Church must always deepen its faith lived out in love. The Church and her institutions must be constantly vigilant not to get trapped into habits which betray the selfless love of Jesus Christ. Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we have to leave aside everything that distracts from what is central in our Christian vocation and to become “fishers of the men and women” through the message of Jesus, people who go out to embrace and support those in our society who most need the warmth and the support of Christian love.
It is that sense of Christian love which is the driving force of renewal in the Church. Without that love all the “mobilization” and “courage”, of “renewed energy” and “enthusiasm” and “action” about which I spoke earlier will be empty formula and hyper activism and leave our hearts only with an empty catch.