Text: Bishop George Stack at Lourdes

 Bishop George Stack gave the following homily, last Thurday, at the Mass for the Anointing of the Sick, during the Westminster Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes One of the first ceremonies on this our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes was the Blessing of Hands of our young people who have come here to care for the sick and elderly pilgrims. It was a beautiful service, made even more significant by the way they have fulfilled the promise they made in these last few days. They have made their own the prayer we said on that first day ".....to follow the example of Jesus in loving and caring for all, especially the sick and those who are in need." Our young people opened their hands to receive that blessing. Their gesture means so many things. They are making a gift of this week of their summer holidays. They are offering not just their time, but their talents, their energy and all that is good within them to this great communal endeavour which is the pilgrimage. On a deeper level, silently, perhaps unknowingly, they are making their own the words of the young boy Samuel "Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will". (1 Samuel 3 : 10). The offering of hands, accompanied by prayer is a sign of openness to God, openness to service, openness to new possibilities and new ways of living faith. All these need to be explored, discerned, prayed about and enjoyed, as the Cardinal said this morning. In a few moments time, those who are sick will open their hands to be anointed. These open hands are full of significance also. They are a sign of faith and trust. They are a sign of prayer and acceptance. They are a sign of a willingness to be embraced by God and cared for by others in the particular circumstances of their lives. No longer young as Samuel was, but now trusting their young helpers who have offered them their hands of support. In their weakness, those who are sick will say in the silence of their heart "Here I am Lord, I come to do your will". The strong hands of our young people and the fragile hands of our sick and elderly will be joined together in this sacrament, through the Prayer of the Church and the Laying on of Hands by the priests. "Is anyone sick among you? Let him send for the elders of the Church and they must anoint him in the name of the Lord and pray over him. (James 5:14) That ancient gesture, used so much by the Church in her public prayer and liturgy, is the solemn "calling down" of the presence and the power of God. It reminds me of the hand of God, reaching from eternity, into this world of time, into this place, into this life. God's hand, ultimately stretched out on the wood of the cross, consecrates each moment, every event, all pain, all suffering, sickness and even death. This sign, this sacrament, says that nothing is wasted in the sight of God. In sickness, God whispers into our ear that he can be believed in, loved, served just as much in sickness as in health. When so many of our defences, so many distractions, are removed, God is able to be present to us in ways that the healthy and the strong cannot conceive of. "The prayer of faith will save the sick person". Faith deepens with suffering. It teaches the weak and the strong that life is indeed a precious gift to be treasured, respected, treated with dignity and love because it is our part in the unfolding of God's creation. The Holy Oil which is placed on the hands of those to be anointed is both a comfort and a challenge. Oil soothes. Oil nourishes. Oil strengthens. It binds us together with Christ whose name means the anointed one. But it challenges those who are signed with the mark of His cross to affirm that our pain, our suffering, our sickness brings us to the foot of the cross of Jesus who submitted Himself to suffering and death for our sake. As we anoint and are anointed, we make the sign of that cross. We hold the cross in our hands or wear it around our neck. We hold the cross in the centre of our being in ways we would rather not choose. But in doing so, we make the prayer of faith taught by St. James. And we echo the words of St. Paul which we have just heard: "I am certain of this: "Neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, will ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus".

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