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 10, 2018
Isaiah 61:1-3; James 5:13-16; John 19:25-27
The theme for this year’s Day of the Sick chosen by Pope Francis for the universal Church is provided by the words that Jesus spoke from the cross to Mary, his mother, and to John, the beloved disciple. Listen to them once again. “Woman, behold your son. … Behold your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).
Jesus’ words so powerfully illuminate the mystery of the cross, which does not represent a hopeless tragedy, but rather the place where Jesus manifests his glory and shows his love to the end. That selfless love, in turn, becomes the basis and rule for the life of each disciple and for the entire Christian community.
Speaking from the cross in the midst of profound human suffering, abandonment and pain, Jesus singles out his mother, Mary, as the model of discipleship. And he entrusts to her care not only John and Jesus’ closest followers, but all those disciples who would follow after them, down through the ages and even to this day in my life and in yours.
What is so amazing in that exchange between Son and Mother is that the unspeakable suffering that her son experienced and that pierced her heart does not paralyze her. Quite the opposite. Pope Francis notes that “as the Lord’s mother, a new path of self-giving opens up before her. On the cross, Jesus showed his concern for the Church and all of humanity, and Mary is called to share in that same concern.”
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.
We bring to this moment a hope and prayer for something more – for something better – for an end to pain – for healing – and for the lifting of the crosses that we carry, don’t we? It hardly warrants being said that all of us seek a life of peace, free from pain – free to engage our world as we choose, unencumbered by disabilities or restrictions of time and space. None of us wants to see those we love and care for burdened in any way. None of us wants to suffer. … Neither did Jesus. Yet, even when confronted by his own cross, the Gospel today is a vivid reminder of the selfless nature of his life and the enduring love and compassion that poured forth from his heart for those who are afflicted in so many ways.
It is essential that we understand that when Jesus embraced his cross, he didn’t remove illness and suffering from the human experience. Rather, by taking them upon himself, he transformed them and gave them new meaning. Through Jesus’ resurrection, the agony of the cross gave way to God’s triumph over sin and death. As such, for us as Christians, our suffering and pain no longer have the final word. Instead, through faith in Jesus and the power of his resurrection, his selfless, redeeming love envelops us and gives us hope.
Pope Francis, in a reflection upon the gift of faith – which lies at the heart of today’s celebration and every sacramental experience, for that matter – offered this insight, “The proof of authentic faith in Jesus is self-giving and the spreading of love for our neighbors, especially for those who do not merit it, for the suffering and for the marginalized.” … My brothers and sisters, the self-giving that Pope Francis invites us to embrace is quite evident in today’s gospel – in the actions of Jesus – in the concern of Mary – and in the response of John, the beloved disciple – each of whom were willing to go beyond themselves for the wellbeing of others.
Such selfless love – which is so often a quality of caregivers who respond to human needs – is a love that we are all challenged to make our own – even those of us who ourselves are sick and suffering. Just as Jesus’ selfless embrace of his cross gave way to life, we’re called through Baptism to carry our crosses with the same selfless spirit that Jesus maintained – and so find meaning, life and peace, even in our suffering.
My sisters and brothers, Jesus is true to his word. Through his example of selfless love, we find the pattern for our journey in this world. Through his cross and resurrection, we discover the path to life, even and especially in our suffering. And through the wonderful Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, every one of us who approaches it with faith and hope will be healed. Some may experience a physical healing. All will encounter the Lord Jesus who promises to touch our spirits and give us peace.