Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
World Day of the Sick with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick
February 11, 2017
Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:13-16; Luke 1:46-56
What a special gathering this is in our Cathedral today – a moment of prayer that has the power to touch our lives profoundly. And why? Because Jesus is present. And your very presence here today reflects the great message of the scriptures that teach us so powerfully of how God works mightily in our world and how he responds to us in our pain and suffering.
Consider this moment of prayer. Some of you are here today because you join us every day for the noon 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 25th World Day of the Sick – a day on which we offer special prayers for those who are burdened physically or emotionally with diminished health and also a day when we pray for those who serve and care for the sick. And all of us are here because regardless of the crosses that we face in life, we believe in the merciful love of God and want so very much to experience that love in our hearts.
Last year, Pope Francis participated in the creation of a book for children entitled, Dear Pope Francis, in which the Pope answered letters from children around the world. While the book’s major themes come from children, there is a wisdom in the Holy Father’s responses to their questions that speaks to the ages.
One letter from a seven year old boy named William from the United States of America touched me very much and speaks to our gathering this day. The letter included a drawing by the little boy of a cross – a large cross – with a rainbow behind it and a bright sun shining down upon it. Here’s what William wrote:
Dear Pope Francis,
If you could do 1 miracle what would it be?
Now listen to the response of our Holy Father:
I would heal children. I’ve never been able to understand why children suffer. It’s a mystery to me. I don’t have an explanation. I ask myself about this, and I pray about your question. Why do children suffer? My heart asks the question. Jesus wept, and by weeping, he understood our tragedies. I try to understand too. Yes, if I could perform a miracle, I would heal every child.
Your drawing makes me think: there is a big, dark cross, but a rainbow and the sunshine behind it. I like that. My answer to the pain of children is silence, or perhaps a word that rises from my tears. I’m not afraid to cry. You shouldn’t be either.
I suspect that most of us would agree with the Holy Father’s acknowledged struggle to understand why children suffer. It makes no sense. Yet, I also suspect that most of us would also agree that when it comes to suffering – any type of suffering – we are all very much like children, aren’t we? … While we are typically more stoic and resolved in our determination to confront our crosses, there very often comes a point in our journey in which the best of us will cry out to God words of desperation not unlike those spoken by any frightened child. … “Lord, I can’t do it on my own.” “Why Lord – why is this happening?” “Lord, will you take care of me?” And sometimes, as Pope Francis acknowledged, we aren’t able to say a thing. There is only silence or the words that are spoken by our tears.
Yet, the miracle of our faith as Christians is such that when we are no longer able to direct our lives according to our plans – when we have nowhere else to turn – when we are not too proud to acknowledge that we simply do not understand – when we become like little children – God is given room to pour into our lives and hearts with the grace that we need to carry our crosses with courage and hope.
In suggesting the gospel of the Magnificat – Mary’s great hymn of praise to God for all that he has done and accomplished in her life – Pope Francis chose for us a gospel that at first glance, might appear to have little to do with this day of prayer. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s reflect upon that passage for just a bit.
Mary’s affirmation of the great things that God has done for her emerges only after she questions the plan of God for her to give birth to His son. “How can this be?” Mary questions – just like you and I question the reality of suffering, pain and loss.
Her quiet faith and willingness to trust in the goodness and mercy of God become so foundational to her life, however, that she is able to persevere, even in the midst of her questions and particularly in the face of her son’s rejection, suffering and death. Mary perseveres – just like so many of you persevere in the midst of sickness and pain – not knowing how you manage to get from one day to the next – but you do, with the help of God and so many good and faithful friends and caregivers.
Finally, Mary’s praise for what God had done for her personally in today’s gospel account widens out to include what God does for “all who fear him” in every age – including our own.
Mary’s words teach us so beautifully about life, about suffering, and about hope. She understood that when Jesus embraced the cross, he didn’t remove illness and suffering from the human experience. By taking them upon himself, however, he transformed them and gave them new meaning. Through Jesus’ resurrection, the pain of the cross gave way to hope in God’s power to have the last word – which is LIFE – God’s most cherished gift for which we pray this day.
My sisters and brothers, as we pray for life and healing, may we be strengthened by Mary’s affirmation of the goodness of God in our world and in our lives. … Through Jesus’ embrace of his cross, may we find courage as we carry our own. … May a little boy’s drawing of a dark cross that is overshadowed by the bright colors of a rainbow and the dazzling rays of the sun remind us of the hope that is ours through faith. … And through this the wonderful Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, may Jesus touch our spirits and give us peace.