We often take our well-being for granted until the situation changes. At times of serious illness, we come to appreciate what a blessing good health can be and we call upon God in prayer to help us cope. This Sunday, the Scriptures call us to reflect on the experience of sickness and death, and Jesus’ power to heal.
In the first reading, the author of the Book of Wisdom proclaims that God did not make death. Rather, God created living beings and formed us to be imperishable. Yet we know that sickness and death are part of life.
In the Gospel, we hear that Jesus exercised his healing power in the lives of two women. He responded to the plea of Jairus, whose daughter was dying. On the way, as the crowds pressed around him, Jesus felt someone touch him and experienced that power went out from him.
The woman who suffered with hemorrhages had great faith and trusted that Jesus had the power to heal her and would do so, even if she simply touched his cloak. Jairus was also a man of faith. In both cases, Jesus responded to their faith. He sought out the woman who had touched him and reassured her about her restored health. Nor did he hesitate about the child who seemed already dead. In spite of the skepticism of the crowd, Jesus took her by the hand and raised her up.
The church continues the healing ministry of Jesus and uses the power of touch to bring spiritual and physical healing. Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick both use the element of touch. In the sacrament of Penance, the priest lays his hands on the head of the penitent during the words of absolution which bring spiritual healing. If the person is confessing behind a screen, the priest at least raises his hand during the absolution.
The Anointing of the Sick has a long tradition in the church. The Letter of St. James refers to calling in the elders to pray over and lay hands on those who are sick. There is written evidence from the 4th century that the church used the anointing with oil and the laying on of hands as part of the prayer for healing those who were ill. The church has continued to draw upon the healing power of God to care for those who are seriously ill. This sacrament brings spiritual healing of the distress caused by the illness, but can also bring physical healing.
This Sunday several prayers of the liturgy use the imagery of light, a sign of the Kingdom where there is no more death or sorrow. During the Prayer of the Faithful, as we pray for those who among us are sick and dying, we may want to remember, in a special way, parents who have recently lost a child.
Sr. Rehrauer is the director of Evangelization and Worship for the Diocese of Green Bay and past president of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross.