The Pope’s message for this year’s World Day of Peace (February 11, 2012) is available at the Vatican website. For those who do not like the image background of the website and prefer the text on a white background, a copy is found here. Below is an outline of the said message:

Outline of the Pope's Message for World Day of the Sick 2012
  • Introduction
  • Contents of the Letter and The Theme of the Letter (Luke 17:19 in context) (1)
    • He who prays to the Lord in suffering and illness is never alone
    • Physical healing is the outward expression of the deepest salvation
    • The sacraments– each according to its purpose — expresses and actuates the closenss of God; they also express the physicality of our faith which embraces the whole person, body and soul
  • The Sacrament of Penance (2)
    • Medicine of Confession (Reconciliatio et Penitentia)
    • God, rich in mercy, can transform a time of suffering into a time of grace
  • The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick (3)
    • The letter of James gives witness to the presence of this sacrament already in the time of the first Christian community
    • The sacrament leads us to contemplate the double mystery of the Mount of Olives: the mystery of Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will, and the mystery of the Resurrection; the sacrament is God’s medicine pointing to the Resurrection.
    • Greater consideration should be given to the sacrament; it is not to be thought of as a “minor sacrament”
  • The Sacraments of Healing and the Eucharist (4)
    • Received by the sick person, he/she is united in a special way to the redemptive act of Christ
    • The Church should guarantee that communion is received by those who by reason of age or health cannot go to a place of worship
    • Those priests working in hospitals and nursing homes should feel that they are “ministers of the sick” — signs and instruments of Christ’s compassion
  • Viaticum, “the medicine of immortality and antidote for death” (St. Ignatius of Antioch
  • Final Words (5)
    • The Year of Faith
    • Final Exhortation
    • Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick

Right at the beginning of the message, the Pope already provides us a bare outline when he writes: “I would like to place emphasis upon the ‘sacraments of healing’, that is to say, upon the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and that of the Anointing of the Sick, which have their natural completion in the Eucharist.” Thus, the topics in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4. He immediately follows this up with a reflection on Luke 17:11-19, the episode of the healing of ten lepers, of which one — a Samaritan — came back to thank the Lord. To this one, the Lord says: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you. (v. 19)” The mention of faith here anticipates what the Pope will say in paragraph n. 5 where he explains the connection of this celebration with that of the Year of Faith which starts in October of this year.

At the center of the message is the assertion that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God “must be a process of healing”. He writes

The principal task of the Church is certainly proclaiming the Kingdom of God, “but this very proclamation must be a process of healing: ‘bind up the broken-hearted’ (Isaiah 61:1) according to the charge entrusted by Jesus to his disciples (cf. Luke 9:1-2; Mt. 10:1,5-14; Mk. 6:7-13). The tandem of physical health and renewal after the lacerations of the soul thus helps us to understand better the ‘sacraments of healing.'”

The Pope says nothing new about the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as he draws his inspiration from the Catechism of the Church and John Paul’s “Reconciliatio et Penitentia”. He does however give a special emphasis on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick as God’s “medicine” and its fruit in the suffering: the special participation in the redemptive act of Christ (4). I think that the discussion on the relationship of this sacrament to the two-fold mystery of the Garden of Olives is new. Here the Pope makes reference to his homily from the Chrism mass he celebrated in 2010

This double mystery of the Mount of Olives is also always “at work” within the Church’s sacramental oil. In four sacraments, oil is the sign of God’s goodness reaching out to touch us: in baptism, in confirmation as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, in the different grades of the sacrament of holy orders and finally in the anointing of the sick, in which oil is offered to us, so to speak, as God’s medicine – as the medicine which now assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation, yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection (cf. Jas 5:14). Thus oil, in its different forms, accompanies us throughout our lives: beginning with the catechumenate and baptism, and continuing right up to the moment when we prepare to meet God, our Judge and Saviour. [Source]

I think however that the Pope’s pastoral recommendations with regards to the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is too important to pass over:

  1. that the sacrament should not be considered as a “minor” sacrament
  2. that those who by age or health cannot go to Mass should frequently receive communion and that the community of faith should guarantee that they do so
  3. that the priests who give their services to hospitals, nursing homes and the homes of the sick are (made?) to feel that they are truly “ministers of the sick”

Interesting for me are the references to Augustine who is the only Father, apart from Ignatius of Antioch, referred to in the message. The first reference is a direct quotation from Enarrationes in Ps. 102 (103):3-5 where Augustine talks about God as a doctor. Below is the direct quote (underlined) within its context.

This is the infirmity (= sin, from the previous line): but God heals all your diseases. Fear not therefore: all your diseases will be healed. And if you say that they are great, know that the doctor who cures them is greater. For a doctor with infinite power there is no such thing as an incurable disease. Just allow him to take care of you and you should not refuse His hands, for He knows what to do. And you shouldn’t only be pleased when he soothes the sore, but you should also bear the pain of the medicine, thinking of future recovery. …The doctor sometimes is mistaken, promising to cure a human body. And why is he mistaken? Because he does not cure something that has been created by him. But God made your body, your soul he created. And He knows how to recreate what he has created and to reform what He has formed. It is enough that you entrust yourself to the hands of this Doctor, because he hates those who reject His hands… (T)he God, who created you, cares for you in a way that is secure and gratuitous. Put yourself into his hands therefore, oh soul who blesses Him and do not forget his “retributions”: for He heals all your diseases.

The second reference is an allussion to Letter 95. The Pope makes the allussion after inviting pastors to be like the Good Shepherd “full of joy, attentive to the weakest, the simple and sinners, expressing the infinite mercy of God with reassuring words of hope.” The part of Letter 95 alluded to is Augustine’s explanation as to why he cannot — even if he wanted to “so as to delight (fruetur)” in his presence — visit his correspondent. He writes:

But our chains would not allow it — (the chains) by which we are tied up in serving the weakness of the sick and not deprive them of our physical presence, except in cases where we are forced by circumstances all the more compelling, the more dangerous the conditions of their disease. Whether this is a test or a punishment — I do not know. But I know that God does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor punish us in proportion to our iniquities. He knows how to mix consolation with sorrows and creates a wonderful medicine so that we do not love the world, yet at the same time not lack anything in this world (ne amemus mundum, ne deficiamus in mundo).

Sed id vincula nostra non ferrent, quibus religati sumus infirmorum servire languoribus. The chains that bind to the service of the suffering … this is how the Pope underlines the responsibility of the priest towards those who need healing.