Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass on Thursday at St. Peter’s Basilica for the three-fold occasion of the World Day for the Sick, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the 25th anniversary of the Pontifical Council for Health Ministry. In his homily, the Holy Father stressed the “truly incalculable” value of the Church's ministry to the sick and suffering.
“The Church, to which is entrusted the task of prolonging in space and time the mission of Christ, cannot disregard these two essential works: evangelization and the treatment of the sick in body and in spirit,” declared the Holy Father.
At the root of this mission is the fact that God “wants to cure the entirety of man and in the Gospel the treatment of the body is a sign of the most profound cure which is the remission of sins,” the Pope stated.
“It’s no surprise, then, that Mary, mother and model of the Church is invoked and venerated as ‘Salus informorum, Health of the sick.’” The Blessed Mother, Pope Benedict taught, has always shown a special “mindfulness” for the suffering by offering her example as the “first and perfect” disciple of her Son.
Referring to the 25th anniversary of the Pontifical Council for Health Ministry, the Pope said that their ministry is “a privileged expression of this mindfulness” of Mary.
The Holy Father also reflected on the readings which were especially relevant to the celebration of the World Day for the Sick, given that they enveloped the Magnificat and the maternal role of the Church in praying for the sick.
He presented the Magnificat as the "canticle of the Virgin that exalts the marvels of God in the story of salvation," and called it a prayer not for those who always have "the wind at their back," but as a "thanksgiving from those who know the dramas of life, but confide in the redemptive workings of God."
"It's a song," Benedict XVI elaborated, "that expresses the faith tested by generations of men and women that have put their hope in God and they have worked on the first hand, like Mary, to be of aid to brothers in need." In the canticle, he added, we hear the voice of the charity of the saints.
"Through the centuries, the Church shows signs of the love of God, that continues to work great things in humble and simple people," the Pope remarked.
Benedict XVI also spoke of the role of priests, through whom Jesus continues to work, and their "alliance of evangelical 'solidarity'" with the sick. In the Book of James, he noted, it is written that he who is sick "should summon the presbyters of the church."
So, each of them, the Pope explained, has a task: the sick to call on the priest and the priest to respond "to call on the experience of the sickness, the presence and the action of the Risen One and his Spirit." It is in this, said the Pope, that "we can see all of the importance of the pastoral ministry of the sick, whose value is truly incalculable, for the immense good that it does in the first place for the sick person and for the priest himself, but also ... through mysterious and unknown paths, to the whole Church and the world.
"In effect, when the Word of God speaks of cures, salvation, the health of the sick, it considers these concepts in an integral sense, never separating body and soul: a sick person healed by the prayer of Christ, through the Church, is a joy on the Earth and in heaven, a gem of eternal life," the Pontiff taught.
Quoting from his encyclical "Spes salvi," he summed up the importance of the ministry of the sick to the world, saying, "the measure of humanity is essentially determined in the relationship with suffering and with he who suffers. This is the same for one person as (it is) for society."
During his homily Pope Benedict especially greeted the sick at Mass and those joining in the celebration from UNITALSI, at Marian sanctuaries including Fatima, Lourdes and Czestochowa as well as those following along by radio and television. He thanked them for their prayers "enriched by the offering of (their) efforts and sufferings."