The suffering people experience when they are sick can help them grow closer to Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for next month’s World Day of the Sick.
“God, indeed, in his Son, does not abandon us to our anguish and sufferings, but is close to us, helps us to bear them, and wishes to heal us in the depths of our hearts,” the Pope said on Jan. 3.
He placed a particular emphasis on the Church’s three “sacraments of healing,” which are Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist.
The theme of this year’s Day of the Sick – which will be observed on Feb. 11 – is “stand up and go; your faith has saved you,” a quotation taken from Christ’s command to the only leper out of 10 who were cured that returned to thank him.
Pope Benedict said that Jesus’ command to the leper should raise awareness of the “importance of faith for those who, burdened by suffering and illness, draw near to the Lord,” as well as how “reacquired health is a sign of something more precious than mere physical healing, it is a sign of the salvation that God gives us through Christ.”
Christ’s desire to heal both soul and body is best ministered in the sacraments of the Catholic Church, the Pope said, describing them as are “an expression of the physicality of our faith, which embraces the whole person, body and soul.”
The “tandem of physical healing and renewal after lacerations of the soul” can be seen in each of the sacraments of healing, the Pope said.
In the sacrament of Penance, the “medicine of confession” prevents the experience of sin from degenerating into despair and allows the penitent to encounter “the Love that forgives and transforms,” he explained.
Penance is particularly needed at a time of suffering “in which one could be tempted to abandon oneself to discouragement and hopelessness,” the Pope wrote. Instead of despair, the sacrament can transform suffering “into a time of grace so as to return to oneself.”
The Anointing of the Sick offers “God’s medicine” to those who are seriously ill, Pope Benedict said, explaining that it “assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation, yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection.”
For this reason, it “should not be held to be almost ‘a minor sacrament’ when compared to the others,” he stated. The sacrament also “brings spiritual advantages to priest and the whole Christian community” because it makes everybody aware that “what is done to the least, is done to Christ himself.”
Pope Benedict then turned to the Eucharist, calling it a “precious instrument of God’s grace” for sick people, since it conforms them “ever more fully to the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.” This means that parishes should help ensure that those who cannot attend Mass should be able to frequently receive Communion.
Reception of the Eucharist is particularly important, said the Pope, at the moment of death when it is administered and received as “Viaticum.”
“The Eucharist, especially as Viaticum, is – according to the definition of Saint Ignatius of Antioch – ‘medicine of immortality, the antidote for death,’” the Pope recalled.
He concluded his message by thanking all those who care for the sick because “in their professional expertise and in silence, often without even mentioning the name of Christ, they manifest him in a concrete way.”
He also commended all those who are ill to “Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick,” to whom “we raise our trusting gaze and our prayer.”
“May her maternal compassion, manifested as she stood beside her dying Son on the Cross, accompany and sustain the faith and the hope of every sick and suffering person on the journey of healing for the wounds of body and spirit!”