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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. Today, 11th February is ‘World Day of the Sick’. To mark the occasion here in the parish of Wexford, there will be a service of Healing and Anointing in Bride St Church at 3pm this afternoon to which all are welcome. If you have a sick or elderly family member, neighbour or friend, then perhaps you might bring them to this service where the sacrament of the sick will be available. Through this sacrament, the healing power of Christ flows from the power of faith.

There is a good chance that you who are reading these words have been sick at some stage in your lives. And if not, then you will be. Falling ill and getting weaker is part of being human. There are a number of things that happen when you fall ill that are worth reflecting on. First, when you get sick, life seems to stop. All your plans and appointments are cancelled. The world keeps on going and you are there in a bed without the energy you would love to have. Whether you like it or not, you must pause and go deeper within yourself.

The other feature of sickness is fear. There is fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of a diagnosis, fear for my family and my children. There is the fear of what I might lose, the worry of what will happen to me, how will I cope and what will I do. Suddenly we realise our vulnerability, our mortality and realise we are dispensable.

Another feature of illness is that it moves you into a new space. It is the space occupied by the sick and where millions exist every day. If you go into hospital, you meet people of all backgrounds and ages with different illnesses that vary from the very minor to terminal illness. Sickness is a great leveller but it is also an experience that makes us more compassionate and hopefully changes us for the good. Sickness is a reality check too because if we think we are invincible, we are living in fantasy land. It’s only when we get sick that we realise how much most of us take our health for granted.

Turning to today’s Gospel, the leper represents all of us who are sick. Notice how he comes to Jesus because he sees his need. But more importantly, he has faith in this preacher from Galilee who attracts him: ‘If you want to you can cure me!’ He says. When we are sick do we turn to Jesus? Do we turn to prayer? Do we ask God for help as the leper did? For lepers, life certainly did stop as they were shunned and isolated from everyone. Jesus overcame this isolation by going out and touching him – a gesture that was dangerous because of the risk to his own health. But Jesus’ love and concern for the man drew him to where was.

In his message for this ‘World Day of the Sick’, Pope Francis addresses this isolation that many of the sick experience. He writes:

‘We were made for love; and we are called to communion and fraternity. This aspect of our lives is what sustains us, above all at times of illness and vulnerability…To those of you who experience illness, whether temporary or chronic, I would say this: Do not be ashamed of your longing for closeness and tenderness! Do not conceal it, and never think that you are a burden on others…We Christians in particular are called to adopt the compassion-filled gaze of Jesus. Let us care for those who suffer and are alone, perhaps marginalized and cast aside…let us tend the wounds of solitude and isolation. In this way, we will cooperate in combating the culture of individualism, indifference and waste, and enable the growth of a culture of tenderness and compassion" (Message for 32nd World Day of the Sick 2024).

Friends when we go to the sick and be with them, we become Christ to them. We move into their space which is what Jesus did in the Gospel with the leper. He moved into his space to be with him. Notice the result of doing so. Now he too was isolated and had to stay outside ‘in places where nobody lived’. But that was the price he paid to heal the poor leper. It was what love demanded. When we are compassionate, we too bridge the gap between us and the sick and reassure them that they are not alone. Love demands that we move into their space and be in that place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken.  

At times it isn’t easy to know what to say to the sick but this isn’t the most important thing. For those who can sit with their fellow human being, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life to a suffering heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears of grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new solidarity, the solidarity of the broken and imperfect. In this way we become witnesses to the healing power of Christ who came to heal and save humanity.

And so as we celebrate ‘World Day of the Sick’ this year, we pray that together we may come to Christ and trust him ever more deeply. And may the sick and weak of our parish know that they are remembered, cared for and most of all, loved.

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