My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last week, we celebrated the World Day of the Sick. This remembrance of the sick coincides with the February 11th Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In his message for this day, “Entrusting Oneself to the Merciful Jesus like Mary: ‘Do whatever He tells you’ (Jn 2:5),” our Holy Father, Pope Francis, uses the Gospel scene of the Wedding at Cana to remind us of the intercessory power of Mary. It was Mary at Cana who recognized that the wine was running short. She appealed to her Son, Jesus, to do something for the newly married couple, who would be in distress. After retreating from Jesus, Mary simply told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Pope Francis tells us that if we can learn to obey these words of Mary, Jesus will change the water of our lives into precious wine.
Sometimes the reality of sickness and the suffering that it brings is hard for us to accept. Perhaps it is most difficult to understand when a child becomes ill. Parents often feel helpless when they see their child in pain. Many pray that they might suffer in their son or daughter’s place. Later in life, it is chronic illness that often plagues the elderly. This chronic illness can lead to depression or despair.
The experience of sickness and suffering brings attention to our faulty understanding of evil. Only when we examine how evil entered the world through Original Sin, can we understand the loss of the original justice that God intended. In the Book of Genesis, we learn that it was through sin that human suffering came to be.
Jesus Christ overcame the power of evil by giving Himself freely to death for our sake. Now, we must have the courage to join our suffering to His. We can do this only by accepting the grace of God.
Every person has the ability to join their pain with Jesus, who died for our sins. This is how we find the strength to overcome sickness, depression and despair. Our hope is in the intercession of Mary, our own Mother, especially under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The appearance of Mary at Lourdes took place on July 16, 1858, just four years after Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception a truth of the Catholic Faith. Mary introduced herself to a young, unschooled girl named Bernadette Soubirous. The child told the priest in Lourdes about the apparition. She was not believed, however, until Mary sent the sign of healing water. Still today many travel to Lourdes to drink and bathe in the holy spring water. They have faith in its power to heal, knowing that the Blessed Mother tends to her children’s needs.
In his Message for the 24th World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis puts it this way:
“We have a Mother with benevolent and watchful eyes, like her Son; a heart that is maternal and full of mercy, like Him; hands that want to help, like the hands of Jesus who broke bread for those who were hungry, touched the sick and healed them. All this fills us with trust and opens our hearts to the grace and mercy of Christ. Mary’s intercession makes us experience the consolation of which the apostle Paul blesses God: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our affliction.’”
Yes, it is Mary who comforts us, her children.
During this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, we recognize that one of the corporal works of mercy is to visit the sick. We hope that the person who suffers the effects of evil is also open to the grace of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Our understanding of illness can be a great consolation in the face of suffering. It can be difficult to have faith when we are ill and in pain. That is why we must encourage each other. In doing so, we truly become instruments of Christ’s mercy to the world.
Each person, when they encounter personal sickness in the lives of those whom they love, puts out into the deep understanding of the mystery of human suffering. In this Year of Mercy, let us pray for the sick, visit them and console them.