February 11 marks the World Day of the Sick. It is also the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (one of many titles for the Virgin Mary). For me, these two commemorations are inextricably linked. Whenever I am in need of healing, I pray to both Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young woman (later a nun) to whom Mary appeared in a grotto near the small town of Lourdes, in Southern France, in 1858.
During the early 2000s, I made several pilgrimages to Lourdes as a chaplain with the Order of Malta, an ancient, worldwide religious order that generously provides free travel for a select number of pilgrims who are ill and seeking healing. (In Lourdes, with great respect they are called les malades, or “the sick.”) And every time I visited Lourdes, it reminded me of the importance of asking for help when we or a loved one is sick.
Catholics are sometimes told it’s not appropriate to ask God for healing, since it’s more important to be grateful for what we have, and since there are others worse off than we are. Well, gratitude is indeed important, and there are always others who are worse off, but how can we not ask God for help in our illness—or for the prayers of Our Lady or St. Bernadette?
Praying for healing can be as simple as asking God directly. When praying for another person’s healing, I often imagine placing the sick person’s hand in Jesus’ hands. However you do it, please don’t feel embarrassed. Feel confident that God wants to know all that you need, even in illness.