World Day of the Sick 2015
MASS WITH THE CONFERRAL OF THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Canice, Finglas, 8th February 2015
“There is something that is quite striking about the Gospel reading that we have just heard. It is the Gospel reading set aside for this Fifth Sunday in the liturgical year and not one that was chosen especially for the World Day of the Sick. It shows us just how central to the ministry of Jesus the care of the sick is and how central the care of the sick was to continue to be in the missionary journey which Jesus was about to undertake.
The Gospel is striking from another point of view. It covers the events of one single day in the life of Jesus. Rarely in the Gospel do we find such a precise description of how Jesus passed a particular twenty-four hours. Mark is very precise in the details of Jesus’ day. It begins as the crowd leave the Synagogue where Jesus had been worshipping. “That evening after sunset”, the text reads, the time when the Sabbath ended was the very the first opportunity for families to bring their sick out to encounter Jesus. Next morning, the text continues, “in the morning, long before dawn” Jesus was once again on the move.
The Gospel is also the story of a transition in the life of Jesus as he moves from a life centred around his first small group of disciples and begins his missionary journeys across Galilee to preach the Good News.
Perhaps we are so familiar with the stories of Jesus’ encounters with the sick and his miracles of care that we find them almost normal. That was not the case at the time of Jesus, where all sorts of taboos and misunderstandings and prejudices surrounded the sick. The way in which Jesus approached and embraced and touched the sick was quite revolutionary. Rather than being caught up in the taboos of the day, Jesus goes out to encounter directly those who are sick and troubled because he wishes them to closely encounter the love of God.
Jesus wants to tell the world of his time and the world of our time that the person who is sick and troubled is always the object of the care of God and that the sick person is changed when he or she realises that they are loved by God in a special way.
Matthew’s Gospel is quite distinctive in that about one third of the text is dedicated to the miraculous action of Jesus. But Jesus is very careful not to create a personality cult around miracles. Jesus wishes to show his love and his care and nothing else. He takes no credit and does wait around for recognition. If anything he tells those who were healed that they should not talk about it to anyone. He tells the evil spirits that they are not to reveal his identity. He does not want his power and his mission to be misinterpreted. In the Gospel of Mark the true identity will only be fully,unambiguously, revealed after his self-giving death on the cross, when the centurion will cry out “Truly this man was the son of God”. Jesus’ miracles are miracles of love and can only be fully understood by those who make the same journey of the cross that he did.
If we are to look for indications of the identity of Jesus in today’s Gospel we would have to look not so much at his miracles, but as to how he turns in prayer and communion with the Father. Jesus, even before dawn, slips away from his friends and from the crowds and dedicates his time in prayer and communion with his Father. Today we gather in this special communion of prayer in the celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick and in the communion of Jesus’ love which is the Eucharist.
The Church is the community where the healing care of Jesus continues to be present. The Church is not just an organisation, but a communion built around Jesus Christ. It is a communion of men and women who have opened themselves to the love of Jesus and who wish to create communion with the brothers and sisters around them, especially any person who feels exclude or forgotten.
It is good to be together in this communion of the Church, where each one can feel the love of Jesus. But that communion should not be something closed. In our Gospel reading, people want Jesus to stay with them. But Jesus is aware that – like many on other occasions – they want him to stay with them on their terms. Jesus moves on to preach the Gospel village by village. He does not want to be trapped by the crowds into their understanding of who he should be. Jesus does not want in our time to be trapped in our timidity and the new taboos about suffering of our times. Jesus calls on all of us to live in communion with him and to learn that in our lives at every circumstance we are called to bring his care and compassion for anyone who is sick or troubled.
We may not understand the mystery of suffering and of illness. We may not be expert and trained nurses and carers. Yes, there are today still diseases that are incurable and which bring great suffering. But there is no person suffering who cannot be cared for. No sick person should ever be left alone or forgotten or abandoned because of our taboos or our fears or our indifference. The Church must become ever more that community which witnesses to the fact that the care of Jesus is still present in the midst of our humanity.
Indeed as I said yesterday at the Seminar for Parish Pastoral Councils, the particular situation that we encounter in our times, with dramatic cut-backs in health care and services for the care of those who wish to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, means that the role of the community in caring for the sick and the lonely must be intensified.
As we turn now in prayer for and with our brothers and sisters who are sick, let us pause in silent prayer remembering those among us troubled by sickness and all those for whom we have been asked to pray.”