I chose to preach about this Gospel passage because it provides a model for what we are doing together during this Somos Healthcare Providers Conference. It is no coincidence that you have chosen to begin the Conference with the celebration of a Mass at the National Shrine of Santo Domingo. In this passage, Mark takes us to the beginning of Jesus’ public mission. He describes what is just an ordinary day in Jesus’ life. Biblical scholars call it “that day in Capharnum.” I might say as well that it is like one of your days as doctors in contact with your patients. You probably know that the Gospel writers often describe how Jesus spent time with the sick, just as you do.
It is striking to read how much the Gospels speak of Jesus compassion for the sick, how often He cures so many of them. Healing the sick is a manifestation of God’s entry into history. With Jesus, the Savior had come into the world, body and soul, and he commissioned his disciples to carry on the work He had come to do: “preach that the Kingdom of God is near, heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, heal the lepers, cast out demons.” The mission of the disciples follows the mission of Jesus, proclaim the Gospel and heal the sick.
Since ancient times, the Church has not hesitated to call Jesus “the physician of Christians.” Saint Irenaeus of Lyon—newly proclaimed a great teacher of the Faith—expressed this thought beautifully, “The Lord has come as a doctor for those who are sick.” Origen, another early teacher, said, “Know how to see [in the Gospels] that Jesus heals every weakness, every illness, not only when he was on Earth, but still today. Know how to see that He did not come only to be with those of that time, but He is also here with us today. “Behold, He says, I am with all days, even unto the consummation of the world.” We read words like this in many places, from the Liturgy of St. Mark, where it says, “Lord, Doctor of souls and bodies, come to us and heal us,” to an ancient Christian inscription, “I beg you, Lord, come to my aid, there are no doctors but You.” But don’t be discouraged by the words of this prayer. In the Old Testament book of Sirach we read, “Honor the physician for he is essential to you, and God it was who established his profession. From God the doctor has his wisdom, and the doctor is distinguished for his knowledge, it gives him access to those in authority. God makes the earth yield healing herbs, which the prudent man should not neglect. With them, the doctor eases pain, and the pharmacist prepares his medicines. Thus, God’s creative work continues without ceasing on the surface of the earth.” (Sir 38:1-8).
I will not dwell longer on this point, but you need to know how much the mission of the doctor is appreciated in the Bible and by the Church. Even more so in these times, given that Pope Francis himself has called the Church a “field hospital.” Doctors—and Christian doctors in particular—are called to make every effort to help men and women live better and to be witnesses of the importance of caring for one another. Illness is not only a healthcare problem, it is a call for help, for love, for life. This is the context for the healings in the Gospels. Today they represent a challenge to the disciples—including doctors—to be more courageous in accompanying the sick. The sick must always be accompanied, never abandoned, even when healing is no longer possible.
In this optic, we must also rediscover prayer for the sick as part of our treatment. Unfortunately, this aspect of care seems to be ignored in the life of the Church today. Its long earlier history, on the other hand, the Church speaks of saints who were wonder workers. Miracles are always tied to visible holiness, to powerful love. Saint Cyprian of Carthage says that even individual holiness can work miracles. “When we are chaste and pure, modest in our actions, restrained in our words, we will even be able to heal the sick.” We also remember Saints Cosmas and Damian, who died as martyrs in 285. In Rome, in the basilica dedicated to them, they are depicted as dressed in white robes, like doctors, next to Christ, who is also dressed in white robes. Tradition says that these two doctors went to the bedsides of the sick but prayed before inquiring about their health. Only then did they begin their examinations and decide on a treatment. Their miracles were a mixture of love and concrete attention. Healing is always a combination of faith and attentiveness. Even if sometimes the body is not healed, there is always a benefit for the spirit. In the history of healthcare, there have been many types of cures, and the Church must never lessen its boldness in pursuing its faith-filled engagement with the healing professions.
The world is witnessing a great demand for healing. Many today go in search of magical, occult, miraculous, or astrological practices! I believe that in this frantic search for protection, security and healing there is a question that is often not addressed. The Church is called on to take this question seriously. Our Churches—and also your hearts, dear doctors—must be like the house of Capharnum where Jesus was staying and where sick came to receive his healing touch. Love and prayer make possible what to men seems impossible. They are what gives meaning to this Shrine and to the many other Shrines around the world. They are really like “Houses in Capharnum” where thousands flock to be healed and saved.
May our holy celebration help us all to be bolder, more generous, disciples of Jesus. There are many sick people who are waiting to meet Jesus the “doctor” of soul and body, through your mission as doctors who are close to the people with that same compassion that Jesus showed when he consoled and healed.