Thursday, July 4, 2019
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily July 4, 2019, at Lourdes, France, when members of the Miami “Hospitalite” celebrated a “healing Mass” in which sick or elderly members of the group received the sacrament of the sick, with anointing with oil of the sick. The Mass was celebrated in a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph. From June 20 to July 8, 150 people, mostly members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Miami, traveled to Lourdes, many working in the “Hospitalite”, i.e. assisting in various tasks at the sanctuary, including helping sick into the pools where they bathed in the famous Lourdes waters.
Today we celebrate a “healing Mass” — it is also Independence Day in the US. So, while we pray in a special way for the sick and those who suffer in mind, body or soul, let us also be mindful of the need for healing of our nation. Racial discord, drug addiction, abortion, the breakdown of the family and the confusion about the meaning of marriage and sex in our society, the increased bitterness of our political discourse, are all wounds that need healing — and they are, perhaps, symptoms of a deeper malaise that will only be cured through much prayer and fasting.
So we pray for our country on its “birthday” but, in a special way, we invoke Mary, the Lady that Bernadette encountered here at Lourdes, asking her to intercede for those who seek comfort and healing in this holy place — and may she also intercede for those who tend to them here and the doctors, nurses and health care professionals who care for them back home.
As the mother of the Son of God, Mary participated in and revealed the mercy of God by sharing most intimately in her son’s redeeming mission. The last recorded words of Mary in the gospels are those we heard today: “Do what he tells you.”
The path to the healing we seek is found through following Christ, her son. Mary experienced pain and suffering in her earthly life as the Mother of Sorrows, as Simeon had prophesied at the Presentation of the Lord in the temple. As the Sorrowful Mother who stood at the cross of her suffering son, Mary still stands by the members of her Son’s Body who in their own suffering bear the signs of his passion.
It has always been hard for us to accept the mystery of pain and human suffering, especially when this mystery touches the young and innocent. Why does a loving and just God permit us to suffer? This question is as old as time itself. Yet, like the Old Testament Job, we still demand answers, we want reasons. But as with Job so too with us, God is not forthcoming with pat answers — at least, not on this side of heaven. God’s response is just one word: Jesus.
Of course, Jesus did not come to explain away suffering; he came to take it upon himself. His solidarity with the world of pain transforms it — for “pain received with faith becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and the happiness of his Resurrection.”
In other words, if the Lord takes us to it, he’ll help us through it. In Christ, our suffering acquires a new meaning; in Christ, our suffering attains new power — and a mysterious fruitfulness. United to Christ, the one who suffers with hope and with meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world. Offering up our own pains and sufferings becomes an eloquent and a powerful prayer.
As a Haitian proverb says so well: Ou peye doktè a, men se Bondye ki geri (You pay the doctor, but God heals). And so, over the centuries, people of faith have found in times of sickness and trial strength in prayer. And many — through Mary’s intercession — have experienced healing.
But as Mary renewed her “yes,” given at the Annunciation, at the foot of the Cross, we too must renew the “yes” of our baptism by accepting the daily crosses we may be asked to carry.
To Our Lady of Lourdes, we commend the sick of our communities so that they will never feel that they are abandoned or disvalued because of their illness and frailty. We also entrust to her the family members of the sick and all health care professionals so that they, in their care of the sick, may reflect Mary’s own tender and maternal care towards the suffering members of the Body of Christ.
As Christians we must strive to recognize in the features of every suffering person the face of Christ himself. Too often, the sick complain of being depersonalized by the experience of their illness. And it’s no wonder — in a highly technological and bureaucratic world, it can seem that by becoming ill they lose their identity, their personhood. They can easily be reduced to “the lung case” in Room 1080-B; or the “Medicaid" case in cubicle D.
The mission of this shrine and the mission of the Church, in her pastoral care for the sick and their families, is to embrace the sick person as a whole person — and, in doing so, help make the time of sickness a unique kairos. That is, an opportune time to help the ill person to find adequate responses to the ultimate questions about human life — questions on the meaning of pain, suffering and death itself, considered not only as an enigma difficult to face, but as a mystery in which Christ incorporates our lives in himself, opening them to a new and definitive birth for the life that will never end.
And so, to those who are injured or sick, we say: Courage, God has not forgotten you. Christ suffers with you. And by offering up your sufferings, you can collaborate with him in the redemption of the world. May the anointing with the Holy Oil strengthen you, and if it be God’s will, heal you.
O Mary, Immaculate Virgin, woman of suffering and hope, be kind to every suffering person, and may you whom we invoke as the patroness of the United States, watch over our nation and through your intercession may it long be the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”