Sickness in life and the frailty that come with old age are human realities that are difficult to grapple with because no body wants pain and suffering in life. Even for those of us who are young, hearty and healthy, our little past experiences of pain and suffering tell us that none of us want pain, if we can help it. We know that when we are down with a bad flu or have severe migraine headaches or gastric stomach cramps, our appetite for food, our mood for social interactions, even our desires for prayer and the like change drastically; for many of us our whole person and our normal daily routine is thrown upside down.
Sickness and aging are even more difficult to cope with when our secular society is so conscious about health, fitness and productivity, and view sickness as negative, passive and non-productive. Some people are even ashamed of their sickness and are made to feel that as dependents they are a failure to the family and in life. Such negative and superficial views of the human person and life are very much part of the secular culture we imbibe in life daily. Sadly, we cannot avoid being influenced and affected by them.
Today, we are all gathered here as a Christian community of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are people “set apart” from the secular world by virtue of our Baptism. We are believers and have faith in the Risen Lord. Thus, our views of life, pain and suffering must be radically different. We believe in life after death and we believe that our Risen Lord is present to all our pains and suffering in life.
We have Christ Himself as our Lord and model of how we ought to view suffering and how to live our daily lives. Jesus not only preached about suffering; He Himself suffered most severely in His life time. Eventually, He suffered the cruel death of crucifixion out of love for us and His deep desires of saving all peoples and offering us eternal life.
Thus, while many of us are tempted to question, “Lord, why me? Why do I have to suffer? Can you not heal me once and for all? This pain is unbearable.” Pain and suffering can only make sense if we go beyond the superficial and secular views of life and put on the perspectives of Christ. Only then can we begin to find the real meaning and hope in the sickness and suffering in life.
When Mary was chosen to be the Mother of God, she could neither understand nor foresee what is demanded of her in the mystery of God’s calling. Yet, in faith she believed that God would give her all the strength she needs to fulfil His Will. In today’s Gospel, we find her glorifying God for choosing her to be His servant and handmaid. While Mary is blessed with the fullness of graces, she too had to experience the “sword that would pierce her heart” when she finds herself torn apart at the foot of the Cross of her Son on Calvary.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, to be chosen by God to serve in His Kingdom is to be handed both the crown of joy and the cross of sorrow. Like Mary and the saints of our Church, God does not choose us for our self-glory, but for His greater glory. When St Joan of Arc knew that her time was short, she prayed, “Lord, I shall only last one year, but use me as you can.”
In one of the homilies of our late Pope John Paul II to sick pilgrims in 1983, he gave some advise to the pilgrims and said, “Dear suffering brothers and sisters, whatever your suffering may be, accept them as they are without letting them control you and make you think your life is a failure. Second, go forward to accept them and know that the Lord can bring good out of evil, and that if you are able to accept your suffering in faith, you will grow in serenity and hope. So, be as active as you can in spite of sickness, and use whatever strength and talents you have. Third, offer all your pains and suffering with love and in union with Christ and you will do much good for the Church and for souls.”
We all know that our late Holy Father must have given these advices from his own experiences of pain and suffering. He never allowed his sickness to control him in any way. He continued to serve as a Pope strenuously and selflessly until every ounce of his energy was used up for God. He served with great dignity and serenity, trusting all the time in the Lord to give him the strength he needed.
Our Lady too was not spared of pain of suffering. If we carry our crosses in faith, our pain and suffering will never break us, but instead will give us a new and deeper meaning in life. St Paul in today’s second reading, who through his own pains and trials pleaded with the Lord to be freed of his pains, was assured by the Lord who said to him, “ ‘My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness.’
Our Lord is not a healer in the manner that the world would expects of Him; those are medical cures. But, with the Lord, healing engages us in our personal relationship with the Lord. In order to heal us, Our Lord does not remain outside the suffering that we experience. He draws us into the mystery of His Passion and Mercy. He eases our suffering by coming into our hearts and dwelling within us, He experiences our pains with us.
So, St Paul assures us that in our suffering, we are never alone; God is always there with us. That is why Jesus is Matthew’s Gospel 11:28 tells us, “come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest; rest for your soul; for my yolk is easy and my burden light.” We are never left alone to carry our own crosses in life. Our Lord is there to carry our crosses with us.
In this light, the Catholic Catechism teaches us that the graces of the Sacrament of Anointing of the sick will include strength, peace and courage ‘to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the fragility of old age,” in union with the Passion of Christ” and the “grace to contribute to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all peoples for whom the Church suffers and offers Herself through Christ to God the Father. (CCC 1520-1522).
And so, as I like to conclude by saying that, our gathering here today is more than simply coming together to pray for healing. We are all here, as Christian believers to reaffirm our faith; that the deepest meaning of our lives and the centrality of our human identity, even as we experience pain and suffering is rooted in both the reality of our Merciful and Risen Lord.
If we can allow this mystery that is also portrayed in the image of the Crucified Lord on the Cross to be how we understand and draw strength for our pains and suffering, if we can unite our pains and suffering with the Crucified Lord, His Mercy that is communicated profoundly and powerfully through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of the Eucharist will surely transform and heal us and help us witness to the gift of eternal happiness and salvation that awaits us when our lives on earth come to an end, and when our lives in heaven begins in glory for all eternity.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
4,435 visitors since 10 February 2010
Healing Mass on Sat 6th Feb 2010, 3pm
@Church at St Ignatius, Singapore