8/2/2009 World Day of the Sick Homily

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Fifth Sunday of the Year

Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Our Lady, Help of Christian, Navan Road, 8th February 2009

The Gospel reading we have heard is a very interesting one.  If we look closely at it we can see that, taken with the Gospel reading 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 hitherto experienced; 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.   Even the unclean spirits recognise him and obey him.
You can imagine the excitement which this event causes in Capernaum.   The population is filled with hope.  At the very first opportunity open to them, at the very moment in which the Sabbath ends, at sunset, the people bring so many of their sick relatives and friends to the house where Jesus was staying. 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.  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 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 their own dignity as persons.   Rather than allow the evil spirits to reveal his identity by a form of media style short-cut, Jesus’ revelation of himself comes 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.  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 about the manner in which we encounter the reality of sickness and human inadequacy.  In the face of trials we can easily close in on ourselves and become self centred and loose trust in others.  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.    Our current economic crisis will inevitably have serious effects on the level of health care services which can be provided in the immediate future, with effects not only on the sick and those awaiting medical attention. The effects on carers and family members will be significant

World Day of the Sick is a witness in the realities of our society that the Christian community must be a community that cares and whose care will be there every day, in good economic times and in tense times. 

This is a celebration of the mystery of life in which we celebrate the fact that life is above all a celebration of love, the love with which God creates and sustain our world and with which he sustains each of us on our path of life whatever that entails. Still today, Jesus passes among us doing good and changing lives

The Christian community must represent that same extraordinary cure and care which we witnessed as Jesus touched and spoke to, bowed down over and reached out with love and human warmth and solidarity, thus enabling the sickest person to feel that they are fully the person that God wanted them to be, knowing that through us God addresses each sick person by name. In faith we can say that even if today there are diseases which remain incurable, we can never say that any sick person remains incurable.   They all need the cure which comes from our loving care and in bringing that care we too are cured of much of our self-centredness and insensitivity.

In a few moments that healing power of Jesus will be present here among us in the power of the Sacrament of the Sick.  It is that same Jesus we have encountered in today’s Gospel, the Jesus who passes among us doing good and changing lives.    

I congratulate Bishop Raymond Field and his team for the extraordinarily attentive way in which they prepare World Day of the Sick each year.  I thank all those who have worked in preparing this celebration, those who have arranged the transport and the welcome, those who have prepared the Church and those who will look after the food that will be available afterwards. 

I am especially happy to see the young people from local schools; your generation is a generation of great ideals and generosity.   I hope that your experience of the World Day of the Sick will deepen your sense of solidarity and of the recognition that human dignity is not just about success or celebrity, but as Jesus revealed his true identity not in show, but in caring interaction with the sick, you will find also a sense of meaning for your life and your future in the experience of this day.

At the conclusion of the 24 hours on which we are reflecting, Jesus find 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.

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 move on.   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.     May all of us experience that love; may that love embrace our lives and sustain us, in sickness and in health.