In a time of pandemic, we turn to Mary, Health of the Sick
Feb. 11, 2021 marks the 29th annual observance by the Catholic Church of the World Day of the Sick. This date coincides, as St. John Paul II intended it when he initiated this observance, with the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Mary, under this title, and the city of Lourdes in southern France, are associated with the sick. In 1858 the young girl Bernadette Soubirous encountered the Blessed Virgin in a series of apparitions. Very early on, that encounter was marked by the discovery by Bernadette of a spring of water, and as pilgrims sought out the place, many reported miraculous healings in its waters. To this day, millions of pilgrims, especially the sick, visit Lourdes to enter into the waters of the spring. Still there are reported extraordinary healings but far more common the sick report a spiritual comfort and an acceptance of their malady at Lourdes.
Pope Francis addressed the worldwide Church regarding this year’s observance noting the impact of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. As I write this column, the world wide statistics reflect that 96.2 million people have been stricken and more than 2 million have died. In the United States almost 25 million have been diagnosed and over 400,000 have died. Hospitalization rates are elevated around the world and death rates as well. This reality has only amplified the consciousness of the sick and dying.
The experience of sickness makes us realize our own vulnerability and our innate need of others, Pope Francis said. Everyone has been sick, be it a mild common cold, a childhood illness, or a serious life threatening episode. We can all relate; we can all identify. Sickness makes us feel all the more clearly that we are creatures dependent on God. When we are ill, our vulnerabilities are magnified; we find ourselves powerless.
Pope Francis wrote, “Sickness raises the question of life’s meaning, which we bring before God in faith. In seeking a new and deeper direction in our lives, we may not find an immediate answer. Nor are our relatives and friends always able to help us in the demanding quest.”
In 2021, as we observe the World Day of the Sick, it is proper to express our thanks for healthcare workers and first responders. These men and women have continued to serve and put themselves at risk over these weeks and months. Thousands of them have died, and this brings to mind the Gospel imperative that greater love than this has no man or woman than one who lays down life for a friend.
The Church and the world across nations and cultures often turn to Mary under her title of Health of the Sick – this year more than ever. And in this year of St. Joseph, we know him as the patron saint of a happy death. Though the Gospels do not relate any details of Joseph’s life beyond the finding of the Child Jesus in the temple, we might comfortably conjecture that Joseph was cared for in his illness by the Blessed Mother and the young Jesus. Thus we might turn to him in prayer as well.
The Holy Father concludes his letter on the 2021 World Day of the Sick with this salute to Mary:
“To Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Infirm I entrust the sick, healthcare workers and all those who generously assist our suffering brothers and sisters. From the Grotto at Lourdes and her many other shrines throughout the world, may she sustain our faith and hope, and help us care for one another with fraternal love.”
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the February 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.