HOMILY TRANSCRIPT |Manila Archbishop Jose F. Cardinal Advincula, Mass for the 30th World Day of the Sick, National Shrine of St. Michael and the Archangel, Feb. 11, 2022, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 9 a.m.

Rev. Fr. Genaro Diwa, our parish priest, Rev. Fr. Jun Abogado, our minister of the Ministry on Health Care, brother priests and deacons, officers and members of the Order of Malta, the sick and healthcare workers among us, devotees of our Lady of Lourdes, dearly beloved in Christ, today, we commemorate the first of eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France that occurred from February to July 1858.

While gathering firewood, the fourteen-year-old Bernadette Subaru saw a beautiful lady dressed in white with a blue girdle on her waist, yellow roses on her feet and a rosary in her hand. In the series of visions aside from identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception, our Lady conveyed the importance of penance for the conversion of sinners, of praying especially the rosary and of charity and compassion toward the sick.

On the ninth apparition, following the instruction of Our Lady to scrape the ground, healing waters from forth that up until today has been sought after by pilgrims especially by those who are ill and ailing, making Lourdes one of the most visited Marian shrines in the world.

It is no coincidence that St. John Paul II choose this day, thirty years ago for the first World Day of the Sick. Recalling and invoking the maternal care and powerful intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, she entrusted the church to pay special attention to the sick and suffering members of the community, and to those who care for them. He envisioned this annual celebration to be a special occasion for growth with an attitude of listening, reflection and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness.

For his part, in his message for this year’s celebration, Pope Francis puts a spotlight on those who are still denied easy, equal and full access to healthcare on the one hand. And the medical institutions, religious missionaries, scientists and health care workers who have served us through different health crises on the other hand. He summons the church to be merciful like the Father, to show closeness, solidarity and service to the infirm and their families through the imitation of the fullest revelation of his mercy, Jesus Christ his son. We are thus exhorted to be agents of Christ-like concern and tenderness in order to pour the bum of consolation and the wine of hope on the wounds of the sick.

In our gospel today, we hear one of Jesus’ healing miracles – his encounter with the deaf man who consequently also had a speech impediment. Healing the sick, together with forgiveness of sins, casting out of demons and welcome of the outcast is an intrinsic part of Jesus’ mission that intends the restoration of creation, wounded and fragmented by sin. This is toward the fullness and wholeness of life. In these encounters, which are the in-breaking of God’s reign of love and mercy, Jesus restores not only the person’s physical health but also his relationship to God and to the bigger community.

What are some of the elements of today’s story that relate to our celebration of the World Day of the Sick?

First, our gospel gives us a glimpse of the alienation experienced by our sick brothers and sisters. If we place ourselves in the shoes of the deaf man with a speech impediment, we can have an idea of how isolated and lonely must have felt in his own world. Living at a time before the advent of modern sign language, it would have been difficult for him to fully make sense of what was happening around him and to adequately express his inner thoughts and feelings. Due to his condition, he must have felt frustrated to make himself understood and left out in terms of participating in the life of the community. Muted, he could have audibly questioned the benevolence of God within the chambers of his heart.

Analogously, this is what our sick brothers and sisters go through. They not only suffer the physical pain of their malady, but also the psycho-emotional and spiritual torment of the fear, anxiety, uncertainty and despair associated with their disease. Even if their loved ones surround them and care for them twenty-four-seven, sickness is a very personal and private affair. The sick person is the only one who fully understands, feels and bears the brunt of his or her illness. Feeling marginalized from life, from relationships and even from God makes this individual’s journey even lonelier and desolate.

Our own experience of pandemic quarantine and isolation should make this easy to understand. We are thus prompted to be more sensitive and patient too, and understanding of the sick among us and to extend to them a more comprehensive consideration and accompaniment way beyond the physical. Imitating Jesus, may our hearts be moved with great compassion for them.

Second is the vital role of a caring and compassionate community in the healing process. It is worth noting that the people were the ones who brought the man to Jesus and who make him lay his hand on him.

Perhaps, the man himself did not understand what was going on or who was this man who was passing through their town. Even if he had a clue, how was he to convey what he needed from Jesus? It was a good thing that he was living within a kind-hearted community that use their ears to hear of Jesus’ refute; their mouths to communicate the deaf man’s needs; and their hearts to actually care for his welfare and do something about it.

There are other stories in the gospel where we hear of the community’s mediation, bringing their sick to Jesus in order for the healing encounter to take place. In fact, the community’s faith intercessional love participates in and contributes to the whole healing process.

In a world stricken by the pandemic of indifference, it is profoundly healing to have such a loving community and to be an active member of one. The Church, since the very beginning, has been striving to extend this compassionate embrace through her many apostolates and institutions from the sick and the suffering. A lot can still be done if we just use our eyes, ears, mouths and especially our hearts together as a community to alleviate the pain around us.

To a global pandemic, a worldwide revolution of being who we truly are – images of the God of life and love can be the only appropriate response. It is consoling to realize that in our work for healing, we, too are healed.

Finally, in our individual and communal efforts to care for the sick, we learn from the example of our Lord, the Father’s mercy incarnate. Because of the many accounts of Jesus’ healing, we can be led to think that these were automatic, mechanical and detached dispensations of power on his part. Our gospel, however, reveals that they were intensely personal and deliberate endeavors for Jesus.

After receiving the requests from the people, Jesus led the man to a very intimate encounter, he brought him away from the crowd, put his fingers in his ear, touch his tongue, look up to heaven and groad. Some commentators say that Jesus brought him aside so that the deaf man would not feel embarrassed to express himself to Jesus. Others point out that Jesus’ groan may have been his attempt to communicate with the man in a manner that the latter could understand. In any case, the radical alienation and isolation that the man suffered because of his condition was pierced and penetrated by Jesus’ stepping into his life in personal companionship and intimate love. The man must have felt accepted, understood, valued and embraced by the considerate and thoughtful concern and healing touch of Jesus. This immense experience of compassion broke open not only his ears and his mouth but also his whole life to ever new possibilities. Restore to life in all its fullness is now enabled to speak eloquently of the goodness of God.

As brothers and sisters of Jesus, and as sons and daughters of the Father, we are thus invited to break the barriers we have set for ourselves, to bravely enter into each other’s pathos and fraternally accompany each other to this valley of tears. This is what Immanuel, God with us, taught us. This is the power of love that he left us in and through the Holy Spirit.

Let us intentionally mediate the tender and consoling mercy of God to each other and be open to care, to care for and serve the sick back to life.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. (RCAM-AOC | Photo by Fatima Llanza/RCAM-AOC | Photogallery)

 

 

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