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Father Cantalamessa on the Sick

The Church's Most Active Members, He Says

ROME, FEB. 5, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the commentary by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household, on the Gospel from this Sunday's liturgy.

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5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
Mark 1:29-39

He Cured Many Sick

The Gospel passage of this Sunday gives us a faithful report of a typical day of Jesus. When he left the synagogue, Jesus went first to Peter's house, where he cured his mother-in-law, who was in bed with a fever; in the afternoon, they took all the sick to him and he cured many, affected by different illnesses. In the morning, he rose while it was still dark and went to a solitary place to pray; then he left to preach the Kingdom to other towns.

From this account we deduce that Jesus' day consisted of a mixture of curing the sick, prayer and preaching of the Kingdom. Let us dedicate our reflection to the love of Jesus for the sick, also because in a few days, in the liturgical memorial of the Virgin of Lourdes, Feb. 11, the World Day of the Sick will be observed.

The social transformations of our century have changed profoundly the conditions of the sick. In many situations science gives reasonable hope of a cure, or at least prolongs in many the period of the illness' evolution in cases of incurable sicknesses. But sickness, as death, is not yet and will never be altogether defeated. It is part of the human condition. Christian faith can alleviate this condition and also give it meaning and value.

It is necessary to express two approaches: one for the sick themselves and another for those who look after them. Before Christ, sickness was considered closely linked to sin. In other words, people were convinced that sickness was also the consequence of some personal sin that had to be expiated.

With Jesus, this attitude changed somewhat. "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Matthew 8:17). On the cross, he gave new meaning to human suffering, including sickness: It is no longer punishment, but redemption. Illness unites us to him; it sanctifies, refines the soul, prepares the day in which God will dry every tear and there will be no longer sickness, or weeping, or pain.

After the long hospitalization that followed the attack in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter on suffering in which, among other things, he said: "To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ" (cf. "Salvifici Doloris" No. 23). Sickness and suffering open between us and Jesus on the cross an altogether special channel of communication. The sick are not passive members of the Church, but the most active, most precious members. In God's eyes, one hour of their suffering, endured with patience, can be worth more than all the activities of the world, if they are done only for oneself.

Now a word for those who must look after the sick, at home or in health structures. The sick person certainly has need of care, of scientific competence, but he has even more need of hope. No medicine alleviates the sick person more than to hear the doctor say: "I have good hopes for you." When it is possible to do so without deception, hope must be given. Hope is the best "oxygen tent" for a sick person. The sick must not be left alone. One of the works of mercy is to visit the sick, and Jesus warned us that one of the points of the Last Judgment will be precisely this: "I was sick and you visited me. I was sick and you did not visit me" (Matthew 25:36,43).

Something we can all do for the sick is to pray. Almost all the sick of the Gospel were cured because some one presented them to Jesus and pleaded for them. The simplest prayer, which we can all make our own, is the one that the sisters Martha and Mary addressed to Jesus, in the circumstance of the sickness of their brother Lazarus: "Lord, he whom you love is ill" (John, 11:3).

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