On Friday 19 June 2020 I was officially transferred from Mater Dei Hospital, Malta’s General Hospital, to the Oncology Centre of Sir Anthony Mamo, Malta’s only centre which specializes in cancer treatment.
The move was significant for more than one reason. It is good that in life, from time to time, there is a change. At least one may start realizing that a bit of fresh air is available for him and her, including the pastoral care field. Otherwise one runs the grave risk of being fossilized into one area of the Lord’s vineyard. However, and much more than that, it was essential that I go to the Oncology Centre since I suffer from myeloploriferative disorder. Thus, I am an outpatient patient of haematology. Who can better understand the patients, their families and the staff who attends to their needs more than someone who is swimming within the same waters as they are? Obviously, the fact that my sister Josephine died from cancer in June 2007 and myself had the grace of studying hospital chaplaincy with a specialisation in oncology in Australia continued to validate this move.
When one moves to a new place it is very normal that s/he reminisces all kinds of experiences s/he will be leaving behind. One of them is surely the chapel at Mater Dei. This chapel is resourceful not only because there is the Eucharistic monstrance on the outer façade of the tabernacle, which is overseeing and blessing with infinite love all those who come to pray and adore the Eucharistic Jesus. Additionally, this chapel has the blessing of being adorned with works of contemporary art that really give meaning to those who come to find their solace and courage at the caring gaze of Jesus.
Among the different liturgical signs that are found within its sanctuary such as the marble altar, the ambo and the celebrant’s seat there are two huge horizontal bronze panels which accompany the bronze tabernacle at the centre. The panels, that came from the Domus Dei factory in Rome, are beautifully embellished with twenty-five different Gospel healing scenes worked out by Jesus as faithfully recorded within the Gospels.
On the left panel we encounter the following scenes: the paralytic of Capernaum (Mt 9,1-8; Mk 2,1-12; Lk 5,17-26); the man with a withered hand (Mt 12,9-14; Mk 3, 1-6, Lk 6,6-11); the deaf man with an impediment in his speech (Mk 7,31-37); the servant of the High Priest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22,50-51); the two demoniacs in the land of the Gerasenes (Mt 8,28-34); the sick man by the Sheep Gate of Bethesda (Jn 5,1-15); the healing of the two blind men (Mt 9,27-31); the young boy suffering from epilepsy (Mt 17,14-21; Mk 9,14-29; Lk 9,37-43); the man from Capernaum with an unclean spirit (Mk 1,21-27, Lk 4,31-37); the man cleansed from his leprosy (Mt 8,1-4; Mk 1,40-45); the two blind men from Jericho (Mt 20,29-34); the healing of a dumb demoniac (Mt 9,32-34); and the young man blind from his birth (Jn 9,1-41).
On the opposing panel we come across the subsequent Gospel scenes: A blind and dumb demoniac (Mt 12,22-29; Mk 3,20-30; Lk 11,14-23; 12,10); Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8,14-15; Mk 1,29-31; Lk 4,38-39); the healing of the king’s official son (Jn 4,46-54); the daughter of the Canaanite woman (Mt 15,21-28; Mk 7,24-30); the healing of the ten lepers (Lk 17,12-19); a woman with a spirit of infirmity healed on the Sabbath (Lk 13,10-17); the woman suffering from a haemorrhage (Mt 9,20-22; Mk 5,25-34; Lk 8,43-48); the blind man from Bethsaida (Mk 8,22-26); the man suffering from drops (Lk 14,1-6); the servant of the Roman centurion (Mt 8,5-13); a man with an unclean spirit from Gerasa (Mk 5,1-20; Lk 8,26-39) and the blind man, Bartimaeus (Mk 10,46-52; k 18,35-43).
From these healing scenes one can undoubtedly conclude that Jesus’ healing, as the Gospel portrays it, is both physical and spiritual. Moreover, such a healing obviously affects, as its prime consequence, the psychological too. Pope Francis made some interesting comments concerning this point during his daily homily on January 17 2020 at the morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. While preaching about Jesus’ healing of the paralytic Francis said: “We should take good care of our bodies, but also our souls. Jesus teaches us to go to what is essential. What is essential is health, complete, body and soul”. Then he explained that as a person who is sick tries to find the right doctor to cure that ailment when a person’s spiritual health is in danger, “we go to that physician who can heal us, who can forgive our sins. Jesus came for this reason; he gave his life for this.” In that day’s reading from the Gospel of St. Mark, a paralytic is hoping for physical healing. Nonetheless, Jesus says to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” It was after that his soul was healed that Jesus could tell the man to rise up and walk. What this shows is that “physical healing is a gift, physical health is a gift that we must safeguard. But the Lord teaches us that we must safeguard the health of our hearts — our spiritual health — as well,” said Pope Francis. The first step for every kind of healing is humble acknowledging that one is unwell and let Jesus heal us. “Today Jesus says to each of us, ‘I want to forgive your sins.’”
Mater Dei’s Hospital chapel reminds me of our common quest to find an explanation concerning our big existential question, which relates to the significance of our suffering. In his apostolic letter on the Christian meaning in the face of human suffering, Salvifici Doloris, St. John Paul II says:
“But in order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the ‘why’ of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.
In order to discover the profound meaning of suffering, following the revealed word of God, we must open ourselves wide to the human subject in his manifold potentiality. We must above all accept the light of Revelation not only insofar as it expresses the transcendent order of justice but also insofar as it illuminates this order with Love, as the definitive source of everything that exists. Love is: also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the Cross of Jesus Christ” (no.13).
In front of the insufficiency and inadequacy of human explanations undergone by many people who frequent this holy ground, Mater Dei Chapel boldly and gently offers that necessary space for one to discover the profound meaning of suffering through the Bible and the Eucharistic Jesus who gives it His life-giving tenderness, closeness and silent peace. The huge Cross hanging on the tabernacle, coming from the Sacra Infermeria, or the Grand Hospital of the Knights of St. John, commonly known as the Knights of Malta, reminds those who go to the chapel to pray that Jesus’ transcendent and loving order of justice is the only light which illumines our dark path of making any sense out of our suffering. In the Gospel of St. John Jesus clearly and solemnly affirms: When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32).
Is this not the greatest human and spiritual legacy that each person will be able to carry as s/he faces his and her daily life challenges? Is this legacy not the one I shall be carrying with me wherever Divine Providence will send me to execute the Father’s will in today’s world and church?
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap