The Basic Requirements for Communion With God
During his general audience Feb. 11 in Rome, Pope John Paul II made a special appeal to the Church and to the world “to rediscover the important presence in the Christian community of those who suffer and to appreciate even more their valuable contribution.” The Holy Father's remarks coincided with the World Day of the Sick, which was being observed in Lourdes by more than 30,000 people.
“From a simply human point of view,” the Pope noted, “sickness and pain might appear as an absurd reality. However, when we allow ourselves to be enlightened by the light of the Gospel, we can appreciate the deep significance they have in the plan of salvation.” He emphasized that human suffering, when it is united to the suffering of Christ, becomes a means of salvation.
John Paul reminded those who are sick that he has a deep regard for them and a spiritual closeness to them. “At the same time,” he said, “I would like to remind you that human life is always a gift from God, even when it is marked by physical suffering of all kinds — a ‘gift’ the Church and the world are to value.”
The Holy Father included a special word of appreciation for all those who work in the area of health care. “Those who suffer must never be left alone,” he said. “It is a great act of love to care for those who are suffering!” He concluded his remarks with a prayer addressed to Our Lady of Lourdes, entrusting to her care all who are suffering and all who work to alleviate suffering.
Today our thoughts turn to the famous Marian shrine at Lourdes, which is located in the Pyrenees Mountains and which continues to attract crowds of pilgrims from all over the world, including many sick people. The main events of this year's World Day of the Sick — which is now a well-established custom — are taking place there and actually coincide with the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
This shrine was chosen not only because it is closely associated with those who are suffering from sickness and with those whose pastoral ministry is in the area of health care. Lourdes came to mind, first of all, because the year 2004 marks the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which took place on Dec. 8, 1854. Fours years later, in 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous at the Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, where she presented herself as the “Immaculate Conception.”
The Value of Suffering
We now go on a spiritual pilgrimage to the feet of the Immaculate Conception of Lourdes in order to join in prayer with the clergy and faithful who are gathered there, especially those who are sick. The World Day of the Sick is a powerful call to rediscover the important presence in the Christian community of those who suffer and to appreciate even more their valuable contribution. From a simply human point of view, sickness and pain might appear as an absurd reality. However, when we allow ourselves to be enlightened by the light of the Gospel, we can appreciate the deep significance they have in the plan of salvation.
“From the paradox of the cross,” I emphasized in my message for today's World Day of the Sick, “springs the answer to our most-worrying questions. Christ suffers for us. He takes upon himself the sufferings of everyone and redeems them. Christ suffers with us, enabling us to share our pain with him. United to the suffering of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation” (No. 4).
Life: A Gift From God
I now turn to all those who are feeling the burden of suffering both in body and in spirit. I express once again to each one of them my love for them and my spiritual closeness to them. At the same time, I would like to remind you that human life is always a gift from God, even when it is marked by physical suffering of all kinds — a “gift” that the Church and the world are to value.
Of course, those who suffer must never be left alone. In this regard, I would especially like to address a word of deep appreciation to those who, in all simplicity and with a spirit of service, are at the side of the sick, seeking to relieve their suffering and, insofar as possible, to free them of their infirmities thanks to the progress of medical science. I am thinking especially of health care workers, doctors, nurses, scientists and researchers, as well as hospital chaplains and volunteers. It is a great act of love to care for those who are suffering!
“Sub tuum praesidium,” we prayed at the beginning of our meeting. “We seek refuge under your protection,” Immaculate Virgin of Lourdes, who are for us the perfect model of creation according to God's original plan. We entrust the sick, the elderly and those who are alone to you. Relieve their pain, wipe away their tears and obtain for them the strength they need to accomplish God's will. Be a support for all those who work every day to ease the pain of our brothers and sisters. Help us all to grow in the knowledge of Christ, who, with his death and resurrection, has defeated the power of evil and death.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
- February 22-28, 2004