Mk 5.21-43                Wis 1.13-15, 2.23-24            2Cor 8.7,9,13-15

As you well know, these days, we have a regular anointing Mass, which boosts the morning Mass numbers at St Therese’s, for one thing, but maybe the added incentive of a substantial morning tea afterward and opportunity for social engagement also help, which is all part of what parish community and friendship is about!  I prefer not to call it a healing Mass, as I am not providing any guarantee of magical recovery from whatever is affecting us. For  most of us, the ageing body is a reality, about which we can’t do much, in fact, nothing, except to fantasize  about turning the clock back to when we were in our prime, which is not altogether practical, is it?!

What is certain, however, is that the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, formerly known as Extremunction, only to be used as last gasp before death, is now frequently administered to those who are afflicted in any way, whether by age or illness or infirmity, or facing serious surgery.  No longer is it seen that the priest approaching with the holy oils is a sign of the Grim Reaper hiding around the corner, with his scythe!  For example, we had over 100 here for our anointing Mass a few weeks ago, with no hesitation about coming up for the sacrament.

There is still a lingering fear among some, however,  that this is still suggesting the end is near, and so anointing is not called for until the person is comatose, so as not to scare that person to death!!  To me, this is counter-productive, as it is meant to be a sacrament which can help bring comfort and peace of mind to the individual being anointed.  This is the aspect and experience that I find people appreciate when we offer anointing regularly these days, along with Communion, or Eucharist, as the Bread of Life, or as I like to put it (in Frank Molony SDB’s terms)  Bread for the Broken, to give us spiritual strength in facing up to the challenges of day to day life, and, along with anointing, physical and/or emotional frailty.

Today’s Gospel scene highlights faith in Jesus and hope in his powers of healing.  Here is a desperate loving father, whose daughter is critically ill.  His position is significant, in that he’s a senior synagogue official, concerned with the Jewish community’s religious and  social affairs, but has no hesitation in approaching Jesus, the itinerant preacher, out on the road.  Whilst many of the Temple police, so to speak, were sceptical, if not downright hostile towards Jesus and his ministry, from the start,   Jairus (which means ‘may he enlighten’, although he is the enlightened one in approaching Jesus!)  has no inhibitions at all, just hope that Jesus will respond in sensitivity and compassion, which, of course, he does.

At the same time, in between the initial appeal from Jairus and reaching his house to see his daughter, Jesus encounters the woman suffering from a long-term haemorrhage, who reaches out unsolicited to touch his cloak, and is healed.  Jesus has no problem with the presumption back then that such a person having any sort of physical contact made the other unclean, but rather commends her faith.  Meanwhile, Jairus’s faith is tested by the need to wait, despite the urgency he feels.  And there may be some significance to the fact the older woman has suffered for the 12 years the little girl has lived, so the former is relieved and recovers first of all!

By the time Jesus gets to the destination, family and friends are weeping and wailing outside, presuming the little girl has already died.   Whatever about the details, it seems clear enough that Jesus has no hesitation in approaching her, accompanied by his inner circle of Peter, James and John.  Her recovery is immediate and the crowds are amazed, with a relieved and happy Jairus vindicated for his trust in Jesus. So we have a happy ending here, as Jesus continues his itinerant ministry, not seeking adulation or kudos, but faith in his words and actions.

This Gospel also must touch deeply those who have suffered the death of a child, something so traumatic and sad that there will always be a sense of enduring sadness and loss, which can never be deleted, but something they have to learn to live with as life goes on. There is no denying the pain, hopefully tempered by faith and happy memories.  At least these days too, there is a better psychological understanding of the need for openness and discussion, as well as counselling,  to help provide relief for the inner pain. I see this acknowledged in our memorial garden outside St Therese’s Church, where there is a section for the names of children who have died in the past, and still lovingly remembered.

We can all hope and pray for healing and good health, but it’s partly the luck of the draw, given our genetics and environment.  Whatever, in the end, we all have to face our mortality, doing our best in the meantime to make the most of our opportunities and time, to do good and make a positive difference to our world and the lives of others, as we too, follow in the way of  Jesus, doing what we can, in our own small but significant and worthwhile way.

Claude Mostowik MSC also has something useful to say (as usual!): “Today’ gospel challenges any behaviour that withholds dignity, compassion or generosity and challenges us to change and recognise how the smallest acts of connection and service can contribute to healing and peace. The woman at the centre of the story moved from anonymity and invisibility to identity and dignity. Her liberation, healing and restoration result from her daring to interrupt the ‘silence of injustice’. Given the social dynamics of the day, her actions were audacious… There are no worthy or unworthy, or winners and losers, for Jesus. The poor are not cured at the expense of the rich, or vice versa. We are all loved; we all get new chances at life, (but not always!).  The only thing standing in the way of our ability to enter this new reign is our choice, and our ability to respond to Jesus’ challenge: ‘Do not fear, only believe’ (Mk 5.36)… Hope must be accompanied by unwavering faith and radical action.”

As one of my old university friends, Neil (for whom I was best man), texted me today, having earlier tragically lost a son at 38, and father of 2 young children: “Celebrate LIFE. This includes those that have died.”

john hannon                                                                 30th  June 2024

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