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28th World Day of the Sick

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)

Today, February 11th we recognize the 28th World Day of the Sick[1]. Initiated by Saint Pope John Paul II, this day offers Catholics around the world a special opportunity to pray for those suffering from illness. In Luke’s Gospel we hear that a woman, bleeding and suffering from what is possibly an obstetric hemorrhage, fights the crowds to touch the hem of Christ’s garment. Christ, the woman being healed, tells her that it is her own faith that has made her well. While our vocation to medical practice enables us to heal the sick after training and education, this Gospel reminds us that the patient is central to the delivery of care. The ability to care for the sick relies heavily on the perception and trust in the covenant relationship of doctor and patient.

At MaterCare International’s first workshop in 2001, which attracted 120 obstetricians from 40 countries, Pope John Paul II commented at a private audience, “Your profession has become still more important and your responsibility still greater in today’s cultural and social context, in which science and the practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, [and] health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even agents of death.” He continued;

“It is my fervent hope that at the beginning of this new millennium, all medical and health care personnel, whether in research or practice, will commit themselves wholeheartedly to the service of human life.”[2]

The practice of medicine is a service to humanity, and we must strive to view each patient as a unique individual full of the dignity granted by God. In Pope Francis’ message on this day, he tells us;

Dear healthcare professionals, let us always remember that diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic treatments, research, care and rehabilitation are always in the service of the sick person; indeed the noun “person” takes priority over the adjective “sick”. In your work, may you always strive to promote the dignity and life of each person, and reject any compromise in the direction of euthanasia, assisted suicide or suppression of life, even in the case of terminal illness.

When confronted with the limitations and even failures of medical science before increasingly problematic clinical cases and bleak diagnoses, you are called to be open to the transcendent dimension of your profession that reveals its ultimate meaning. Let us remember that life is sacred and belongs to God; hence it is inviolable and no one can claim the right to dispose of it freely (cf. Donum Vitae, 5; Evangelium Vitae, 29-53).[3]

As we acknowledge this day and pray for our brothers and sisters, let us find renewal in our commitment to provide care and healing, to always uphold the dignity of human life.

[1] The first World Day of the Sick was marked in 1993 at the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France, one of the world’s most famous Marian shrines. [2]“Our History” [3]

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