Sickness can turn our lives upside down, whether we are the ones who are ill or whether we are offering support and solace to a suffering loved one. Serious illness is not only frustrating but also frightening, because it is disorienting; it can mean losing control and facing the unknown. Suddenly, our lives have changed and we are forced to face the inescapable fact that we are mortal.
Today marks the 22nd World Day of the Sick, a time to hold in our prayers those who are ill, as well as those who care for them, because caregivers can only do their jobs effectively when they, too, receive the care they need. The day also serves as a reminder to acknowledge the powerful healing ministry of the Church, which offers each of us the chance to unburden ourselves of the sin and guilt and fear that keep us from true spiritual health.
In Canada, we see the invaluable role health care providers play in caring for those suffering from illness and disease. Nurses, doctors and a range of medical professionals work tirelessly to restore the health of those who are sick. While praying for the sick comes naturally to us, we should also keep in mind all those who work in healthcare, that they may continue to be healthy themselves, with the stamina — physical, mental and spiritual – to carry out their work effectively and joyfully.
But when we speak of sickness and healing, we also must also consider the role of the Church. As a volunteer, I have been privileged to witness that wonderful healing. In my parish Out of the Cold program, for example, there is a moving beauty in watching the foot-care volunteers sooth the aching feet of women and men who live on the street, the volunteers’ very actions not only relieving the pain of calluses and blisters but also affirming the dignity of the guests. And in our parish RCIA program, I have seen many people find peace by establishing roots in the Church and embracing the sacraments. It is not unusual to have a candidate come to me after receiving the sacrament of Reconcilation for the first time and say, “I feel so much better!”
My personal life has also given me a profound appreciation for the healing ministry of the Church. When it became clear that my mother was just hours from death, we called a family friend, a priest, to join us at the hospital. I was deeply moved when Fr. Doug put on his stole and began to perform the sacrament of the sick, as my mother awoke and joined in the prayers. Mom became visibly calmer as the ritual progressed and, as a result, so did we all.
Soon after, during my father’s long and complicated illness, we again gathered as a family to have Dad anointed. My father’s illness had caused us great strain as a family, and his dementia left us unsure as to whether he could process exactly what was happening. As we watched the sacrament be conferred, however, a rare moment of peace descended on us, giving us all renewed strength to deal with the challenges that lay ahead. While Dad was the recipient of the sacrament, we all experienced a healing that breathed new life into each of us.
All of us will find times when we need to turn to the Church for some form of healing. Whether via Reconciliation, or Anointing or Eucharist, God’s mercy is always available to us. “Your faith has made you well,” Jesus tells the bleeding woman who touches his cloak. If we have the courage to reach out in a similar fashion, we, too, will be healed.
-Catherine Mulroney, Editor of Living with Christ, Canada’s companion to praying and living the Eucharist.