Saint Vincent’s Hospital Fairview
MASS OF THANKSGIVING FOR 160 YEARS OF CARING
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Vincent’s Hospital Fairview, 27th November 2017
“We come with this Mass to look back on one hundred and sixty years of caring and service to the sick, remembering in a special way the contribution of the Daughters of Charity to this hospital.
We know little of what constituted mental health care one hundred and sixty years ago. Methods of that time bear little resemblance to what modern psychiatric care means. What we do know something about – from social history – is what it was like to face mental health problems one hundred and sixty years ago. We know of the isolation and the rejection, of the shame and indignity and trauma that people young and old had to face and might have had to face for the entire duration of their lives. One hundred and sixty years ago, Irish communities preferred to keep mental illness well out of sight.
In such a social situation, this hospital became place where people with mental illness were received and cared for. This was a place where the love of Jesus for the sick became visible.
From the sick we learn what faith is. There is that wonderful Gospel story, where Jesus visited his own hometown and his own people rejected him. They thought that they knew Jesus but they had their own limited terms of reference. Jesus was so astounded by their lack of faith that the Gospel notes that “he was unable to work any miracles there”. The Gospel however quickly adds that he did lay his hands on some sick people and cured them.
That Gospel episode is telling us that there is something special in the faith of the sick, from which we have to learn. The faith of the sick allowed the healing power of God to emerge in Jesus. It was the sick who showed faith and those who felt that they knew Jesus from personal acquaintance and who somehow felt that that he should give them a privileged place, had misread what faith is to such a degree that they undermined his ability to work miracles.
The pastoral framework within which the Church encounters the sick is a broader one that just pastoral care addressed to their needs of the moment. In our Gospel reading this afternoon we heard the story of the men who wanted to bring their friend to meet Jesus and hopefully to be healed but could not get near to him because of the crowd. They brought him up to the roof and lowered him down straight in front of Jesus. How did Jesus react: he told the man that his sins were forgiven. The reaction of those around was to ask: who is this who claims that he is able to forgive sins? Only God can forgive sin, they said, so this man, Jesus, must be an imposter. But Jesus responds telling the man that he is cured and the man goes way restored in mind and body.
The lesson here is not to say that somehow the man was sick because of his sinfulness. It was rather to remind his hearers and us that we are only fully healed within ourselves when we are healed body and soul, in our own complete integrity as a human person. Mental health is about the personal integrity of a human person. Our work with the sick must recognise them in the integrity of their being fellow human beings, but must also involve on our part a response through the integrity of our own humanity.
Apart from this occasion, Jesus healed the sick wherever he went. The scriptures remind us that he cured not just the physically sick but also those who were troubled by heavy burdens. He lifted the heavy personal burdens that weighed down on people who had become pray to alienating “false God’s” and were thus unable to realise their God given dignity.
Jesus heals. It is his very nature. Jesus heals wherever people are themselves. He simply heals without any commentary or explanation. Jesus does not resort to any public relations gesture or media strategy when he does good. Jesus does not seek outward recognition for himself for the work of healing that he carries out. In the story of the ten lepers, he turns to the lepers while they are on the other side of the road, while they are still looked on by others in disgrace.
It is interesting that when Jesus heals does not tell those who were healed to leave everything and follow him. He tells them to go back to their communities. We have come around 360 degrees. As I said earlier, one hundred and sixty years ago Irish communities preferred to keep mental illness well out of sight. Now we realise that the care of mental illness belongs in communities and in building communities.
In many ways, our modern societies, despite the progress that marks them, are still wounded and unreconciled societies. Many in our society, despite success and celebrity, urgently long for healing: healing within their own hearts, healing in their relationships with others, healing in the way they interact as a society, healing also in the Church. We live in a society where anxiety rather than interior peace very much marks the life of many of us. My prayer is that the legacy of the past one hundred and sixty years of caring in these buildings will flourish in the years to come out beyond building working to build caring and welcoming communities. They are needed more than ever.”