|Anointing the sick
For the first few years after I was ordained a priest I worked as a hospital chaplain. It was a good but difficult experience. All day long I was dealing with sickness and death. It probably sounds strange but until then I never realized that so many people died in hospital. Many people are brought to hospital when they are dying, so understandably many people die in hospitals, but it was not how I had thought of hospitals up to that point. The most difficult case I had to deal with was a young girl of about 12 who was very sick and eventually died. I remember feeling so helpless and useless when she died. Every time I read the story of Jesus raising the little girl from the dead I am reminded of that girl and her family.
Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus only brought a few people back to life, although He healed many people who were sick. Wouldn't it make you wonder sometimes why He didn’t heal more people, or why didn’t He raise many more from the dead? I’m sure it would have convinced many more people of who He was. I think the reason He didn’t heal more people physically is because it was not the most important thing for him to do. When you think about it, all the people He healed and even raised from the dead all died later at some stage. But what could possibly be more important that healing people and taking their sickness away?
Jesus healed those He encountered out of compassion for them, but his mission was teaching the people about God, about how God loves us and what our life is about. Having a sense of what our life is about is actually more important than being physically well, because if we don’t understand what our life is about then we will find it very difficult to keep going when things are going wrong. One of the great tragedies of our time is to see so many people having no hope and then taking their own lives. This is not what the Lord wants for us.
During his life on earth Jesus spoke about the reality of life after death, of not getting too caught up with things that are not important. He taught the people about the Father in heaven and how He loves us and has created us out of love. Ultimately His mission was to sacrifice himself for us, so that our sins could be forgiven, so that we could experience total happiness with God when we die. The priest says this in every mass at the consecration, repeating the words of Jesus: ‘This is the cup of my Blood… it will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven.’ That is why the mass is so powerful, because in each mass we become present to the event of Jesus’ death on the cross, so that sins may be forgiven. Time stands still and we are there. It is a wonderful thing that God allows us to be there.
The Lord is teaching us that there is a reason why we are here. Our life has a purpose and a meaning and is of great value. Each of us has a value so enormous to God that Jesus who is God, allowed himself to be sacrificed on our behalf. That is an extraordinary thought, but it is true.
We are here because God created us out of love in order that we might share God’s happiness when we die. But first we have to learn about God and then we have to freely choose for God or not. Our time on earth is a time of love and service. We are free to love or not to love, to serve or not to serve and most of us do this by raising families, or simply by trying to do what is right from day to day. But every day we are making choices for God or not by what we do. If we have a sense of this, then it can help us to keep going even when we are suffering, or sick, or things are difficult, because we know it is not forever and we know there is something wonderful waiting for us and so it is worth enduring when things are difficult. We will understand it all when we die, but for now it is hidden from us and part of the suffering we go through in this life is the fact that we cannot see the bigger picture; most of the time it remains hidden from us. Sickness is something that none of us want, but having no sense of worth or what our life is about can be far worse because it can lead to despair. It is a terrible thing to see people having no hope and it is also amazing to see what people can endure when they have a sense of what this life is about.
So in both the first reading and the Gospel today, people are brought back to life, because the Lord loves us. Each miracle was a sign; the first was a sign that Elijah was a man of God; the second miracle was a sign to the people that Jesus is God. The miracles confirmed that God was with them, but in both cases Elijah and Jesus then continued on with their mission to teach people about God and help us know what our life is about. We are called to love God and each other and to serve as best we can while we are here on earth. And when our time here is complete the Lord will bring us home to him.