By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun
PHOENIX – Bridget Dickinson has been grappling with the movement in her hands for some time.
“I haven’t been able to make a fist with my hands,” she explained after the Diocese of Phoenix’s annual World Day of the Sick Mass on Sat., Feb. 4.
On Friday, the day before the Mass, Dickinson was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
“My husband said, ‘You have to go.’”
The next day, the St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner, wife, and mother of two came forward along with dozens of worshippers at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick during the Mass. The rite is celebrated yearly as part of World Day of the Sick Feb. 11. The observance began in 1992 by St. John Paul II to encourage prayers of the faithful for the ill and infirm and to raise awareness about their plight.
The late pontiff, who instituted the occasion a year after he was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, wanted the faithful to see Christ in a sick brother or sister.
Feb. 11 is also the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, the title of the Virgin Mary recalling her series of appearances to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858.
The Sovereign Order of Malta, one of the world’s oldest Catholic lay-religious organizations, plans and oversees the current Mass. Established in 1113, the Order’s mission — reflected in its motto, Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum — is nurturing, witnessing, and defending the faith and serving the poor and the sick.
A THEME OF HOPE
Saturday’s Mass began with the traditional procession, led by an escort of eight Knights.
They were followed by roughly two dozen other Knights and Dames from the Order of Malta’s Phoenix Location. The escorts, fitted crisply in their black berets, suit jackets with white sashes, and trousers, each had a firm grasp on a shiny silver sword. The remaining Knights and Dames followed, their black capes emblazoned with the white eight-point Maltese cross.
“Hope is our theme,” explained Phoenix Location Leader John Even, KM, prior to Mass. “We’re trying to bring hope to people, especially people who have been struggling, people who have been sick for many years.”
For the last several years, the Mass has been televised worldwide via EWTN, the global Catholic network.
“We anticipate 1-2 million homes (will be) reached globally,” Even said.
Bishop John P. Dolan, celebrating his first World Day of the Sick Mass as the diocese’s new leader, greeted the congregation, saying, “Christ is always present when we gather in His name. May the sick be restored to health by the gift of His mercy and made whole in His fullness.”
The bishop later expounded on the principle of God’s mercy and love – not punishment – in the midst of one’s suffering.
“God does not focus in the wrong we do in the way we might focus on it,” he said.
God is not “watching us, kind of like Santa Claus, who you better watch out for.
“No, He wants [us] to embrace Him as our Heavenly Father, with the wonderful gift of becoming His sons and daughters – a reflection of His grace that is not only restorative but also renewing,” the bishop told the roughly 300 worshippers.
He explained that while people have corruptible physical bodies, there is an incorruptible gift awaiting believers at the end of their earthly journey: a destination described in the day’s second reading from the first letter of St. Peter, as “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1:4).
“All things will be made well in a way we can’t even imagine,” Bishop Dolan said. “But we can’t get our way into Heaven. It’s Christ Jesus who does that. We [on our own] always come up short.”
Still, while on Earth, physical healing is possible through the work of God, God-gifted health care professionals, and modern medicine.
So is spiritual restoration, the bishop said, through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
“Conferred by anointing with oil and pronouncing the words prescribed in the liturgical books, the Church commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord,” according to Canon 998 in the Code of Canon Law.
A broad background and teaching can be found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Part 2, Chapter 2, Article 5, titled “The Anointing of the Sick.”
The Sacrament is rooted in Scripture, where the Book of James states, “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
Congregants, some with visible conditions, others not readily apparent, came to the front of the sanctuary. Many caregivers came forth as well.
Each was anointed on their forehead and palms of their hands, with a prayer: “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
A Prayer for the Sick from Catholic Charities USA
“God of all goodness, Look with mercy on all who suffer any kind of infirmity, sickness or injury, that they may be comforted. Let your hand of healing and protection be upon them. When they are fearful, ease their fear and anxieties. When they are afraid, give them strength and courage. When they feel alone, send them someone to listen and to care. When they are confused, provide reassurance and direction. When they are in pain, ease their suffering. When they despair, give them hope. May they experience your healing presence in the comfort of a caregiver’s calm gaze and tender touch. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.”
‘VERY POWERFUL’ EXPERIENCE
Bridget Dickinson described it as a “very powerful” experience.
“I felt the Holy Spirit just wash over me. I was moved to tears,” she said. “I haven’t been able to make a fist with my hands, and I’m kind of starting to now.”
Others found it similarly profound.
Delfina Caldera of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Queen Creek, who speaks no English, is wheelchair-bound with a debilitating spine condition that her family said eventually will lead to full paralysis. She came with the hope of slowing that progression, said Diego Lara, a family member.
“It’s unexplainable,” Lara said, translating for Delfina.
“She felt relief, joy; a lot of emotions were brought forth,” he said.
Ray Cruz, from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale, brought his wife, Elizabeth.
“She has had cancer, back surgery, and two surgeries on her knee. We’re praying for her,” he said.
For Gilbert resident Larry Dorame, a longtime parishioner of St. Timothy in Mesa, the Mass was the latest step in a journey of numerous medical problems. Now in his 30s, Dorame was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Chemotherapy damaged some internal organs, requiring surgery to re-route his digestive system.
“It’s been hard. I’ve been coming to the Mass for the last 4 years. It really touches us and gives us the spiritual uplift we need,” he said, accompanied by his wife, Casey, and their two daughters.
Casey Dorame said she was overwhelmed by the anointing.
“As soon as [Bishop Dolan’s] hands were placed on my head, I felt warmth. I felt the Holy Spirit fill my body, I felt immediately blessed and loved. I know that’s Christ’s love coming through the bishop. I feel incredibly blessed.”
BRINGING LOURDES TO PHOENIX
The Dorames said they also have been blessed by the prayers of the Order of Malta.
And they’re hoping for yet another boost through the lay organization.
Every year, the Order’s Western U.S. Association organizes a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, site of a grotto said to possess miraculous healing waters. The grotto marks the site where 14-year-old St. Bernadette Soubirous experienced a series of appearances by the Virgin Mary.
A Prayer for Family Caregivers from the Catholic Health Association
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
Healer of souls and comforter of the weary, help to lighten the burden of families who are caring for their sick loved ones. Accompany them on their journey and ease their anxiety and fears. Surround them with the love and strength of others, so they may experience the healing presence of the communion of saints. We ask this through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes and in the name of your Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
During one of those visits, Bernadette said she was asked by Mary for penance and to pray for the conversion of sinners. The next day, she directed Bernadette to dig the ground near the grotto. Bernadette did so, leading to a spring that is still used today by pilgrims to Lourdes. A basilica was consecrated near the site in 1876, and thousands visit the grotto each year. The Western Association travels in May.
The Association pays the entire cost for the ill and infirm, known as “malades.” Those individuals are permitted to bring one caregiver.
“Our application period for malades takes place in the Fall,” said Tim Jeffries, KM, the chancellor of the Western Association. “Applications need to be completed prior to Thanksgiving, they go through various vetting committees that evaluate the ‘cross’ people carry, their ability to travel across the Atlantic, and their faithfulness,” he explained.
“I encourage all members of the Diocese to pray for each other because we are all broken and sick in different ways. If someone is suffering the greatest physical brokenness, which probably comes with emotional brokenness, then find us, and perhaps Mary will call you to Lourdes.”
The association is scheduled to select its latest group of pilgrims by early March.
Those who don’t make the pilgrimage will still have a voice – through the Order – at the revered holy site.
Prayer cards distributed prior to Saturday’s Mass were filled out and will be taken by the Order to Lourdes on its upcoming May pilgrimage. The Order also took over 1,000 requests via its website and will deliver them to the grotto.
The public can still submit prayer requests online. John Even, the Phoenix Location Leader, said the Order also distributed vials of Lourdes holy water after Mass.
“They may not be able to go to Lourdes, [so] what we’re trying to do is bring Lourdes to them here in Phoenix,” he said.