Scripture for the Sick or Dying: 1 Corinthians 12:12, 22-27

The Pastoral Care Lectionary offers a long passage from the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians here. This is where a bit more judgment might have helped this selection. In context of ministry with people who are sick and dying, the entirety of the assigned verses, fifteen of them–12-22 and 24-27 are a bit much. In another Liturgy of the Word (Cf. 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, year C) I think the entirety of the passage can make sense. (Though the Lectionary framers give a shorter option.)

My recommendation would be to use a shorter option that gets to the point, namely, that the sick of a faith community are not throwaway folks. They have a role to play, even a ministry to share. Importantly, they express the vocation of their baptism, even from a sickbed, and even at the time of death.

My alteration would use verse 12 as an introduction, then verses 22 through 27 to bash modern notions of infirmity and instead, emphasize the union between believers of different states of life. Specifically here, we are discussing the ties between the healthy and ill, the young and the old, the living and those about to die.

First, an overall reminder of the metaphor Saint Paul utilizes:

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body,
though many, are one body,
so also Christ.

And rather than get sidetracked by the apostle’s examples of body parts, let’s get to the important message for those who are anointed. First, that physical infirmity only seems to be a weakness. Also that our avoidance of ill persons is a problem for the healthy and squeamish, and not a fault of the person who suffers.

Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,

and those parts of the body
that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor,
and our less presentable parts
are treated with greater propriety,

whereas our more presentable parts do not need this.

If we think there is no honor in weakness, that is not a godly judgment. It is a human assessment. It is also a missed opportunity. Dismissing the sick and aged and dying would not seem to be something aligned with the mission of Jesus or the intent of the Father. On the contrary, Saint Paul interprets this as a time to underscore the unity within the faith community. Indeed, it is something to be celebrated, hence the sacramental dimension.

But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Now you are Christ’s body,
and individually parts of it.

If death does not sunder the Christian community (Cf. OCF 6) then a hospital, a sickbed at home, an elder care facility, or a hospice certainly cannot. The Body of Christ is one–this is the Creed professed at Mass. The Church does well when it lives this reality, and when it does not assign the pastoral care of the sick to a specialized few.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Pastoral Care of the Sick, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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