Homily for Those Facing a Serious Illness

The following homily by Bishop Loverde was given at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean during the Spring Retreat for Those Facing Serious Illness: This past weekend, May 26 — 28, the Spring Retreat for Those Facing Serious Illness took place at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean. Twice a year a retreat for seriously ill people is held at this retreat house. Now in its 22nd year of service, this special retreat offers the sick an opportunity to spend a weekend of spiritual enrichment assisted by a team of priests, religious sisters, physicians, nurses and volunteers. At the center of each day is the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. During this Spring retreat, Father Robert Cilinski and Father Mark Moretti served as spiritual directors. I had been invited to be the principal celebrant of one of these Eucharistic Liturgies. However, my schedule prevented me from accepting. Nonetheless, I arranged to visit the retreatants along with the staff, team and volunteers on Sunday morning from 10:45 to 11:30. It was a grace-filled experience for me to be with this gathering of people whose faith and hope are so evidently centered in Christ Jesus, the one Saviour of the world. My visit began with the Blessing of the Sick taken from the Book of Blessings. After the scripture reading, which so beautifully confirmed the theme of this retreat: "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11: 28), I gave a reflection, the substance of which I wish to share with all our readers, some of whom may be ill or are health-care givers to those who are. It is truly a privilege and a grace to be with you as you continue on your retreat. I come (1) to encourage you in your life of faith, which includes sharing with Christ the cross of illness, suffering and pain, (2) to remind you of how redemptive your sharing this cross with Jesus can become and (3) to invite your prayers for our diocesan church and for me its shepherd. I come to encourage you, that is, to give you "heart" — new hope. You are not alone, for you belong through Baptism to the Mystical Body of Christ. Christ is the Head and we are the members of His Body. Because we belong to Christ, we belong to one another. Everything we do has an effect on one another. Together we experience God’s loving compassion and sustaining care. This very retreat is a tangible expression of our belonging to the Body of Christ. So many people, bonded with us in Christ’s Body, have prepared for and are taking part in the supporting aspects of your stay here: spiritual directors, healthcare and other types of volunteers, those who donated food and financial assistance and your hosts, the Dominican Sisters, who staff this retreat house located on this 12-acre setting of rolling lawn and shady trees. You are never alone, for the Lord remains at your side as the Good Shepherd, uniting you to all the rest of us in His Body the Church. I come too to remind you of how redemptive your situation can become when it is offered in union with Christ. Saint Paul wrote: "Even now I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh, I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (Col 1: 24). Christ is the One Saviour; He alone redeems us. But He wills that our sufferings, united with His, can become redemptive when they are joined to His. Only in heaven will you learn how much you helped other people on their way to salvation. Pain, suffering, illness, limitation: these are not good in themselves, but joined to Christ, they acquire a positive value, a salvific value. Pope John Paul II, himself beset with physical infirmity, said as much to thousands of sick people who gathered in Rome on Feb. 11, 2000, for the Jubilee of the Sick and Health-care Workers. "Pain and suffering are part of the human mystery on earth. It is, of course, right to fight illness, because health is a gift of God. But it is also important to be able to discern God’s plan when suffering knocks on our door. The ‘key’ to this discernment is found in the Cross of Christ. The incarnate Word embraced our weakness, taking it upon himself in the mystery of the Cross. Since then, all suffering has a possibility of meaning, which makes it remarkably valuable. For 2,000 years, since the day of the Passion, the Cross shines as the supreme manifestation of God’s love for us. Those who are able to accept it in their lives experience how pain illumined by faith becomes a source of hope and salvation" (Homily, L’Osservatore Romano, n. 7, 16 Feb. 2000). And, in his greetings to the pilgrims on Feb. 13, 2000, the Pope echoed a similar message: "… In Jesus, who is moved to compassion for us, we find support and the answer to our deepest longings. In his Cross every form of suffering can become meaningful; illness never stops being a trial, but it is enlightened by hope" (Angelus Message, L’Osservatore Romano, n. 7, 16 Feb. 2000). So, dear sisters and brothers, please make your serious illness redemptive as you unite it to Christ Jesus. Finally, I come to ask you to offer up your "special prayer" for this diocesan church — for the needs of each member — and for me its shepherd. I say "special prayer" because you may sometimes not be able to express your prayer in words, but you can always make of your illness, your suffering, your pain, your limitations, your frustrations an offering united with the sufferings of Christ. In that way they become such a powerful prayer — truly a "special prayer." May the Lord be at your side, the Good Shepherd who guides you through the dark valley to the green pastures of everlasting life! Yes, it was good to be at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean and to encourage those who are experiencing serious illness, for, united with the Lord, they form a "powerhouse of prayer" by which we are strengthened in our own journey of faith towards the Father’s House. I know that you join me in praying for these ill sisters and brothers. Together, we are Christ’s Mystical Body, His Church.

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