From the Gospel we learn that Jesus comforts the sick and that the trials of illness invite them to offer their suffering to sanctify the world
At the General Audience on Wednesday 15, June, the Holy Father returned to his catechesis on the laity's role in the Church, speaking again of the sick. In his reflection, the Pope referred to the faith of those whom Jesus healed in the Gospels. By working miracles, "Jesus wants to inculcate the idea that faith in him, inspired by the desire to be healed is meant to bring about spiritual salvation, which counts more". Here is a translation of the Holy Father's address, which was the 91st in the series on the Church and was given in Italian.
1. In an earlier catechesis we discussed the dignity of those who suffer and their apostolate in the Church. Today, let us consider, more specifically, the sick and infirm, because the trials to which health is subjected, today as in the past, stand out clearly in human life. The Church must take to heart the need to be close to and to share in this painful mystery that links so many people of every era to Jesus Christ's state during his Passion.
Everyone has some health problems but some have more than others, like those who suffer from a permanent affliction or who are subjected, by some irregularity or physical weakness, to many ailments. One need only go into a hospital to discover the world of the sick, the face of human pain and suffering. It is impossible for the Church not to see and help others to see in this face the features of the Christus patiens, and not to remember the divine plan that leads these lives in precarious health to a higher order of fruitfulness. There has to be an Ecclesia compatiens: with Christ, and with all those who suffer.
2. Jesus showed his compassion for the sick and the infirm, revealing his great kindness and tenderness of heart; he was also prepared to save those suffering in soul and body by means of his power to work miracles. He therefore worked many cures, so many that the sick flocked to him to benefit from his miraculous power. As the Evangelist Luke said, numerous crowds assembled not only to hear him, but also "to be cured of their ailments" (Lk 5:5). In his dedication to freeing those who approached him from the burden of sickness or infirmity, Jesus allows us to glimpse the special intention of God's mercy in their regard: God is not indifferent to the sufferings caused by disease and offers his help to the sick through the saving plan that the incarnate Word reveals and fulfils in the world.
Jesus cured in order to reveal spiritual salvation
3. Indeed Jesus considers and treats the sick and infirm in the light of the saving work he was sent to accomplish. Bodily cures are part of this work of salvation and at the same time, they are signs of the great spiritual healing he brings humanity. This loftier intention of his emerges clearly when he first forgives the sins of a paralytic, brought before him to be cured, then, aware of the unstated objections of some of the Scribes and Pharisees present about the exclusive power of God in this regard, he declares: "`But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth`, he said to the paralytic, `I say to you, rise, pick up your mat and go home`" (Mk 2: 10-1 1).
In this case and in many others, Jesus wants to show by a miracle his power of freeing the human soul from its sins and purifying it. He cures the sick in view of this superior gift, which he offers to all men: in other words, spiritual salvation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 549). The sufferings of illness cannot cause us to forget the overriding importance of spiritual salvation for everyone.
4. Therefore in this perspective of salvation, Jesus asks for faith in his power as Saviour. In the case of the paralytic just mentioned, Jesus responds to the faith of the four people who had brought him the sick man: "Jesus saw their faith" says Mark (2:5).
He asks for faith from the father of the epileptic, saying: "Everything is possible to one who has faith" (Mk 9:23). He was deeply impressed by the centurion's faith: "You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you" (Mt 8:13), and the Canaanite woman's: "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish" (Mt 15:28). The miracle worked for the blind Bartimaeus was attributed to his faith: "your faith has saved you" (Mk 10:52). Similar words were spoken to the woman with a hemorrhage: "Daughter your faith has saved you" (Mk 5:34).
Jesus wishes to inculcate the idea that faith in him, inspired by the desire to be healed, is meant to bring about spiritual salvation, which counts even more. From the Gospel episodes cited, we know that sickness, in the divine plan, can prove to stimulate faith. The sick are spurred to live the time of their illness as a more intense period of faith, and thus as a time for sanctification and for a more complete and conscious acceptance of the salvation that comes from Christ. It is a great grace to receive this light about the profound truth of illness!
5. The Gospel attests that Jesus associated his Apostles with his power to heal the sick (cf. Mt 10:1); and thus, when he took leave of them before the Ascension, he indicated the cures they were to work as one of the signs of the truth of the Gospel preaching (cf. Mk 16:17-20). The Gospel had to be brought to the world, to all peoples, amid humanly insurmountable difficulties. This explains why in the early days of the Church many miraculous healings occurred, emphasized in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 3:1-10, 8:7- 9:33-35, 14:8-10; 28:8-10), In later periods, there have always been cures considered "miraculous", as is attested in authoritative historical and biographical sources and in the documentation of causes for canonization. We know that the Church is very demanding in this respect. This corresponds to her duty to be prudent. However, in the light of history, one cannot deny many cases which in every age prove the Lord's extraordinary intervention on behalf of the sick. Nevertheless, although the Church always relies on this kind of intervention, she does not feel dispensed from her daily obligation to comfort and care for the sick, both with her traditional charitable institutions and with the modern network of health-care services.
Serving the sick is a way of holiness
6. Indeed, in the perspective of faith, sickness assumes a greater nobility and proves particularly effective in helping the apostolic ministry. In this regard, the Church does not hesitate to state her need for the sick and their sacrifice to the Lord in order to obtain more abundant graces for all humanity. If in the light of the Gospel illness can be a time of grace, a time when divine love more deeply penetrates those who suffer, there is no doubt that by their self-offering, the sick and the infirm sanctify themselves and contribute to the sanctification of others.
This is particularly true for those who are dedicated to the service of the sick and the infirm. This service is a way of sanctification like illness itself. Down the centuries it has been a manifestation of the love of Christ, who is precisely the source of holiness.
This is a service that requires dedication, patience and sensitivity, together with a great capacity for compassion and understanding, all the more so because in addition to medical care in the strict sense, the sick also need moral comfort, as Jesus advises: "I was... ill and you cared for me" (Mt 25:36).
7. All this contributes to building up the "Body of Christ" in charity, both through the effectiveness of the sacrifice of the sick, and through the practice of virtue in those who care for them or visit them. Thus the mystery of the Church, mother and minister of charity, is realized. Thus painters such as Piero della Francesca have painted it: in the Polyptych of mercy, painted in 1448 and preserved in Borgo San Sepolcro, he shows the Virgin Mary as an image of the Church in the act of spreading her mantle to protect the faithful, who are the weak, the poor, the disheartened, the people, the clergy and consecrated virgins, as they were listed by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres in a homily written in 1208.
For an effective exercise of the therapy of love, we should strive to make our humble and loving service to the sick share in that of the Church our Mother of which Mary is the perfect example (cf. Lumen gentium, nn. 64-65).
L'Osservatore Romano June 22, 1994