Caring for the sick is essential part of church’s mission, pope says

"Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter’s Wife" by John Bridges, 1839. (Wikimedia Commons)

VATICAN CITY—Caring for and healing the sick is an essential part of the Catholic Church’s ministry, just as it was a constant part of Jesus’ ministry, Pope Francis said.

“Taking care of the sick of every kind is not an ‘optional activity’ for the church, no,” he said Feb. 7. “It is not something extra.”

“This mission is to bring God’s tenderness to a suffering humanity. We will be reminded of this in a few days, Feb. 11, with the World Day of the Sick,” the pope said during his Angelus address.

Although it was raining, at times heavily, a few hundred people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the midday prayer. With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Rome and the surrounding Lazio region, it was the first time since before Christmas that the pope came to the window of his studio to pray with people in the square.

In his main Angelus talk, Pope Francis focused on the day’s Gospel reading, which was St. Mark’s account of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and then of the many sick and possessed people brought to him.

The Gospel says that when the disciples told Jesus about the sick woman, “he approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her, and she waited on them.”

“There is so much tenderness in this simple act,” the pope said. “Jesus’ healing power meets no resistance; and the person healed resumes her normal life, immediately thinking of others and not of herself — and this is significant. It is the sign of true ‘health.'”

The healing is recounted in the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel and many others follow, the pope noted.

Jesus’ care for “people suffering in body and in spirit” is there from the beginning of his ministry, he said, and is a concrete reflection of God’s care for those who are suffering.

The disciples witnessed the miracles of Jesus, but he did not want them to be “just spectators,” so he sent them on mission with the power to heal the sick and cast out demons, the pope said. That mission continues today.

The day’s first reading was from the Book of Job, which reflects much of the perplexity and anguish every person feels in the face of suffering.

Human beings, “so lofty in dignity” and yet “so fragile,” the pope said, often ask “Why?”

Jesus does not respond with an explanation, “but with a loving presence that bends down, takes the hand and lifts up, as he did with Peter’s mother-in-law,” Pope Francis said.

“This is the mission that Jesus entrusted to the church,” he said. “He manifests his lordship in closeness, in tenderness, in compassion. Closeness, tenderness and compassion are the style of God. God draws near, and he draws near with tenderness and compassion.”

By Cindy Wooden