“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Cor. 10:11.
Saint Paul tells us: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Indeed, we, too, are called to be healers and act in faith, hope, and love. Such virtue becomes most attractive when we see it in action.
In the very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we read how Jesus was willing to forgo the idea that God was displeased with lepers because of their sins. We don’t know this leper’s name, nor the names of the thousands attracted to Christ. Somehow this particular man, once healed, left Jesus and lived the miracle.
In this dramatic act of healing, Jesus, so moved with pity, touches the diseased man saying: “I will do it. Be made clean.” Jesus boldly acted on behalf of this wounded soul. The leper went out of his way to publicize this miracle, while Jesus went undercover because “people were coming to him from everywhere.”
Jesus and the sick man traded places for a while. When we consider how Jesus practiced his ministry in the face of the Jewish establishment, we witness a “radical hospitality” and welcome to lepers, widows, children, Samaritans, and all those on the periphery.
Over the many years that I have read the scriptural selections for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), I never made much connection to our present era of advanced medicine. Today’s reading from the Book of Leviticus warns lepers “must dwell apart, making their abode outside the camp” has an uncanny parallel to those who are presently under Covid-19 quarantine.
This past year, we have witnessed the challenging situation of health workers who have to adapt to life-saving protocols essential to their protection and co-workers and their own families’ safety.
Moreover, it is heart-breaking to see the separation of patients from their families and the isolation of Intensive Care Units, and too often in a person’s final stages of life.
Last Monday, February 11, was the feast day of our Lady of Lourdes, commemorating the miraculous apparition in 1858 of the Virgin Mary to the young woman, Bernadette Soubirous, now known as Saint Bernadette.
February 11 marked the World Day of the Sick, a day of special intentions for the sick and those who provide care in hospitals and within families and communities.
This year Pope Francis’s message on World Day of the Sick has special meaning. The Holy Father makes clear the importance of fraternal solidarity and noted:
“Such closeness is a precious balm that provides support and consolation to the sick in their suffering. As Christians, we experience that closeness as a sign of the love of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, who draws near with compassion to every man and woman wounded by sin… We experience this closeness not only as individuals but also as a community. Indeed, fraternal love in Christ generates a community of healing, a community that leaves no one behind, a community that is inclusive and welcoming, especially to those most in need.”
What Pope Francis describes as closeness and fraternal solidarity, I witnessed first-hand in Lourdes years ago.
Six-hours by train from Paris, I took the TGV to Pau, where for several days, I stayed with a most welcoming French-English family. Pau is the last train stop before Lourdes, and the better location with a historic town, reasonable accommodations, and frequent buses and trains going into Lourdes.
This region of southwest France is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Lourdes has a population of 14,000 that swells with four to six million pilgrims who visit the Shrine each year. Lourdes remains the most visited pilgrimage site in the Christian world.
Many of the infirm or crippled, the so-call “Les maladies” come to Lourdes to bathe in the pools of water from Bernadette’s spring at the Shrine’s Grotto. It was here that I joined my uncle, Ralph D’Ambola, a former political figure in my home state of New Jersey, and his brother Dr. Sam, a physician who yearly came to this holy site to assist with the sick.
Most of all, it’s my permanent memory of seeing these two men so fulfilled in their Christian service, enjoying dinner and laughter with their fellow-companions at the Italian Hospice.
Their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes remains for me the very meaning of fraternal solidarity. Even now, years later, I am grateful that I witnessed their work and saw them and so many others in the flickering lights of the nightly candlelight procession at the Shrine. Those many thousands who gather in grateful praise to a God who hears our every prayer.
In this regard, Pope Francis writes:
“If therapy is to be effective, it must have a relational aspect, for this enables a holistic approach to the patient. Emphasizing this aspect can help doctors, nurses, professionals, and volunteers to feel responsible for accompanying patients on a path of healing…This creates a covenant between those in need of care and those who provide that care, a covenant based on mutual trust and respect, openness and availability… Such a relationship with the sick can find an unfailing source of motivation and strength in the charity of Christ.”
Jesus boldly acted on behalf of the leper in today’s gospel. Then, the man, once healed, left Jesus and lived the miracle.
In a recent posting, Jesuit Father James Martin writes about his travels to Lourdes and the importance of asking for help when a loved one or we are sick. He mentions that the very word for “the sick,” or Les maladies, has the added meaning of respect and dignity for those in need.
“Praying for healing can be as simple as asking God directly. When praying for another person’s healing, I often imagine placing the sick person’s hand in Jesus’ hands. However you do it, please don’t feel embarrassed. Feel confident that God wants to know all that you need, even in illness.” (Give Us This Day, Feb. 11, 2021)
In solidarity with one another and in closeness with Christ, once healed, we too live the miracle!
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
O God, Everlasting Love, in Christ Jesus, and poured upon us through the Holy Spirit, we come to You today to receive our prayers for those among us who are ill.
Tender, compassionate God, fill us that we may receive all who are ill, with your love we pray to the Lord.
Life-giving God, fill us, that our faith will assure those who are suffering, that their pain will blossom into life, we pray to the Lord.
Strength-giving God, pour into all who care for the sick, the embracing, enduring love of Jesus, we pray to the Lord.
Source of Love, fill us with vision and courage to pursue research that will bear fruit in healing, we pray to the Lord.
Welcoming God, receive from our hands the loved ones who return to you, we pray to the Lord.
Righteous God, empower us to extend our health care systems to meet the challenge of equity for all in need, we pray to the Lord.
O God, hear our prayer – those we have spoken and those yet in our hearts. We trust in your loving response, through Christ the Risen One. Amen.
(Prayer of the Faithful, adapted from Resource Guide from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, 2021)