By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
LEAWOOD, Kan. — Sometimes, even an archbishop needs an extra push before he takes the plunge.
Such was the case of Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann as he led a pilgrimage to Lourdes, he told the congregation at the annual Mass for the Anointing of the Sick, sponsored by the Knights and Dames of Malta, March 7 at Cure of Ars Parish, with Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn serving as principal celebrant.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann told how concerned he was about taking the baths at Lourdes, when he heard it was “not considered essential to having a very fruitful pilgrimage.”
“This was music to my ears,” he said. “I had heard from others that the water at Lourdes was very cold.”
But in the van on their way, Little Sister of the Lamb Marie Jean spoke of her experience in those waters.
“Ah the baths!” she said. “What a wonderful experience! The baths are an opportunity to let go of all fears and pretentions and entrust yourself in faith totally to the Lord!”
“I am thinking, ‘Sister, I wish you were not saying these things,’” Archbishop Naumann said. “I did go into the baths, and indeed it was a grace-filled moment.”
The same pilgrimage included Fatima, where the archbishop witnessed a miracle.
Each of the pilgrims with the archbishop was given a speaker with an earphone for the right ear, “where they could hear our guide and catechist speak about the meaning of the apparitions of Fatima.”
“One of our pilgrims had been deaf in her right ear for 20 years,” Archbishop Naumann said. “She placed the earphone on her right ear, hoping somehow she would hear something. To her amazement, when we walked into the Square of Fatima, she could hear everything perfectly.
“She had not been praying for healing of her hearing. In fact, she had other intentions for healings for other people,” he said. “Her daughter and niece were also with the pilgrimage. They were amazed that their mother and aunt was now able to hear with her right ear.”
But what really struck the archbishop, especially at Lourdes, was the way that the sick and suffering were treated with “reverence and dignity.”
“They are the celebrities of Lourdes,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“In the candlelight procession, it is the sick that are given the place of honor. Everything at Lourdes is arranged to give the sick and disabled priority,” he said.
“They are honored and respected at Lourdes as individuals who are closest to Jesus because in some way they have been called to be near the Crucified Lord,” the archbishop said.
Thus it is at the annual Mass, held at Cure of Ars for 19 years, with the bishops and priests of the two Kansas City dioceses ministering to the sick, the elderly, and the disabled of both dioceses with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, in the 900-year tradition of caring for the sick of the Knights and Dames of Malta.
“Each year, the Knights and Dames of Malta through this Anointing Mass attempt to bring the spirit of Lourdes to Kansas City,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“Each year, this Mass is a moment for our local churches to express our esteem and love for those in our community whom the Crucified Lord is asking to be near him,” he said.
“We hope that among the many graces that come from our liturgy today, that each one who has come for the Anointing understands and appreciates how important you are to our church,” the archbishop said.
“We do not have to go to the baths of Lourdes to strip ourselves of pride and pretension, and to entrust confidently our needs and the needs of those we love to Jesus,” he said.
Archbishop Naumann noted that March 7 was the Feast of Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, brutally martyred in the amphitheater in Carthage in 203.
“In the Office of Readings for their feast, we have a text of a contemporary description of the martyrs of Carthage. The reading begins: ‘The day of the martyrs’ victory dawned. They marched from their cells into the amphitheater as if into heaven with cheerful looks and graceful bearing. If they trembled, it was for joy and not fear,’” he said.
“Each time we receive a sacrament, it is a moment to experience the unconditional love of God for us,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“We pray for those being anointed today, and for all of us as we receive Our Lord in the Eucharist that we will be penetrated in a new and powerful way with his love for us,” he said.
“May our awareness of God’s love overshadow the sufferings of our life and give us the courage to be heroic and joyful witnesses of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Naumann said.