February 11th marks the 150th anniversary of the apparitions as Lourdes in France. The date is also observed as the World Day of the Sick. Lourdes has always been associated with the sick who have gone there seeking cures. And even when the healing of the body may not always be granted, the sick who go to Lourdes inevitably report a healing of the soul.
Mary experienced pain and suffering in her earthly life as the Mother of Sorrows as Simeon had prophesied at the Presentation of the Lord in the temple. As the Sorrowful Mother who stood at the cross of her suffering son, Mary still stands by the members of her Son’s Body who in their own suffering bear the signs of his passion. As Pope Benedict writes in his message for this year’s World Day of the Sick: “Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help”
It has always been hard for us to accept the mystery of pain and human suffering especially when this mystery touches the young and innocent. Why does a loving and just God permit us to suffer? This question is as old as time itself. Yet, like the Old Testament Job, we still demand answers, we want reasons. But as with Job so too with us, God is not forthcoming with pat answers – at least, not on this side of heaven. God’s response is just one word: Jesus.
Of course, Jesus did not come to explain away suffering; he came to take it upon himself. His solidarity with the world of pain transforms it – for “pain received with faith becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and the happiness of his Resurrection.” In Christ, our suffering acquires a new meaning; in Christ, our suffering attains new power – and a mysterious fruitfulness. United to Christ, the one, who suffers with hope and with meek self-abandonment to the will of God, becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world. Offering up our own pains and sufferings becomes an eloquent and a powerful prayer.
Mary, of course, is the model of that self-abandonment to the will of God. And therefore it is no wonder why the sick seek out her powerful protection and intercession. We ask her to teach us to say “yes” as she did – for that “yes” joined her to the redeeming mission of Christ. We need her to take us by the hand and lead us to pronounce our own “yes” to the will of God, with all our “existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth”. As Mary renewed her “yes”, given at the Annunciation, at the foot of the Cross, we too must renew the “yes” of our Baptism by accepting the daily crosses we may be asked to carry.
To Our Lady of Lourdes, we commend the sick of communities so that they will never feel that they are abandoned or disvalued because of their illness and frailty. We also entrust to her the family members of the sick and all health care professionalism so that they in their care of the sick may reflect Mary’s own tender and maternal care towards the suffering members of the Body of Christ.