World Day of Prayer for the sick

This week we witnessed the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes and coincides with the World Day of Prayer for the Sick.

There’s no doubting that this year feels like we need to prayer for those who are sick more than ever. On this day a huge percentage of the world’s populations are locked down in their homes to stop the transmission of a deadly virus. The spread of sickness, both physical and mental ailments, is threading its way into the lives of the population of the planet. I doubt very much that when Pope John Paul II introduced this annual day of prayer he could have envisaged a time when the entire world needed to come together in prayer quite like now. St John Paul II was one of the greatest advocates of his generation for a world that shared a common dignity and humanity, “Every human life is sacred, because every human person is sacred.”

In his recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis explored the idea of a pandemic as much more than a viral infection which is taking the lives of so many loved ones. Pandemics are manifesting themselves in other ways which require healing and we don’t wear masks for those.

“It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together…”

(Fratelli tutti, 8)

Whilst we do everything we can to shield ourselves from Covid-19 indoors, the sickness that is the deterioration of a person’s mental health is on the rise like never before. I’m sure most of us have a variety of friends and family who work in different sectors. The struggles and challenges they share with us often make it hard to vocalise our own pressures, let out the strife of home schooling or work/life balance we face. The old idiom about walking miles in another person’s shoes comes to mind, but much more sensitivity is required. We certainly don’t want to go as far as the prophet Job and be as dramatic as he was:

“If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas – no wonder my words have been impetuous.”

(Job 6:1-2)

However, we can use as a day devoted to praying for the sick to support and acknowledge the struggles of our shared human family. We can connect with God in prayer and one another. In a recent staff INSET day I organised on spirituality one of our speakers, Fr Eamonn Mulcahy spoke about the self-reflection of Pope Francis in his recent book “Let us dream: the path to a better future”. Fr Eamonn recounted the Pope’s tales of his own vulnerability in earlier life and 3 ‘pandemics’ he suffered.

“He has endured his own sufferings yet the Pope we see leading the Church today is resilient and positive…he offers a recipe for coming through a pandemic – SEE, CHOOSE, ACT.”

Today’s focus falls on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, where the mother of Jesus appeared to Bernadette over 150 years ago. It has become one of the biggest pilgrimage sites in the world. When I was back in my home diocese of Lancaster, I’d travel every summer to Lourdes with the youth service and a travelling community of several hundred pilgrims from across Lancashire and Cumbria. To my knowledge we never encountered a miracle in the fullest sense of the word. I did encounter faith conversions, discipleship, love, joy, prayer and worship which brought together 16 year olds and 90 year olds, as well as everyone in between. This place of prayer, founded on visions of Our Lady and a miraculous stream, has done more for the hearts and minds of people than physical. It has brought peace and rest to those suffering. Apparitions of Mary over the centuries whether at Fatima, Lourdes or Guadalupe have reenergised the Church and brought people to prayer.

So on this World day of prayer for the sick let us join in fraternal love as a community of hope to pray for all those in pain, all those who’ve sadly lost their lives during this pandemic and all those who continue to give everything they can of themselves in the way only they are able to:

Loving Father
We ask that we may do what we can
to help and comfort the sick
and to support those who care for them,
When you call on us to show mercy and kindness to those in need,
May we respond in true virtue,
with compassion and love.
through Christ our Lord,

I’ll finish with a few words from Pope Francis released as his message for this occasion:

The celebration of the XXIX World Day of the Sick on 11 February 2021, the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, is an opportunity to devote special attention to the sick and to those who provide them with assistance and care both in healthcare institutions and within families and communities.

The experience of sickness makes us realize our own vulnerability and our innate need of others. It makes us feel all the more clearly that we are creatures dependent on God. When we are ill, fear and even bewilderment can grip our minds and hearts; we find ourselves powerless, since our health does not depend on our abilities or life’s incessant worries (cf. Mt 6:27). Sickness raises the question of life’s meaning, which we bring before God in faith. In seeking a new and deeper direction in our lives, we may not find an immediate answer. Nor are our relatives and friends always able to help us in this demanding quest.

The Gospel frequently makes this clear by showing that Jesus heals not by magic but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship, in which God’s gift finds a response in the faith of those who accept it. As Jesus often repeats: “Your faith has saved you”.

Dear brothers and sisters, the commandment of love that Jesus left to his disciples is also kept in our relationship with the sick. A society is all the more human to the degree that it cares effectively for its most frail and suffering members, in a spirit of fraternal love. Let us strive to achieve this goal, so that no one will feel alone, excluded or abandoned.

Mr M Robinson
Lay Chaplain