World Day of the Sick with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
February 11, 2022
Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:13-16; Luke 6:36-38

What a special gathering this is in our cathedral today – a moment of prayer that has the power to touch our lives profoundly.  …  Jesus is among us and, as Pope Francis reminds us, “cares for us with the strength of a father and the tenderness of a mother, unceasingly giving us new life in the Holy Spirit.”

A little over six years ago, you may recall that Pope Francis visited the United States.  For all of the powerful events that I was privileged to experience during those days, including the opportunity to personally meet the Holy Father, there is one that I have never forgotten.

Walking back to my hotel in downtown Philadelphia following the closing Mass of the Pope’s visit, a group of faithful souls who had participated in the Mass began to speak with me.  They could tell that I was a bishop and wanted to know where I served.  Then one older woman – with great excitement in her voice – asked me if I had met Pope Francis.  I indicated that I had the opportunity to meet him and to shake hands with him.  Without missing a beat, the woman grabbed my hand and said, “Then bless me with the hand that touched our Holy Father.  Bless me!”

I walked away from that experience and smiled to myself, feeling a bit uncomfortable that somehow that woman felt it was important to touch the hand that touched the Pope.  We joke about such behaviors, don’t we?  …  But then I thought a bit more about the experience.  That woman – like so many of us – desperately wanted to encounter God in a deeper way.  And the touch of my hand – not me – was a way for her to do so.

That experience was an opportunity for a faithful soul to deepen her relationship with God.  It was a time for her and others, as Pope Francis has proclaimed, “to see and touch with their hands the signs of the mercy and closeness of God.”  …  How fitting that the Holy Father has chosen the following theme for this year’s Day of the Sick:  “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).  Standing beside those who suffer on a path of charity. 

Consider what we do today.  …  Some of you are here today because you join us every day for mass in our Cathedral.  …  Most of you are here because of what we celebrate this day in union with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and with Catholics from around the world – the World Day of the Sick – a day on which we offer special prayers for those who are burdened with diminished health and for those who serve and care for the sick.  …  And all of us are keenly aware of our need for the healing, merciful touch of God in our lives as we continue to battle the effects of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic and so many other sicknesses that weigh us down and shatter our spirits.

In so many respects, the current health crisis that we face has enabled us to appreciate more than ever before that Jesus’ invitation to be merciful is extended to all of us, regardless of our situation or circumstance.  There is a mutuality in the exchange between the infirm and those who provide for them in their need.  Whether we are sick and touch others by our willingness to endure suffering with dignity and faith – or – we are those who spend time with the sick and care for them in their needs, in going outside of ourselves through our service of one another, all of us are called to give life to the presence of Jesus in our midst.

Brothers and sisters, through Jesus’ example of selfless love, we find the pattern for our life’s journey.  …  Through his cross and resurrection, we discover the path to salvation.  …  And through the wonderful Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, every one of us who approaches it with faith and hope will be touched by the closeness of God’s love.  …  Some of us may experience a physical healing.  …  All of us will encounter the merciful presence of the Lord Jesus who promises to touch our spirits and give us peace.