World Day of Prayer for the Sick; World Marriage Day For some years now, these two observances come close on the calendar. The World Day of Prayer for the Sick is observed on February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes; World Marriage Day is usually the Sunday closest to St. Valentine’s Day. While at first it seems like an unlikely combination, there is a powerful lesson in this calendar coincidence.
The family is the first and most basic unit of society, where we become a part of a network of relationships of love, care, support, and responsibility. The covenant of love between husband and wife, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” is a vow, a promise, a commitment to support the other in all the circumstances of life, both joys and sorrows. As a sacrament between Christian believers, it is a living and effective sign of the love of Jesus, revealed for us most profoundly at the Cross.
Christ takes on our human weakness, our susceptibility to suffering and death, in order to transform it by love. This is the kind of love that spouses pledge. They are sustained by God’s grace to love in this way; not only on their wedding day, but each day as they live this sacramental witness in our midst.
Sickness never simply affects an isolated individual. It has an impact on the whole network of relationships of which that person is a part. Evidence confirms what we intuitively know: those who have a strong support system and caring environment have better outcomes. Families show their strength and value in many ways, but I have seen so often the gift of this loving commitment to one another in times of sickness. What is true in our natural families is also true in the family of the Church: we are to be a network of support in prayer, concern, and gestures of service. That witness communicates more powerfully than any slogans or speeches that each person’s life matters, that God’s love motivates us to care for another for better and for worse, in sickness and in health … to love and honor all the days of our lives.
We also honor all health care providers this week, who sacrifice so much today during the pandemic, and all those who have given of themselves generously over many years of their mission to care for the sick. In his message for this 30th World Day of Prayer for the Sick,
Pope Francis writes to them:
Your service alongside the sick, carried out with love and competence, transcends the bounds of your profession and becomes a mission. Your hands, which touch the suffering flesh of Christ, can be a sign of the merciful hands of the Father. Be mindful of the great dignity of your profession, as well as the responsibility that it entails. … Patients are always more important than their diseases, and for this reason, no therapeutic approach can prescind from listening to the patient, his or her history, anxieties and fears. Even when healing is not possible, care can always be given. It is always possible to console, it is always possible to make people sense a closeness that is more interested in the person than in his or her pathology. … I would like to remind everyone that closeness to the sick and their pastoral care is not only the task of certain specifically designated ministers; visiting the sick is an invitation that Christ addresses to all his disciples. How many sick and elderly people are living at home and waiting for a visit! The ministry of consolation is a task for every baptized person, mindful of the word of Jesus: “I was sick and you visited me” ( Mt 25:36).
Thanks to all in our parishes who live out their stewardship of God’s gifts in service to the sick, the lonely, the homebound, those in physical and emotional distress. That service also happens within and through families as they too care for one another. When lived out in charity, I believe the single teaching of Jesus that has done more than any other to change human history is His assurance: “Whatever you do for the least, you do for Me.”