WORLD DAY OF THE SICK 2014
5th Sunday of the Year
Homily Notes of Archbishop Martin at Church of Saint Therese, Mount Merrion, 8th February 2014
“What does it mean to be a Catholic today? At the last census in Ireland, 25% of the population of the Archdiocese of Dublin registered as something other than Roman Catholic. Of the 75% of those who ticked the Roman Catholic box, it would be foolish to imagine that all of them necessarily were strongly committed Catholics.
What does it mean then to be a Catholic today? Certainly in Ireland today this is a question that is asked in many different situations. We have some who would say that I am a Christian but I have little time for the Church. Others would say that I respect my local parish and my local priest, but I have little time for the institution. There are others say that they are Catholics, but would rarely think of going to Church.
What does it mean to be a Catholic today? It is a challenging question to which there nearly as many answers are there are people. It is a question which influences our understanding of the presence of the Church in Irish society. It touches on our reflection on the real commitment to Catholic schools, it involves reflecting on how much attendance and participating in the Eucharist is considered part of Catholic identity, it involves questions on many dimensions of Church teaching, it involves the question of what a Catholic ethos in a school or in a hospital or in an organisation means and can mean in a pluralist Ireland.
The first reading and the Gospel reading help us to look for an answer to the question. The Gospel says that the disciple of Jesus Christ must be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”. Both terms are about witness. The Christian must be a witness to Jesus Christ. Every Christian must witness in his or her life to what Jesus Christ means to them. The Christian cannot simply retreat into a private spirituality and say that he or she has no concern for the fundamental direction in which society develops. Society today needs light and savour. If our faith becomes tasteless and hidden, then it is no longer real faith.
It is interesting to note that in the final document of the Conference of the Bishops of Latin America some years ago – a document which had today’s Pope Francis as its principal author – the term “laity” is not mentioned, but rather “missionary disciples”. The Church is a community of missionary disciples. As Christians and as a Church all are called to witness to our faith in Jesus in such a way that we bring credible and intelligible enlightenment and guidance to society. To do that we have to examine daily our own faith and witness; we have to examine where our faith has become tasteless and dull and daily renew our faith.
Salt at the time of Jesus would have been considered in a different way than today. We look on salt as something which gives added taste and flavour to our food. At the time of Jesus salt was used principally to preserve food. There were no refrigerators and food had to be preserved for later use through salting it. Without salt food would not just have been bland, it would have begun to rot. Our faith then cannot be bland; it must have taste. As soon as our faith becomes bland and unenthusiastic then it is also destined to rot and perhaps not just be useless but indeed poisonous and dangerous for us and others.
Pope Francis has talked about the behaviour of some Christians which would simply immunise young people against the faith for generations. Our faith must be a light that attracts and wins hearts. It is not a secret light kept behind closed doors and thick curtains just to be savoured by ourselves and the like minded. We are all missionary disciples.
How do we show the light that is generated by our faith? We find some indications in the first reading: The prophet Isaiah tells us that we must: “share your bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless poor”; we must “clothe the man you see to be naked”. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to share. This means that our interaction with the poor and the hungry and the sick cannot be just by email, from a safe distance. It requires a real encounter between us and the one who is sick or poor so that together we encounter healing and restoration. I congratulate all of you here today for the witness that you give to sharing, to being alongside individual men and women who are less fortunate in many ways. I thank the carers for the love you show daily and indeed hourly, by day and by night. I thank the sick for what you bring to us: from you we learn about faith, about prayer, about the ability to recognise our dependence on God.
This annual celebration of World Day for the Sick is a true experience of being the Church. Our gathering here today is – to take up the words of our second reading from Saint James – a gathering of “the heartfelt prayer of good people”. This gathering in prayer, Saint James says, “works very powerfully”. Being a Catholic today involves being part of a community where prayer and care belong together, where faith and love embrace, where in the Eucharist we are brought together in one by the Holy Spirit. The light that we bring is not like as torch which shines and illuminates a focussed spot: it is a light which brings brightness into all our lives and into the world around us. It is the light of Christ, which forms all of us into a community of brothers and sisters, sick and healthy, saints and sinners.
The Prophet Isaiah also called on believers to put an end to “the clenched fist and the wicked word”. The community of believers must witness to love. At times there is in our society a harshness and an arrogance and a relentless sense of vindictiveness, both in deeds such as in violence, but also in speech and in public debate. The truth will never be ascertained through harsh words regarding others. As Christians we must speak the truth of the Gospel, but always in the language of the Gospel and with the tone of the Gospel. The caring unity which we celebrate today must become a trade mark of the Church on its path of renewal. The Church must be a place where all men and women can feel welcome and where no one feels that their own way is the sole privileged way of the Church. Jesus speaks to all of us with the same tenderness. God never created anyone whom he does not love. All of us belong together.
This afternoon then we gather not just around our sick brothers and sisters. We gather together with them. We gather in a gesture of prayer and care, invoking as a believing community, the healing and strengthening power of Jesus. We commit ourselves to be with the sick so that – as we will hear in the prayer after the anointing – when they are afraid they will receive comfort, when they are afflicted they will be granted patience, when they are dejected they will be afforded hope and when they are alone they will receive the support of God’s people.
In this spirit of togetherness in faith and love we experience something of what it is to be a believing Catholic Christian and a missionary disciple of the light of Jesus in our day. ENDS