This Sunday February 11, the Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer for the sick. This day was designated by Pope St. John Paul II to encourage the people of God, Catholic Health institutions and civil society to be increasingly attentive to the sick and those who care for them.
It is fitting, then, that this weekend’s Gospel gives us an account of Jesus healing a person with leprosy. There is much that we can from Jesus’ actions about how we are called to care for the sick. It is also worth noting that Jesus’ actions stand in stark contrast to the commands issued in our first reading. Instead of treating the person as less than human, casting them aside, and declaring them “unclean”, Jesus looks upon the leper with compassion, touched him, and healed him. Jesus was truly present to the sick person in their suffering. His actions give us a wonderful example to follow.
The Church continues to show special care for the sick, following the example of Jesus. In addition to being the largest non-government provider of healthcare services in the world, the Church shows compassion for the sick through the sacraments, especially the Anointing of the Sick. This Sacrament is administered during periods of illness – often near the time of death – in order to bring the person receiving it spiritual and physical strength. It is designed to help the sick to be strengthened spiritually against temptation, discouragement and anxiety, giving them a sense of strength and peace.
The Sacrament of the Sick can be received any time a person begins to be in danger of death, including at the onset of a medical condition, in a case of serious illness or injury, or when a person begins to seriously decline because of old age. You do not have to wait until the person is at the moment of death for them to receive the Sacrament! Receiving the Sacrament at an earlier point in one’s illness is also a powerful reminder that the Church walks with the sick person. It reminds them that they are still an important part of the Christian Community, even if they are unable to attend Mass. The danger of waiting until the last minute is that sometimes, the Priest is unable to get there quickly enough. It is always sad to me when I receive a call to visit someone at the hospital, and the person passes away while I am in route.
If you have any questions about the Sacrament of the Sick, I encourage you to contact the Office and speak to one of the Priests. If you are in need of the Sacrament, we can make arrangements to celebrate it with you or your loved one.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Steven Huber, CSB