I suppose most of you reading these words have at one time or another visited a hospital. Perhaps you have even spent a few days in the hospital, or maybe you were just visiting a friend. I visit a lot of hospitals and I have come to recognize the beauty of the Catholic hospitals. There is something different about a Catholic hospital. You feel it immediately. Perhaps it is a tangible and living extension of our faith put into action. Bishop Murphy writes that “Catholic health care is one of the greatest contributions of the Church to our nation.” The “Mission Statement” of Catholic Health Care “advocates for the poor and under-served, and serves the common good. It conducts its health care with respect for the dignity of each person.” This dignity begins at conception through to natural death.
Our Diocese here on Long Island has the most hospitals of any diocese in the country. You of course make that possible by your support each year to the Catholic Ministries Appeal. Our 6 hospitals provide 2000 hospital beds and 800 nursing home beds. The Long Island Catholic hospitals employ over 17,000 people and 3,000 volunteers with revenues exceeding $2.3 billion. Our Catholic hospitals on Long Island admit 85,000 patients per year and deliver 6,000 babies. They visit over 300,000 homes per year and see more than a quarter of a million people in the emergency room each year. On a daily basis, we care for over 2,000 individuals with special needs and substance abuse. And that is just on Long Island! It was the Catholic Church that invented hospitals and we built the first hospital as early as the 4th century.
For the last 25 years, the month of February has been designated by the Catholic Church as the “Month of the Sick.” Saint John Paul designated February because it also contains the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes—that most holy temple of human suffering built specifically for the sick. Everything about Lourdes was designed around the needs of the sick and infirm. Saint John Paul asks us this month in particular to be mindful of the sick and those who care for them: doctors, nurses, EMTs, caregivers; workers in hospitals, clinics, hospices, leprosaria, centers for the disabled and nursing facilities. He asks us to see in the face of the sick, the face of Jesus-God who suffered with us and for us. He is the God who died with us and for us so that we might join Him in His victory over suffering and death.
Saint John Paul asks us to remind those who suffer that—without the Cross—suffering is absurd and meaningless. With the Cross, we unite our suffering with the victorious Christ. I remember the story of the priest who was visiting a dying man. Whenever the priest stood at the foot of the bed the man became agitated. The man would thrash around. His wife explained that when the priest stood at the foot of his bed he was blocking the view of the crucifix. The dying man could not see the crucifix and thus became restless. He was only comforted in knowing that he was not suffering alone, that Jesus-God was suffering right along with him.
Saint John Paul II gives us the final litmus test of our own greatness. He asks us to consider that “love for the suffering is the sign and measure of a civilization of a people. How we care for the weakest and most vulnerable is the indicator of the greatness of that nation.”
Please remember the sick and those who care for them for the remainder of this Month of the Sick.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon