“I WAS SICK AND YOU VISITED ME”
by Fr. John E. Taylor (RIP)
Have you ever suffered – or watched friends suffer – an illness of great pain or weakness, or that was life-threatening? If so, the ministrations of the Priest and other friends – merely knowing they were praying – brought comfort which speeded recovery. Some let it be known that visiting sick people is “not their thing”; but should we not be willing to give, as well as accept, such support?
On October 18, Feast of St. Luke, Physician and Evangelist, the Church specially remembers physicians, nurses, and other medical care givers, and their charges. Some parishes, this Sunday after the Feast, continue that observance. Hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and medical schools are included in special thanksgiving and intercession. Chapters of the Order of St. Luke, with continuing healing ministries of prayer, laying on of hands, and anointing with oil, celebrate this time.
From her beginning, the Church has maintained the function of healing instituted by her Founder, the Great Physician. According to St. Mark 16:17, 18, Jesus predicted concerning His Apostles: “….… in my Name …… they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Apostles Peter and Paul performed healings (See the Book of Acts), and it was not by chance that hospitals were first organized by Christian monks and nuns.
Obviously, we need not wait for St. Luke’s Day to visit or pray for the sick. Their names are called during worship: don’t let’s just mutter mechanically, “Lord, have mercy” – let us send up a prayer from the heart that they indeed be healed to give God thanks, and carry on their lives.
The writer of the Epistle of St. James, in admonitions for Christian practice, includes this advice (5:14, 15): “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, the Lord shall raise him up, and if he has committed sins they shall be forgiven him.” This is the basis for the Church’s Sacrament of Holy Unction (anointing the sick with oil).
No one thing, it seems, causes communicants to quit their parish as much as failure to visit them when sick. “I was sick and no one called!” This is a serious indictment. We are supposed to be caring people. Never mind that the complainer never called on fellow sick parishioners himself/herself; this is what he/she expects from pastors and members, and our witness suffers when we neglect this vital ministry.
To come, like Christ Himself, bringing prayer, encouragement (and often healing) into a room of suffering, is a blessing to both patient and minister (Lay or Ordained). In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the King says to the goats on the left, “Depart…….I was sick and in prison, and you did not visit me……”. To the Sheep on the right, He says, “Come ye blessed, into the Kingdom…..for I was sick and in prison, and you visited me……When you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.”