50th International Eucharistic Congress
Mass and anointing of the sick in nursing homes and places of care
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park, 5th June 2012
As we prepare for the Eucharistic Congress I felt that it is important to ensure that those who are sick or unwell would be part of and indeed feel a part of the great celebration of faith which will be hosted here in Dublin in just a week’s time. Today is a moment of prayerful support for you and a day in which we ask for your prayers in support of the Eucharistic Congress. We gather in faith.
One of my favourite stories in the Gospels is about faith and it is about Saint Marks account (Mark 5: 5-6) of the visit of Jesus to his own town and his own people. Jesus visits his own home town but his townspeople do not accept him. They felt that because they were his townspeople and kindred that they knew who he was and they had no reason to be over impressed. All they wanted him to do was to perform a show miracle. But Jesus does not work miracles for show.
Mark notes that Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith” and that therefore “he could work no miracle there”. But Mark adds immediately “though he cured some sick people by laying hands on them”! Jesus’ special love and care of the sick remained even when he was unable to work any other miracle. His care for the sick is so strong that even the lack of faith of his townspeople cannot hold it back.
Jesus loved the sick. At no time in the Gospels do we find Jesus on his journeys from village to village without finding him surrounded by the sick. The Church must follow in Jesus’ path. If we are to be faithful to Jesus and to the Church that he founded then there can be no Church life without a special place for the sick. A Church which does not have the sick as an integral and active part of Church life should be unimaginable today or at any time in history.
Jesus was moved to compassion when he encountered the faith of the sick. The authenticity of Church life today must be judged and measured also on how the Church appears as a community in which anyone who is sick and who is troubled and anguished is welcomed with the same compassion, understanding and care.
When Jesus came to his own town, as I said earlier, his townsfolk did not believe in him. Somehow they thought that just because they knew him and his family that had a special title to see miracles as in other places and perhaps even more spectacular ones. But there was no way in which faith could emerge from such smugness and self sufficiency. Jesus could work no miracles because of their lack of faith.
This Gospel story is leading us towards something deeper. Jesus is pointing to something about what the faith of the sick is saying to us. He is saying that to the smug, to the self sufficient, to those who feel that on their own they can the answers to the meaning of their lives. He is saying that in the faith of the sick we find an authenticity from which we must all learn.
The only trace of true faith that Jesus encountered in his own town was that of the sick people, who in their weakness were able to recognise their need for redemption and the limitedness of what each of us can attain on our own. There is a sense in which it is only when we become like the sick that we can enter into the kingdom. It is only when we recognise our own limitedness that we permit the saving power of Jesus to work in us and transform us.
Some of you may have been in Lourdes. It is a place where the sick are privileged. Mary has cured the sick; Mary deepened the faith of the sick to enable them to understand their sickness in a new light. Through contact with the sick Mary has also brought thousands and thousands to a more authentic faith and an understanding of our relationship of dependence of God, a dependence on God which is paradoxically a dependence which frees, as opposed to a self-assertiveness which imprisons.
That message challenges all of us. It challenges our society. There are times when our self sufficient society would willingly banish the sight of suffering into hidden corners. Today our economic situation has changed and tough corrective measures and spending cuts are needed. The aim must not be however to get back to business as before; it must not be to restore a past model of society and economy whose weaknesses are now more clearly to be seen. The task, even amidst the necessary cost-cutting measures, is to create the beginnings of a new model, a new vision of society, the signs of which we can experience here today in this experience of solidarity between young and old, sick and healthy, the hopeful and the anxious.
The people of Jesus home town thought that they were special. In fact they were empty conformists. Faith in Jesus Christ is not conformism. It is a message which challenges all forms of conformism. If you follow the path of self-affirmation alone then you will end up like the townspeople of Jesus who knew the anagrafical details of Jesus but failed to grasp his identity. If you however allow Jesus to touch your hearts then he will not just heal your anxieties, but he will release from within you talents you never knew you had and a new freedom.
May Mary, the model for all believers, gives each of us something of her disposition to serve Jesus and may each of us experience something of the freedom which can come alone from such faith.