Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the Ciciams XIX World Congress 2014

23 Sep 2014

“I am very happy to welcome you all to this opening Mass of the XIX World Conference of CICIAMS and I congratulate CICIAMS Ireland on the fact that they wished to host this important international event, which brings together delegates from 22 countries.

Jesus always had a special relationship with the sick.   As he journeyed from village to village, Jesus always accompanied his proclamation of the kingdom of God with the healing of the sick and the relief from many burdens which oppressed people and which held people possessed.  From his earliest preaching Jesus showed us that the care of the sick is an essential part of his message of salvation and therefore that the community of his believers must always be a community which recognises the sick as having a special place among them.  A Church which neglected the care of the sick and the love of the sick would not be fully the Church of Jesus Christ.

How did Jesus interact with the sick?  Jesus did not preach resignation or simply tell people to offer up their sufferings; nor did he work “show miracles” to demonstrate the power that he possesses, in a manner in which to win quick converts through dramatic gestures.  Indeed on many occasions Jesus rebuked the evil spirits, the ones who knew his true identity, and tells them not to reveal who he is.  Faith is not imposed or transmitted by media gestures or external show.

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 that dignity as persons.   Jesus revelation of himself and his being God comes through the way he shows his love and his care for those who are weak in body or mind.  The all-powerful God acts and reveals himself through the way Jesus encounters those who are weakest in society.  The true miracle which the sick encounter when they meet Jesus is always in the first place the miracle of being loved by God.

This should make each of us think about the manner in which we encounter the reality of sickness and human inadequacy.  In the face of the phenomenon of sickness many in modern societies are tempted to put it into a separate place, a separate place where sickness is dealt with, and which lets us get on with “the real things of life”.

Sickness is one of the real things of life and the manner in which we address sickness tells us something of what we think of life.  The quality level of health care services in today’s world varies.  Most wealthy countries like our own have to admit that we have failed to place the progress of science and the wealth of society adequately at the service of the sick. We need a critical new model of national economy focusing on the health of all citizens. The current model has not worked, despite the extraordinary men and women who work daily in our health care system.

Pope John Paul, in his Encyclical Centesimus Annus, speaking about economic progress, recognised the value of a market economy.  But he also recognised the limits of the market: “there are collective and qualitative human needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanisms. There are important human needs which escape its logic. There are goods which by their very nature cannot and must not be bought or sold”.

The Pope went on say that market mechanisms “carry the risk of an ‘idolatry’ of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities”. This same sentiment was stressed yesterday by the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, where he criticised “the placing of the market as the centre of public policy for all human needs”.

The inadequacy of health care systems in wealthy countries is nothing compared to the enormous inequity in the sharing of medical resources on a global level. When God created the world he created the good things of the world – and these include the fruits of human genius – for the benefit of all. The great progress in medical science in our world has not been accompanied by the science of sharing.  Sadly, the urgent need to address health emergencies in the poorest countries often only hit out television screens when they appear to be a threat to us, or when they are judged to be a “risk to international security”.

The Christian community is called to be to the forefront in representing that extraordinary care which we witnessed as Jesus touched and spoke to, bowed down over and reached out with love and human warmth and solidarity. Jesus’ care was such that it enabled the sickest person to feel that they are fully the person that God wanted them to be.   Today we are called to represent the Jesus who addresses each sick person by name.

In faith we can say that even if today, there are diseases which remain incurable, we should never say that any sick person remains incurable.   They all need the cure which comes from our loving care and indeed in bringing that care we too are cured of much of our self-centredness and insensitivity.

Healthcare in more than machinery and technology; health care is more than fighting disease.   The awesome progress of science inspires hope, but it does not take away people’s fears and anxieties.  Health care is always about a person and a person with hopes and anxieties, who belongs to a network of relationships, especially their family which is the theme of your congress.   Health care is also about life and death, about what is really the purpose of life and why we are here.

The nurse plays a special role in health care.  The nurse is the one who encounters the sick person day by day at his or her closest in every moment of their anxieties and their hopes and their fears.  The work of nurses must be given its rightful social and economic recognition.

The Catholic nurse is called to bring a special gift, something which does not substitute technical competence, but adds to that competence and integrates it.  Your faith must be lived in such a way that it brings an additional quality to your professional competence and must be seen and understood as doing so by all.

In the presentation of your symbols at the opening of this Mass, we reflected on the significance of the gentle touch of your hands.  The effectiveness of those gentle hands is the fruit of the fact that you recognise that you, and those who you care, for are held in the powerful protective hand of God.

We open this conference by imploring the inspiration and saving power of Jesus on our work.   We invoke the loving care of God on all those who are entrusted to our care.  We invoke the inspiration of God on all those who bear responsibilities in our world for health care policy and we pray that our experience of the generous love of God will inspire a greater sense of solidarity for those who suffer and are the weakest in any part of the world.

May Mary, health of the sick, accompany you all in your work, and reflection and prayer in these days.