Given at the Mass in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes at Westminster Cathedral on the World Day of Prayer for the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 2017.
How I love this passage from the Gospel of St Luke. Every time I hear it, I admire again its wonderful, step-by-step approach. And every time, it always catches me out. Yes, this is a lesson directed to every one of us, leading us to understand afresh one of the Gospel's most important messages.
In response to the question that lies within each one of us: 'What must I do?', Jesus starts with the Law. Don't we all! And, yes, we know what the commandments ask of us, most of all to love God and to love our neighbour. But then, along with the lawyer, we begin to squirm: 'But who is my neighbour?'
Then Jesus brings us to the point: the one who is in need is my neighbour: no excuses, no escape clauses, no ducking. The story is vivid. The conclusion is clear: 'Go and do the same yourself.'
This is how the Gospel is to work: through our hands, through our words, through our hearts. There is no other way. That is what the Incarnation means.
In the first reading we heard the ancient promises of God: that one would come who would bring good news, bind up broken hearts, proclaim freedom, comfort the distressed and those who mourn. Yes, he came and he gave us his mandate and his Spirit so that through us these promises will be fulfilled.
I thank you all for coming to this Mass today in which we praise God for his work among us. I thank all of you who put into effect this mandate, this mission we have been given. In particular, I thank all those who give their time, their expertise, their love into our mission among the sick. Thank you all very much.
But you know, as I look out across this great congregation, I do not see, on the one hand, those who give and on the other, those who receive. As I look at each one of you, and as I look into the mirror, I see people who are always both givers and receivers. No one should think of themselves as a giver only. No one should think of themselves as one who only receives. No, God has asked us always to be both: generous in the care and gifts we offer, even from our bed or wheelchair; grateful in the gifts we receive, especially in our vigour and imagined self-reliance. Our faith has no real space for 'go-it-alone' heroes. We are brothers and sisters, recognising our needs and receiving God's gifts always through one another, often in unexpected ways!
Today we set out, in the diocese, on a short season of special attention to the corporal work of mercy of caring for the sick. It is a follow-up to the Year of Mercy, and is entitled 'Called to Serve the Sick'. During these weeks and months ahead, ending with our diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, in July, we will reflect, in various ways and events, on how we can include to a greater extent all those who are afflicted by sickness of body or mind, together with their families. I thank Bishop Paul McAleenan for leading us in this initiative. You can read a little more about it in the Mass booklet for today's celebration.
Today we recognise again the wonderful place and role of Mary, our Blessed Mother, in this aspect of our lives and faith. We rejoice in her title 'Mother of the Afflicted'. We are so ready to bring our burdens to her, in our silent and private prayers, in our saying together the Rosary, in our candles before her statue, in our pilgrimages to her Shrine in Willesden, to the Rosary Church in Haverstock Hill, to Walsingham, Fatima and, of course, to the great Shrine of Lourdes. We are ready to come to her. She is ready to bring us to her Son, the true physician of all our ills.
She learned the importance of taking us by the hand to Jesus even at the moment she presented him in the Temple. There she heard the words that he is the light of the nations and she heard that the sword would pierce her soul. She knew that such a sword would bind her closer to him. She learned the redemptive power of suffering as she stood at the foot of his cross. She saw how he yielded up everything, his very spirit, into the hands of his Father, thereby teaching her and us to do the same. But perhaps she already knew those lessons. From the beginning, through the action of grace, she was kept from all sin and so had the freedom to say, at the outset, 'Let it be done to me according to thy word.'
How we, in our turn, struggle to say those same words! How stubbornly we cling on to our own will. How persistently we refuse to accept the share in the work of salvation that is offered to us, especially when it cuts into our flesh or demands a rethinking of our horizons. How much we want to do everything our way, rather than in the way the Lord is asking us.
Today, as we gather for this Mass and for this anointing of the sick, let us open our hearts to the grace of God, as Mary did. Then we may see more clearly what it is the Lord is asking of us at this point in our lives. Then we will understand the part he wants us to play in his work of salvation at this point in our lives, how we are to bring his love and mercy to those around us, to those whose hands we touch, whose strength we pray for and whose gifts we appreciate again today.
Mary can teach us the way. Amen.