Mass at Bethlehem Hospital, South Caulfield

Celebrated by Archbishop Denis Hart
on Thursday, 22nd November, 2001, at 11.30am


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I rejoice at being with you in this place of healing which, for so many years under the Little Company of Mary, has also been a wonderful opportunity for dedicated Christian service.

On this day when we celebrate the feast of Saint Cecilia, who witnessed by the giving of her blood and suffering to the faith, we ask that we may give of ourselves in service of our brothers and sisters.

Let us call to mind our sins.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In his exhortation to the laity of the Church in 1988, Pope John Paul makes the startling comment, "People are called to joy. Nevertheless, each day they experience many forms of suffering and pain." (Apostolic Exhortation, Christi Fideles Laici, 53).

The fact that Jesus Christ came, lived, died and rose again gives us a promise that we will be delivered from the sufferings, which attend our human condition. Yet, as you here in hospital know so much better than I do, suffering strikes all types of people without any respect for their person and their condition.

The doctors, nursing staff, those who make pastoral visits, those who work in the kitchen, those who clean, the administrators, the executives, all here at Bethlehem Hospital have made a commitment to the relief of suffering and to the well-being of the whole human person.

Having been a patient here once as a small boy and having had relatives of close friends spend their last days here, I remember with esteem and respect the magnificent work which all of you do to relieve suffering, to bring compassion and to use the various skills that you have in service of others.

The purpose of Bethlehem Hospital is indeed healing from sickness. Jesus' encounter with the sick during his public ministry was not an isolated event, but something which was continual.

"Jesus went around to all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, curing every disease and illness." (Matthew 9.35)

These healings are signs of Our Lord's mission as our Messiah and Saviour and they show the victory of the kingdom of God over every kind of evil and are a symbol of the restoration to health of our whole person - body and soul. They show not merely a bodily healing, but a power to forgive sins and bring peace of body and spirit, which is integral to the Church's mission.

For those here who suffer the Church not only welcomes the sick as recipients of her loving care, but also recognises that they suffering like Jesus who suffered on the cross, are called to live their human and Christian vocation to expand the kingdom of God. When Saint Paul says, "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's sufferings for the sake of his body, that is the Church" (Colossians 1.24), we have a new awareness that all suffering is not a deadening, purposeless fact, but something which can bring healing and freedom to other people.

I know from my own personal experience visiting the sick, that I have often gone to a hospital slightly unwilling and yet have been enriched by the courage and dedication both of those patients who suffer and also of the spirit of service, cheerfulness and giving of all whom I have encountered. Pope John Paul in his Exhortation to Lay People says, "Many of the sick can become bearers of the joy inspired by the Holy Spirit in great affliction and be witnesses to Jesus' resurrection." (Apostolic Exhortation, Christi Fideles Laici, 53)

While I congratulate you on the magnificent work that you do with skill, dedication and medical knowledge, I think we all need to remember the importance of care for the whole person. Above all our Catholic hospitals are dedicated to excellence in clinical skill and in personal care. They must also be dedicated in the respect for the dignity of the human person, which shows itself in every dealing with a human person, just as we respect the individuality of each person who comes into our contact. The spiritual needs of these persons by the work of your chaplain and others who minister spiritually to people is a reminder of the need of every one of us to be alert to the spiritual because the body and spirit are themselves united with each other. This of course is in itself an illustration of the way in which Jesus gave the power to heal illnesses to his apostles as the first preachers of the Gospel.

Spiritual care is essentially linked to the clinical and technical skill of medical healing, which is performed in such an exemplary way here in Bethlehem Hospital.

We would do well to remember the power of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, which is conferred on a person who is in some probable danger of death or approaching surgery, with the purpose of either preparation for that death or for healing. The words of Saint James, "Is anyone sick among you? Let him call for the priests of the Church and have them 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 will raise him up. If he has committed any sins he will be forgiven." (James 5:14.15) contain some remarkable words.

The line - the prayer of faith will save the sick person - indicates the action of lifting up a person who is lying down because of illness by a wondrous healing. Truly the work that is performed here is mysterious, uplifting and hope giving.

Even in the face of the difficulties of our time, we too above all must be bearers of hope, compassionate servants with all our skill of those precious human beings who are in our care, filled with an awareness that the skilled and yet mysterious work which we perform here is indeed the most precious for all human beings. Congratulations on all that you are doing.


+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.
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