Sacrament of the Sick
Bishop Alan Hopes presiding and preaching
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we have made our journey to this cathedral as pilgrims to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick. As we do so, we acknowledge our inability to deal with our human frailty and our human weakness. Through the prayer of the Church, the laying on of hands and anointing with holy oil, we seek to experience afresh God’s love and mercy which will always bring healing and wholeness into our lives.
We celebrate this Sacrament today in the presence of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux. Her relics bring us very close to her – St Thérèse, enjoying the fullness of life in heaven, will bring us very close to God, challenging us to imitate her in her love for Him and for others, even in suffering.
As we seek to come to terms with our frailty and weakness, and carry the burden of pain and suffering, what will she teach us – how can she help us? She speaks to us from her own experience of intense suffering and pain after contracting tuberculosis. She eventually died from the disease at the early age of 24.
In her Little Way, she points us always to the immense love that God has for each one of us. Her Little Way teaches us that if we are to experience that immense love in our own lives, then we must become like little children all over again. Like them in their relationship with their parents, we first have to learn to trust in God’s love and depend on him completely. We have to rediscover our littleness and, in her own words, expect everything from God as a little child expects everything from its father.
Second, St Thérèse teaches us that out of such dependence grows real confidence. As we become aware of our weaknesses so we will become aware of God’s merciful love. For wherever we find ourselves, however estranged we may feel we are from God because of sickness, whether we are full of doubt or whatever we might have done, God’s love still continues to stretch out towards us. Again St. Thérèse writes: I am certain that even if I had on my conscience every imaginable sin, I should lose nothing of my confidence, but would throw myself heart broken with sorrow into the arms of my Saviour. I know too well what to believe concerning his mercy and love. The Little Way of Thérèse gives great confidence to all sinners, great and small alike.
Third, Thérèse teaches us that this confidence leads us away from irrational fear of the future. She teaches us to live for today only – that the real way to live is to think that this is the only day we have to love God. If we learn to live for today our pains become that much easier to bear and our temptations lose their strength.
Love is the key to it all. Our lives are made up of many ordinary things – but as we experience God’s love we begin to understand that every circumstance of life is to be used as an expression of our love for God – every difficulty, every sorrow, every pain, every humiliation, every disappointment – and we carry everything out as an offering of love for our heavenly Father.
And finally Thérèse teaches us to find our Christian vocation to love God and each other even in suffering. With trust and confidence we bring our weakness and frailty to God. In his love, we find strength, support and understanding. Thérèse teaches us to unite our sufferings with those of Jesus on the Cross. When we do so, we discover that they can become redemptive and grace can flow into the lives of others. It is the way of love.
In a few moments we shall celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick. It speaks to us about Jesus who is at the centre of this Sacrament. It speaks to us about his Presence coming amongst us today to continue his work of making us whole through the ministry of the Church. Today he reassures us of his immense love for us as he seeks to touch the deepest part of our humanity with his healing power.
As we ask the prayers of S Thérèse today, pray that God will touch the frailty of our human bodies with his healing power. And pray for a deeper awareness of just how precious each one of us is in God’s sight and how deeply in love with us, God is.