Bishop: Mary's Eucharistic Son: Balm for the Sick

by Bishop Joensen | January 26, 2023

Bishop William Joensen

The recent death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the approaching annual celebration of World Day for the Sick on Feb. 11, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the ongoing national Eucharistic Revival are some of the events on my mind and heart these days.  First, I’d like to offer some of my own reflections drawn from the Scriptures before turning to some beautiful words offered us by the late Holy Father that draw together all three events in spiritual harmony.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus shares our blood and flesh, and in death itself: “Surely he did not help angels but the descendants of Abraham; therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:14-18 paraphrased).  The God who IS, is revealed in Christ as the God who BECOMES: he becomes capable of suffering and death with us, for us, and is thus revealed as the God who is merciful.

Trappist Abbot Bernard Bonowetz observes that God is powerful and good, and that he is capable of conquering sin and death. But alone, this might leave us with the sense of God who is like a general on a bluff overlooking the valley where the battle is being waged, orchestrating the outcome to certain victory, but aloof, removed from the troops/people below.  Only when we look at a crucifix—or, with eyes of faith, at the Eucharistic host—do we behold the God who becomes us, who experiences the vulnerability and vagaries of the human condition.  

God knows from within how the fear of death may hold us bound, and then enters death for our sake; he reveals who mercy incarnate becomes, who mercy is. Only the loving kindness of a merciful and faithful high priest could convince us that God is more than powerful and good; we are meant for the mercy that was, is, and will always be. God’s mercy endures forever.

The consummation of mercy by God’s suffering servant and Son takes place on Calvary.  Still, Jesus’ whole path to Calvary is paved with more simple forms of suffering that likewise reveal how he incarnates mercy. The account of the illness of Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-39) lays claim to Christ’s presence and power to heal.

Jesus’ appearance draws the whole hurting town to the doorstep. And mercy is set in motion. But note what Mark describes: “He cured many who were sick; he drove out many demons.”  Many, but not all. In his weariness, did the divine and human Jesus suffer his need to call it a day, to leave some folks as they were, unhealed?

And when he rises the next day, he doesn’t hang up his shingle and say, “The doctor is in.”  No, after early morning prayer, he says he must press on to preach to other villages, for that is his saving mission.  Though by his power as God, Jesus could truly be all things to all persons, fulfilling every need, like us he discerns, makes choices, and yes, at times, lets be, for the sake of a saving purpose that takes precedence.  

Isn’t this a form of suffering, to have to make such decisions for ourselves and those whom we care about dearly? Isn’t this part of the process of transformation, of becoming, even in the midst of infirmity and illness that defy easy remedy? Isn’t this at the heart of how the mystery of God’s mercy in the face of human suffering takes shape—a paschal mystery that is still unfolding in our lives, individually and as a Church?  

Jesus does not leave us in the lurch; he suffers with those for whom physical, mental, or spiritual healing is not immediately forthcoming. This Son of Mary and of the heavenly Father communicates himself to us in the Eucharist, revealing that God is more than powerful or good. God is vulnerable, faithful, and merciful, even as that means sometimes he simply lets be. 

With great affection and gratitude for the late Holy Father, for Mary’s special closeness and intercession for all our sick sisters and brothers, and with great devotion to the abiding presence of our Savior Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, I am drawn to one of Benedict XVI’s many gems that he left us. I recall his homily on the Prairie at Lourdes, France, on the occasion of the Procession with the Blessed Sacrament on Sept. 14, 2008.  In the presence of Our Eucharistic Lord, he exhorts us still today: 

“Whether we are walking or nailed to a bed of suffering; whether we are walking in joy or languishing in the wilderness of the soul (cf. Numbers 21:4): Lord take us all into your Love.  
“The sacred host exposed to our view speaks of this infinite power of Love manifested on the glorious Cross.  The sacred host speaks to us of the incredible abasement of the One who made himself poor so as to make us rich in him, the One who accepted the loss of everything so as to win us for the Father. 
“Let us accept; may you accept to offer yourselves to him who has given us everything, who came not to judge the world, but to save it (cf. John 3:17), accept to recognize in your lives the very presence of him who is present here, exposed to our view.  Accept to offer him your very lives!
“Mary, the holy Virgin, the Immaculate Conception, accepted, two thousand years ago, to give everything, to offer her body so as to receive the Body of the Creator.  Everything came from Christ, even Mary; everything came through Mary, even Christ. . . Holy Virgin, help us to contemplate, help us to adore, help us to love, to grow in love for him who loved us so much, so as to live eternally with him. 
“Gaze no longer upon your own wounds, gaze upon his. Do not look upon what still separates you from him and from others; look upon the infinite distance he has abolished by taking your flesh, by mounting the Cross which men had prepared for him, and by letting himself be put to death so as to show you his love. In his wounds, he takes hold of you; in his wounds, he hides you.  Do not refuse his love!
“When, on the day after her first communion, a friend of St. Bernadette asked her: ‘What made you happier: your First Communion or the apparitions?’ Bernadette replied, ‘They are two things that go together, but cannot be compared.  I was happy in both.’”

As a Diocese of Des Moines, we remain profoundly grateful for the gift God gave his Church in the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  We remain deeply appreciative of all our hospital chaplains, for parish priests and extraordinary ministers who bring our Eucharistic Lord to the sick and the homebound. Jesus is the medicine of immortality who allows us to gaze upon him, to receive him, to abide in his mercy.  

As Marilynne Robinson’s protagonist, John Ames, in her novel Gilead, proposes:  “Love is holy because it is like grace—the worthiness of its object is never what really matters.”  Every event where God’s love meets our longing is a moment of grace.  The Eucharist is balm for us in our sickness.  Thanks be to God!

Bishop Joensen

The Most Reverend William Joensen is the current bishop for the Diocese of Des Moines, having been ordained and installed in 2019.