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Should we pray for the sick?

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

Of course we should pray for those who are afflicted by disease!

The Church has always shown great compassion for the sick, as evidenced by its foundation of hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages. There are even religious institutes whose charism is caring for the sick.

To emphasize the Church's solicitude for the sick, John Paul II instituted the World Day of the Sick 24 years ago. That day of prayer is always held on February 11, day of Our Lady of Lourdes, in whose shrine in France many sick people have recovered their physical and/or spiritual health.

This year, Pope Francis proposed a Marian-inspired theme: “Entrusting Oneself to the Merciful Jesus like Mary: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” As the care of the sick belongs to the works of mercy, there is no better patronage than Mary’s, Mother of Mercy, as she is called by a well- known hymn: "Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae."

Already in the Old Testament there are passages showing the plea to God in the presence of a health crisis. Since the beginning, the People of Israel have experienced healing by divine intervention. Let’s keep in mind that Moses' sister became a leper for her rebelliousness, but Moses prayed for her: "Please, God, heal her!" (Num 12:13). When we reach the New Testament, miraculous healings multiply, fulfilling in Jesus the promise that the Messiah would do such wonders.

However, we can never forget that Jesus did not heal all the sick; He did not come to replace doctors. The healings were signs of a superior health, the ultimate salvation beyond the boundaries of temporal life. Interestingly, the same word is used in Latin for health and salvation, "salus."

To take care of our own and others’ health is a moral obligation. Serious neglect would break the Fifth Commandment of the Law of God, "Thou shalt not kill." With good-enough health we can work and fulfill our personal and social duties.

But we must always remember that we are pilgrims in this world. Over the years, everyone's health begins to decline, so we must remember that there is something more valuable than the health of the body. Pope Francis says it in his message this year: “Love animated by faith makes us ask for them something greater than physical health.”

St. Paul, weakened by age and apostolic labors, felt that while his physical health waned, his spiritual health grew: "Although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16).

We can always pray for our own and others’ health, but with an awareness that we all will reach the last illness or a fatal accident.

When Jesus saw that the end of his historic mission was near, he said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn 12, 23). In the Upper Room, on the eve of his passion and death, Jesus began his priestly prayer with these words: “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son” (Jn 17: 1). He saw death as the gateway to eternal glory, and so should those who follow the footsteps of Jesus by living a saintly life.

Unfortunately, many people think that the prayer for the sick should always bring healing. In other words, God would only bless with health; disease does not belong to God's plan for us. Big mistake.

When St. Ignatius wrote the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, he reminded the ones from his institute that God also blesses by allowing disease: "We should accept illness as a gift from the hand of our Creator and Lord, since it is a gift no less than it is health" (n. 272).

A parishioner asked his confessor if it was okay to ask God for perfect health. The good priest replied: "Ask God to give you good health."

It seems like good advice to ask the Lord for the health that best suits us. A good formula to pray for someone who is sick might be this: "Grant, Lord, bodily health if it is for your greater glory and good for his soul.”

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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