6/02/05 Homily at Mass for World Day of the Sick

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Dublin Diocesan Celebration

Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Church of the Holy Child, Larkhill/Whitehall
6th February 2005

Everywhere Jesus went during his ministry he preached the good news and he met with the sick.  Probably there is no other group so constantly mentioned in the Gospels as the sick.  On many occasions we note that Jesus met them, touched them, was moved to compassion and ultimately to help them.


It is interesting to note in the Gospels the details of how Jesus met with the sick.  He did not work what we would call today “tele-miracles”.  There were no big shows.  He met rather with each sick person individually and laid hands on them individually.  Sometimes it was the sick themselves who just wished to touch his garments because they knew that in any encounter with Jesus, healing power would come from him and their lives would be changed. The encounter was always one which recognised the uniqueness of each sick person.
 The encounter of the sick person with Jesus, then and today, is a deep personal one.  My prayer this afternoon is that you will go away with something of that experience as you encounter Jesus in the sacrament of the sick and in the Eucharist.  Each one of us is an individual person, with our own history, our own joys and sorrows, our own sins and secrets, our own weaknesses and strengths, our own doubts and hopes.  Jesus knows these and wishes today to bring healing and to free us from all that hinders us from being the people that God made us to be.
Jesus has a special love for the sick. There is even the extraordinary scene told in the Gospel of Saint Mark (Mark 5: 5-6) in which Jesus visited his own home town and was not accepted by his townspeople.  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 care of the sick remained even when he was unable to work any other miracle.  His care for the sick is so great that even the lack of faith of his townspeople cannot hold it back. 


This Gospel text tells us that being close to Jesus is not a question of being his townsperson or of having any other special claim, but depends on something much deeper: it is a question of the depth of our faith. In the midst of all the unbelief and ingratitude of his townspeople, Jesus recognised faith only in that group of sick people.  The sick are a sign for all of us of what faith is.  Most of us are probably closer to the unbelief of townspeople of Jesus, as we live in self sufficiency, fixed on our own ideas and ways, attempting to create an image of Jesus built on our ideas, rather than having the humility to recognise our need of redemption.


 The powerful and caring gestures of Jesus for the sick are a prelude to the sacraments and of the Church.  The care for the sick which was such a mark of Jesus ministry is now the ministry of the Church.  It is a ministry of the entire Church, not just of the priests who anoint, not just of the hospital chaplain, not just of the Catholic hospital but of the entire Church community. That is the significance of today’s celebration which involves not just the sick people of the diocese, or the carers or the various groups who have helped bring us all here.  It is a celebration of the entire diocesan community.


Jesus changes the role of the sick person.  In many ancient traditions the sick were outlawed, people turned away from them. That can still happen in families today, as one of the quilts notes concerning HIV/AIDS persons, especially those who are gay or lesbian.   For the Christian the sick person is never to be outlawed, but becomes the image and the sign of Jesus.  At the judgement Jesus will say: “I was sick” and you visited, or did not visit, me.  The task of visiting the sick is not something that we can delegate to others.  It is a responsibility for the entire Christian community.  Just as Jesus shares in the condition of suffering humankind, the Christian community must learn how to bear the illnesses of all.


There is much talk of reform of our health services.  One of the most important contributions that we, as a Christian community, can bring to such a reform is creating a new awareness of community.  We need a new sense of our common responsibility for the sick, the lonely, the troubled and those who are weak with the passage of years.  They all belong to our community.   We have to ensure that the sick can live within their own familiar environment for also long as possible and with the highest degree of dignity possible.
And when people are no longer fully self-sufficient and perhaps have few close relatives, we should never allow them to be “parked” in some anonymous institution but finds ways, as Church, that they are remembered by the communities in which they worked and to which they brought the contribution of their goodness and hard work.
Health care needs today to be extremely professional and there is no excuse in wealthy Ireland for that not to be the case.  But there is also the danger that it becomes so professional that it is left to the professional, to the experts: that the community stands back and leaves hope to technology.   But sick people need human warmth; they need to know that they are not forgotten; they need to know they are remembered.  They need to know that they still have, even in weakness, a contribution to make through their goodness and their wisdom. Their very weakness should help us all to remember that human satisfaction is not merely success in an increasingly competitive rat race.  It is about the goodness we show and the love we share.  It is about accepting ourselves also in our weakness.  Accepting our weakness is a sign of true strength.  This is the paradox of the Cross.
 I wish to thank all those who have contributed to making this such a community celebration, a sign for the entire Christian community:  Trisha Conway and the Diocesan World Day of the Sick Committee, Father John Fitzpatrick and the Parish of the Holy Child here in Larkhill, the two Ambulance Corps: that of the Order of Malta and of Saint John, together with the Red Cross and Civil Defence.  Girls from Loreto College, Swords are helping at our celebration today.  Rennicks Construction have prepared the digital information sign of the main road and the Port Tunnel Management has had the grounds of the Church prepared for our needs.  Sheila Pyne in Archbishop’s House coordinated the sending out of the invitations. The entire effort was energetically held together by Bishop Raymond Field.
I greet the representatives from many parishes and from the hospital chaplaincy teams.   I greet you sick people, all of you and each of you individually.   I pray that today, in the Sacrament of the Sick, you will encounter Jesus who heals and who is with you in your moments of trial.  May he sustain you, and all of us, in all that we do, in the goodness and kindness we show to others!  May he allow us to feel the comfort of his healing and gentle care!  May he be alongside us as we grow weaker in our life in this world and welcome us when he calls us into his kingdom!
May all of us go away from the celebration strengthened in the awareness that we all belong to Jesus.  We thank him for the gifts we have received.  Let us treasure and protect the gift of health, in whatever measure we possess it.  All of us are sick in some way.  Each of us is healthy even in our sickness.  May the Lord lay his healing hand on each of us today!