While the experience of illness can certainly test our faith, for Pope Francis it is an opportunity to entrust ourselves to the tenderness and mercy of Christ, which Mary, his mother, shows us how to do.
“Illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep,” the Pope said in his message for the 24th World Day of the Sick, noting that our first reaction to illness is often “one of rebellion,” asking ourselves “Why has this happened to me?”
“We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning,” the Pope said, explaining that while one’s faith in God is tested in these moments, they also reveal the positive aspects of faith.
This is not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions that arise disappear, but “because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side.”
And this key, he said, “is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first hand.”
Pope Francis’ reflection was part of his message for the 24th World Day of the Sick, which will be celebrated Feb. 11 in the Holy Land. The day also marks the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The theme for the day, “Entrusting Oneself to the Merciful Jesus like Mary: ‘Do whatever he tells you,’” is especially fitting for the Jubilee of Mercy, the Pope said.
In addition to the Mass on Feb. 11, celebrations will also include the praying of morning and evening prayer, as well as daily Masses held in different places marking the various mysteries of Jesus’ life, such as his birth in Bethlehem and his resurrection in Jerusalem at the Holy Sepulchre.
The sacraments of Confession and of the Anointing of the Sick will also be offered throughout the week in different locations.
Bishops from different Catholic rites will perform the Anointing of the Sick throughout Jerusalem, as well as in Bethlehem and Ramallah, so that Catholics in the north and south of Palestine can also receive the sacrament.
Ash Wednesday, which will take place Feb. 10, is set to be celebrated in Gethsemane, where Christ prayed the night he was arrested. After the distribution of the ashes, attendees will then walk through the Holy Door in the city.
Due to the fact that the main festivities will be held in the places that Christ lived and carried out his ministry, including many miracles, Francis said he decided to center his message for the day on the Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana, where Christ performed his first miracle through the intervention of his mother.
With Mary's attentiveness and personal involvement with the newlywed couple in mind, as well as her and docile attitude toward her son, the Pope asked what the scene can teach us about the World Day of the Sick.
The wedding feast is above all an image of the Church, with Christ at the center, performing a miracle out of his mercy. He is surrounded by his disciples, and beside them all is Mary, “the provident and prayerful Mother.”
“Mary partakes of the joy of ordinary people and helps it to increase; she intercedes with her Son on behalf of the spouses and all the invited guests. Nor does Jesus refuse the request of his Mother,” the Pope noted.
He said the event serves as a sign of hope for everyone, because “we have a Mother with benevolent and watchful eyes, like her Son.”
Mary, he said, has “a heart that is maternal and full of mercy, like him; hands that want to help, like the hands of Jesus who broke bread for those who were hungry, touched the sick and healed them.”
“In Mary’s concern we see reflected the tenderness of God,” the Pope said, noting that this tenderness is also present in the lives of all those who care for the sick and are attentive to their needs, “even the most imperceptible ones, because they look upon them with eyes full of love.”
When this love is animated by faith, it inspires us ask God for “something greater than physical health” for those who are sick: “we ask for peace, a serenity in life that comes from the heart and is God’s gift, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, a gift which the Father never denies to those who ask him for it with trust.”
Francis urged the faithful to ask Mary to intercede in helping them to have her same readiness to serve those in need, particularly those who are ill.
“We too can be hands, arms and hearts which help God to perform his miracles, so often hidden,” he said, explaining that while the experience of suffering “will always remain a mystery, Jesus helps us to reveal its meaning.”
Pope Francis also expressed his hope that the celebrations in the Holy Land would be an occasion for increased dialogue among Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, who often bicker over rights and access to the holy sites in the area.
He closed his message by praying that all who are sick and suffering would draw inspiration from Mary, entrusting to her their trials as well as their joys.
“Let us beg her to turn her eyes of mercy towards us, especially in times of pain, and make us worthy of beholding, today and always, the merciful face of her Son Jesus!”