Reaching out to the sick is pattern of salvation

Editorial

The media organisation Bloomberg recently calculated that the Covid-19 pandemic will last for another seven years, if the rate of vaccination does not ramp up throughout the whole world.

Under current rates of vaccination, the world – not just individual nations – will not reach herd immunity against the virus for the best part of a decade, according to this calculation. The picture is made more complicated by mutations of the virus. Development of vaccines and treatments will likely be ongoing as the virus changes. There will be challenges ahead, for the whole world.

A lot happens in seven years. So, in 2028, presuming the Bloomberg prediction plays out, the time before the pandemic will be well into history. Will the world then be able to go back to something like life was in 2019? Maybe – who can say?

But whatever the future holds, one thing will stay constant, and that is the love of God. In Jesus, God has reached out and touched us in our illness already.

As Benedict XVI said in an Angelus reflection in 2012, commenting on the passage in Mark 1:40-45 about Jesus healing a leper, who had said: “If you will, you can make me clean”.

“Jesus did not shun contact with that man; on the contrary, impelled by deep participation in his condition, he stretched out his hand and touched the man — overcoming the legal prohibition — and said to him: ‘I will; be clean’.”

Benedict continued: “That gesture and those words of Christ contain the whole history of salvation, they embody God’s will to heal us, to purify us from the illness that disfigures us and ruins our relationships.

“In that contact between Jesus’ hand and the leper, every barrier between God and human impurity, between the sacred and its opposite, was pulled down. This was not, of course, in order to deny evil and its negative power, but to demonstrate that God’s love is stronger than all illness, even in its most contagious and horrible form. Jesus took upon himself our infirmities, he made himself ‘a leper’, so that we might be cleansed.”

Benedict developed a similar theme in a Chrism Mass homily in 2008.

He has portrayed the whole of his high priesthood in the gesture of the washing of the feet. With the gesture of love to the end he washes our dirty feet, with the humility of his service he purifies us from the illness of our pride. Thus, he makes us able to become partakers of God’s banquet. He has descended, and the true ascent of man is now accomplished in our descending with him and toward him. His elevation is the Cross. It is the deepest descent and, as love pushed to the end, it is at the same time the culmination of the ascent, the true ‘elevation’ of humanity.”

In the same year, during his Holy Thursday homily, Benedict made comment along similar lines.

“The gift and example overall, which we find in the passage on the washing of the feet, is a characteristic of the nature of Christianity in general.

“Christianity is not a type of moralism, simply a system of ethics. It does not originate in our action, our moral capacity. Christianity is first and foremost a gift: God gives himself to us – he does not give something, but himself.

“And this does not only happen at the beginning, at the moment of our conversion. He constantly remains the one who gives. He continually offers us his gifts. He always precedes us. This is why the central act of Christian being is the Eucharist: gratitude for having been gratified, joy for the new life that he gives us.”

At the 2008, Chrism Mass, Benedict stated: “The Eucharist, as the presence of the descent and ascent of Christ, thus always recalls, beyond itself, the many ways of service through love of neighbour.”

“Let us ask the Lord on this day for the gift to be able to say again in this sense our ‘yes’ to his call: “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6: 8). Amen.”

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Michael Otto

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