Called to Serve the Sick

By Bishop Paul McAleenan

It has been rightly observed that, even though the Year of Mercy has ended, mercy never will: forever it will be an essential component of our Christian attitude and life. The Year of Mercy did however generate an enthusiasm and moved this virtue to the forefront of our mind and pastoral approach. Once again we have become more familiar with the Corporal Works of Mercy, we have seen them listed and displayed in our parishes and in the cathedral. Among them is one that we are particularly good at: to visit the sick.

Recently news bulletins have carried articles speaking of the strain the NHS is bearing in caring for the sick brought to A&E departments of our hospitals this winter. The sick are with us in all seasons, they have a need to be cared for and to know that the Church cares about them. In caring for the sick we follow the Lord’s own example.

Using the momentum created by the Year of Mercy and to reassure the sick of their importance to the Christian community, our diocese will have the in the first half of this year a short season entitled, ‘Called to Serve the Sick’. In this time we hope to heighten awareness of what we are already doing and what we have to offer, and widen it to all to who are suffering.

This season will begin at the annual Mass for the Sick on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on Saturday 11 February, when we will assemble as we usually do with the sick of the diocese to celebrate with them and to administer the Sacrament of the Sick. In addition, this year we will acknowledge all those who work in our hospital chaplaincies by conferring a blessing upon them before Mass concludes. The season ends at our annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes in July. Between these two points in our diocesan calendar we will have an opportunity to reflect on how we can include to a greater extent all those who are afflicted or affected by a breaking down of physical or mental health, the sick and their families.

We wish to include caring for the bereaved and assist those preparing for death. Through diocesan and parish events it is hoped that the sick will be integrated, as much as possible, and our care for them seen as a necessary aspect as we live our Catholic faith to the full.

Sickness and the sick can be hidden. There are those who do not wish public exposure and their desire for privacy must be respected; some may be reluctant to have their personal trials known. We speak here of those who would welcome awareness of their condition and support from their parish. We seek in these months to be more conscious of them and to offer them the wealth the Church has to offer. To be alone in one’s suffering adds to its burden.

An important element of this season is to grow in awareness of the Christian attitude to sickness. To this end, resources in the form of two booklets, published by CTS, are being prepared to educate and assist us The titles of these booklets published by the CTS are A Priest’s Guide to Hospital Ministry and A Catholic Patient’s Guide to Hospital. All contributors to the booklets are hospital chaplains, lay and clergy working in the diocese

As we support the one who is sick we keep in mind that Christ is the true physician. A logo has been designed for this season giving a visual image of how we see ourselves, carrying others and bearing them to Christ. The Gospel records that ‘they brought the sick on stretchers to wherever they heard he was’ Mark 6:55. In the Sacrament of the Sick we do this most powerfully. It is hoped that in this time we will grow in our appreciation of this Sacrament, its value, its meaning, for whom it is intended and to dispel any misunderstanding. The CTS booklets being produced contain chapters which will help explain that the Sacrament of the Sick is essentially one in which the Church provides the assurance that the one who suffers or is in declining health is not alone and prays that Christ will be with them.

Many of our hospitals rely on lay chaplains as well as clerics to provide for the needs of Catholic inpatients. We wish to acknowledge their contribution and the value of their ministry; in blessing them at the conclusion of the Mass for the Sick we will pray that the Lord will continually bless their work in which they bring Christ and his healing to to those who need him.

Serving the sick is part of the ministry of all priests with hospital duties and responsibilities. For them administering the Sacrament of the Sick is an everyday occurrence. Priests quietly respond knowing as is their duty, inconvenient or not, even during the night. Such response is also required in nursing homes, care homes and hospices. We are grateful and appreciative for all they do.

Sickness is not confined to physical ailment nor to the elderly. Some are afflicted with issues of mental health: these too we must care for. To do so requires different skills; some are more suited to it than others. Dotted around our diocese in various locations are mental health units, and no doubt some of those within their walls are Catholics. What support do they receive? What support that they need can we provide for them and their families?

During this season three events will help us in our mission to serve the sick, two in the cathedral the other in parishes. The first is the Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes which has been a feature of our diocesan life for many years. It is on Saturday 11 February at 2pm.

One of the great sorrows borne is by parents who have lost a child. On Saturday 11 March at 2.30pm in the cathedral we will celebrate Mass for Bereaved Parents. Those who attend will have the opportunity to write the name of the child who has died, and these names will be collected and brought to the sanctuary. It is hoped that in this way parents will be comforted and experience the support of the Church.

Some who suffer from a long-term illness or are terminally ill, and others suffering with dementia, are cared for in different ways in their own home, often by children or spouses or close friends. We wish to acknowledge them particularly. On the weekend of 8/9 July, the Fourteenth Sunday of the Year, in the Gospel of the day Jesus presents himself as the one who supports us with the appeal of ‘Come to me all you who labour and overburdened and I will give you rest’. It is suggested that these non–professional carers who provide assistance to friends and neighbours can be invited to receive a blessing at the parish Masses of the day.

It is hoped that these few months will have a value which will stretch into the future. May this be a fruitful time for the whole diocese as we implement and practice that virtue of Mercy which captured the imagination of the world.