(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Special Envoy, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, celebrated Mass on Thursday in the town of Nazareth in the Holy Land to mark the Church’s World Day of the Sick. The Mass took place in Nazareth’s Basilica of the Annunciation and was the centerpiece of events marking the 2016 World Day of the Sick that is celebrated each year on February 11th, the feast day of St. Bernadette of Lourdes.
In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Zimowski, who is President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, reminded his listeners that the central theme of Pope’s Francis’ message for this year’s World Day of the Sick is the need for us to entrust our lives to the Merciful Jesus like Mary did. Archbishop Zimowski said all of us are called in our different ways to help the person who is suffering and stressed we must not be intimidated by the fact that we cannot help in a satisfactory way, in the way that Jesus did. “The important thing,” he said, “is to go, to be at the side of the man who suffers.”
Please find below an English translation of Archbishop Zimowski’s homily at the Mass in Nazareth:
Entrusting oneself to the merciful Jesus like Mary.
‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5)
“Your Blessedness, dear brothers in the episcopate, and priests, deacons and consecrated people, representatives of the sister Churches and Christian communities, civil authorities, dearest brothers and sisters, especially dear sick people, your family relatives, volunteers and health-care workers.
The reason for our presence today in Nazareth, in this Basilica of the Annunciation, is the celebration of the twenty-fourth World Day of the Sick. We are celebrating the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes, that place where 162 years ago Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette, giving to the sick and the suffering her beautiful smile. She came from heaven, reminding humanity that her Son has prepared a place for us up above and that one must never separate heaven from the earth or the earth from heaven. In commemorating the liturgical memorial of Lourdes we thank St. John Paul II who, on 13 May 1992, instituted this World Day. The Year of Mercy that we are living through constitutes a propitious opportunity to intensify the spirit of mercy that it is in each one of us.
Here I would like to recall what Pope Francis in his Message writes about this: ‘On this World Day of the Sick let us ask Jesus in his mercy, through the intercession of Mary, his Mother and ours, to grant to all of us this same readiness to be serve those in need, and, in particular, our infirm brothers and sisters. At times this service can be tiring and burdensome, yet we are certain that the Lord will surely turn our human efforts into something divine. We too can be hands, arms and hearts which help God to perform his miracles, so often hidden. We too, whether healthy or sick, can offer up our toil and sufferings like the water which filled the jars at the wedding feast of Cana and was turned into the finest wine. By quietly helping those who suffer, as in illness itself, we take our daily cross upon our shoulders and follow the Master (cf. Lk 9:23). Even though the experience of suffering will always remain a mystery, Jesus helps us to reveal its meaning’ (Message of Pope Francis for the Twenty-Fourth World Day of the Sick. 15 September 2015).
1. Called to a Vocation that is Totally Singular
We are in Nazareth where ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (Jn 1:14) We are ‘here in the city of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we have come together to entrust ourselves to the merciful Jesus like Mary’ in order to enter the ‘school of initiation in understanding the life of Jesus, the school of the Gospel of mercy. Here one learns to observe, to listen, to meditate, to penetrate the meaning – which is so deep and mysterious – of that very simple, very humble, very beautiful apparition. Here one learns the method by which we can enter the intelligence of Christ. Here, in this school, one understands the need to have spiritual discipline, if one wants to become a pupil of the Gospel and a disciple of Christ’ (Paul VI, 5 January 1964).
We are here to celebrate the World Day of the Sick during this Holy Year of Mercy which Pope Francis wanted. In the Message that he gave to us he asks us ‘to entrust ourselves to the merciful Jesus like Mary’. ‘This year, since the Day of the Sick will be solemnly celebrated in the Holy Land, I wish to propose a meditation on the Gospel account of the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2: 1-11), where Jesus performed his first miracle through the intervention of his Mother’.
Today, dearest brothers and sisters, in this Basilica of the Annunciation, we should think for a few moments about the response of the Virgin Mary to the call of God: her fiat, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38). Mary is called ‘Handmaid of the Lord’, and thus Mary is placed next to the ‘servants of the Lord’, like Moses, David and the prophets. Mary is called to a totally singular service: that of being the mother of he who is the Son of God, of he through whom God gives to humanity fullness of life and salvation. How can we not emphasise here a link between Mary, the Handmaid of the Lord, and the servants of the wedding feast of Cana? Jesus himself always places at the centre of his behaviour ‘listening to, and putting into practice, the Word of God’ (cf. Lk 8:21; 11:25). Mary asks the same of the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5).
During her life Mary remained a ‘handmaid’ of the Lord. Just as she herself is united to Jesus, so does she lead all men to him. This means that we must turn all our attention to Jesus because from him we receive the right instructions: ‘do whatever he tells you’. Mary has complete trust in Jesus and allows him to decide how to act. She has confidence in the fact that in every circumstance he will do good things. For this reason, the Holy Father in his Message writes: ‘The wedding feast of Cana is an image of the Church: at the centre there is Jesus who in his mercy performs a sign; around him are the disciples, the first fruits of the new community; and beside Jesus and the disciples 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. How much hope there is in that event for all of us! We have a Mother with benevolent and watchful eyes, like her Son; 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. All this fills us with trust and opens our hearts to the grace and mercy of Christ’.
2. The Role of Servants in the Culture of Encounter and Peace
The words of the Virgin Mary to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’, indeed, echo those addressed by Moses to the whole of the people of Israel in the revelation of Sinai, which was to appear again as a significant background to the wedding feast of Cana. In Sinai, Moses, after listening to the word of the Lord, called together the elders of the people and told them what the Lord had ordered him: ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’ (Ex 19:7-8). At Cana, Mary of Nazareth exhorts the servants to do the same, to do everything that Jesus tells them. In this way, she performs the task of ‘mediation’ between Jesus and the servants who have been called to listen to her voice, a role similar to that of Moses at the foot of the Sinai where he was between the Lord and the assembly of his brethren, the servants of the Lord.
The action of the Mother of Jesus, therefore, has the task of preparing the servants of the wedding feast to listen to the voice of Jesus, to obey what he tells them. Rightly, the Blessed Pope Paul IV, in his Marialis cultus (n. 57), wrote that the words of Mary to the servants of Cana are ‘a further reason in favour of the pastoral value of devotion to the Blessed Virgin as a means of leading men to Christ…And they are words which harmonise wonderfully with those spoken by the Father at the theophany of Mount Tobor: “Listen to him” (Mt 17:5)’. Mary of Nazareth is for us a clear indication that leads to the centre of the Christian experience.
I would like to remember the event that took place here, near to Nazareth, in Capernaum. The centurion addresses Jesus with simple words: ‘Lord, my servant is being paralysed at home, in terrible distress’. Jesus answered immediately: ‘I will come and heal him’ (Mt 8:6-7). This is an example, one of very many, indeed the whole of the Gospel is full of similar events. Christ, trustingly called to go to sick people. Christ, called by the sick. Christ, at the service of men who suffer. St. Mark in his Gospel, in particular, reminds us of the miracles of healing that were performed by Jesus.
Dearest brothers and sisters, we are also constantly called. All of us, in a certain sense, are called, even though each one of us is called in a different way. The call – the invitation – that the centurion of the Gospel addressed to Jesus is repeated unceasingly. Man suffers in various places; at times he ‘suffers terribly’ and calls another man. He needs his help. He needs his presence. At times we are intimidated by the fact that we cannot help in a satisfactory way, in the way that Jesus did. We try to overcome this embarrassment. The important thing is to go, to be at the side of the man who suffers. Perhaps, more than healing, he needs the presence of a man, of a human heart full of mercy, of human solidarity.
We are dealing here with medical doctors, with nurses, with all the different categories of health-care workers. We are dealing here with institutions that serve human health: medical and dental surgeries, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, therapeutic resorts, sanatoria, and nursing homes; the welcoming walls of our homes, our family relatives, and the disinterested solidarity of numerous volunteers who work in the socio/health-care field. In particular, one must, therefore, at any cost, support a fine tradition: the work of a medical doctor and of a nurse must always be seen not only as a profession but also, and perhaps first of all, as a service, a ‘vocation’. Care for the physically disabled, care for the mentally ill – these sectors constitute, more than any other setting of social life, the yardstick of the culture of a society and a state, as we have seen and experienced when visiting various nursing homes in recent days.
We must be the true servants of those who suffer in various ways, because of violence, persecution, exile and discrimination as well.
Here I cannot neglect to refer to the recommendations made by Pope Francis: ‘If we can learn to obey the words of Mary, who says: “Do whatever he tells you”, Jesus will always turn the waters of our lives into precious wine’.
Thus this World Day of the Sick, celebrated solemnly in the Holy Land, will help to meet the wish that Pope Francis expressed in his Bull for the indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee: that it ‘will foster an encounter with [Judaism and Islam] and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination’ (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). ‘Every hospital and nursing home can be a visible sign and setting in which to promote the culture of encounter and peace, where the experience of illness and suffering, along with professional and fraternal assistance, helps to overcome every limitation and division’ (Message for the Twenty-fourth World Day of the Sick, 2016).
3. Mercy for those who are God-fearing
Let us now try to allow ourselves to be impregnated by the scent of the Word of the Lord which has just been proclaimed. The narrative account of the Gospel that we have now listened to on the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes has a special moment – the beatitude of Mary: ‘Blessed is she who believed in the fulfilment of the words of the Lord’. In the Annunciation, Mary abandons herself to God completely. She replied, therefore, with all of her ‘I’. ‘And Mary’s “yes” is for all Christians a lesson and example of obedience to the will of the Father, which is the way and means of one’s own sanctification’ (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, n. 22).
a. The Faith and the Beatitude of Mary and Joseph
Mary’s completion in the eyes of God is characterised by the words: ‘Blessed is she who believed’. One characteristic of Mary is her faith – which parallels that of Abraham – by which she recognises that the word of God is trustworthy and fully valid.
But we must also remember the faith of St. Joseph. As soon as he learnt and understood God’s plan from the Angel, without uttering a word he took Mary to his home. The ‘fiat’ of Mary and the action of Joseph express the same faith. ‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife’ (Mt 1:24). He took her in all the mystery of her motherhood; he took her together with the Son who would come into the world by work of the Holy Spirit: in this way he demonstrated a readiness to act, similar to that of Mary, in line with what God had asked him to do through His messenger.
Thus Mary is called ‘blessed’. She is recognised as having all the reasons to be blessed and have overflowing joy. The beatitude that Elizabeth addresses to her cousin pre-supposes that the words of God had been addressed to Mary. The beatitude that was expressed by a woman of the people: ‘“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked”, was explained and broadened by Jesus: ‘“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’ (Lk 11:27-28). Jesus does not dispute that Mary has this beatitude but he makes this depend on a relationship with God and His words. Mary in an exemplary way entrusted herself to these words. After Elizabeth explained what she had been able to understand about Mary, the Virgin spoke and spoke exclusively about God, and her words reveal deep knowledge about the Lord.
b. Fear of God is a Gift of the Holy Spirit
Mary of Nazareth states first and foremost: ‘And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation’. These words refer not to men who are afraid of God but, rather, to those who treat Him with respect. Fear of God is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. I will now address families: ‘dear parents, bring up your children in this God-fearing spirit. St. Augustine said: “If God holds pride of place in our lives, everything will be in place”’.
Let us pray therefore: ‘O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by the word, and by thy wisdom has formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made…give me the wisdom…who understands what is pleasing in thy sight and what is right according to thy commandments. (Canticle Wis 9:1-10).
At the end of our reflections let us see Mary as our example for our trusting response to the Lord. ‘Mary, therefore, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of mercy: our Lady of Mercy, or Mother of divine mercy; in each of these titles there is a deep theological meaning, for they express the special preparation of her soul, of her whole personality, so that she was able to perceive, through the complex events, first of Israel, then of every individual and the whole of humanity, that mercy of which “from generation to generation” people become sharers according to the eternal design of the most Holy Trinity’ (John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, n.9).
The canticle of the Magnificat was the response of Mary of Nazareth to the mercy of the Father: ‘he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation…he has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy’. With Mary, our Mother of Mercy, the Virgin of the Visitation, we also raise to the Lord our ‘magnificat’ which is the song of the trust and the hope of all poor people, sick people, the suffering people of the world, who exult with joy because they know that God is at their sides as the Saviour. To him we entrust our lives, following the example of Mary, making ours the wish that Pope Francis expresses in his Message; may his words find room and joyous practical expression in our daily lives: ‘To all those who assist the sick and the suffering I express my confident hope that they will draw inspiration from Mary, the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness, allow it to dwell in our hearts and express it in our actions!’ Amen.”