Isaiah 53: 1-5, 10-11
Psalm 6: 2-4a, 4b-6, 9-10 (R. 3a)
James 5: 13-16
Matthew 8: 14-17

February 11, 2006

In preparing yesterday’s liturgy for Saint Scholastica and today’s for the 14th Annual World Day of the Sick, I realized that we are, in fact, being offered a kind of two day renewal in the vocation and identity of the Congregation. Yesterday, with Saint Scholastica, it was the fundamental Benedictine vocation that was thrown into light. Today, the Church invites us to reflect on the mystery of suffering and on the vocation of the sick: the grace of identification with Jesus Crucified.

Sickness is an evil, but the truth that shines from the mystery of the Cross is that out of evil God can bring an immense good. It is that suffering can be fruitful. It is that all who are, in any way, wounded, broken, infirm, or diminished are called to a transfiguring communion with the sacrifice of Christ, Victim and Priest. “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).

Were it not for sickness there would be no Benedictines of Jesus Crucified and no Monastery of the Glorious Cross. Were it not for infirmities of one kind or another, who among us would be here today? “If I must boast,” says the Apostle,” I will boast of things that show my weakness” (2 Cor 11:30).

Lest we use the World Day of the Sick as a pretext to focus narrowly on ourselves, Pope Benedict XVI invites us to broaden our prayer, to make it global, apostolic, and inclusive. In his Message for the 14th World Day of the Sick, he says: “I would now like to address you, dear brothers and sisters, tried by illness, to invite you to offer your condition of suffering, together with Christ, to the Father, certain that every trial accepted with resignation is meritorious and draws divine goodness upon the whole of humanity.”

Persons tried by illness, be it of the body or of the mind, are subject to certain particular temptations. The evil one adapts his foils to the physical and psychological weak points of each person. Mother Foundress discerned the areas of temptation common to people in diminished health, and was tireless in putting her daughters on guard against them. These can be summed up under three headings. The first area of temptation is self-absorption. All too easily the sick person becomes the centre of his own world, the pole of attraction around which everything else orbits. One can become cranky and demanding. One feels misunderstood. One finds nothing more fascinating than oneself and one’s state of health.

The second area of temptation is related to the first. It is a shrinking of one’s horizons. One’s world becomes smaller and smaller. One goes from living inside the monastery to living inside one’s own head, preoccupied with trivia. This is a loss of Catholic perspective, a dampening of the apostolic spirit. One loses interest in the great questions of the day and in the plight of those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel. One forgets the word of the Apostle: “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). Saint Paul says, “We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor 1: 8).

Among the needs of the universal Church, Mother Foundress privileged those of the priesthood. Seven years before her death she wrote, “The Lord gave me as my portion the souls of guilty priests . . . my own soul disappears under an accumulation of iniquities. But I asked for this humiliation! How could the Lord have made use of so little a thing? His fidelity, his consuming love, this is all my light, my life, my death.” As Mother’s world grew smaller, as the world-traveler became confined to a few familiar places, her soul remained given for the Church and for priests.

The third area of temptation is the most serious and the first two make the soul vulnerable to it. It is the temptation to despair. It is a slow descent into hopelessness. Here again the fundamental Benedictine vocation joins together with the specificity of the Congregation. Holy Father Benedict enjoins us, “Never to despair of the mercy of God” (RB 4:74), and the Congregation never tires of singing with the liturgy, O Crux, ave, spes unica, “Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” Hope flourishes where the Cross is planted. A heart having the Cross planted deep within it will never lose hope.

Among the effects of the Anointing of the Sick is that it strengthens us in the face of temptation, specifically in the face of the temptations that rage about one grappling with illness. And the Anointing of the Sick does more: it confers the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit; it unites us with the Passion of Christ; it strengthens our belonging to the Body of Christ, the Church, and contributes to her upbuilding; it prepares us for the struggles of the final journey to the Father’s house.

Enter into the Anointing of the Sick today with a profound faith. It will prepare you for the Holy Sacrifice, for a fruitful communion with Christ, Victim and Priest. And then, with the Holy Oil shining on your forehead and on your hands, approach the mysteries of Christ’s sacred Body and Precious Blood. He will draw you to himself, and through himself, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father, giving the final word to thanksgiving and praise. Amen, Alleluia.