Thursday, February 9, 2023

World Day of the Sick, 2023

February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, is also marked in the Church as the annual “World Day of the Sick,” and for both these reasons I have long found particular consolation on this day. My illness hinders me, but all things considered it has not proven to be too difficult to live with. I have endured enough, however, over the years to know how vulnerable and lonely sickness can make a person. Indeed, there is so much suffering in this world, and it cannot be resolved by our efforts to evade or ignore it. In illness, as in everything, Christ is our hope.

In my graphic image, I used an excerpt from some notes of Saint Bernadette, the humble visionary of Lourdes (which accompany the feast day in this month’s Magnificat). They are from her later years, after she learned to read and write and joined the Sisters of Charity. Her own health was frail, and she died of tuberculosis at the age of 35. She was a sufferer who offered her suffering to the Heart of Jesus, in union with His suffering, and for the suffering of others.

In this text she prays: “O most compassionate heart of Jesus, accept all my tears, every cry of pain as an entreaty for those who suffer, for those who weep; for those who forget you. O Mary, Mother of sorrows, at the foot of the cross you received the title of ‘Our Mother.’ I am the child of your sorrow, the child of Calvary. My Jesus, I suffer and I love you. All my cries of anguish rise to you, my Comforter. In your adorable heart I weep. To your heart I confide my sighs, my anguish, my grief to your grief. My Jesus, sanctify my sufferings by this holy union. Grant that by increasing my love for you, my grief may become lighter and easier to bear” (Saint Bernadette).

Pope Francis also has some words in his message forfor this day the recall for us the need to walk together on the path of suffering:
“Brothers and sisters, we are rarely prepared for illness. Oftentimes, we fail even to admit that we are getting older. Our vulnerability frightens us and the pervasive culture of efficiency pushes us to sweep it under the carpet, leaving no room for our human frailty. In this way, when evil bursts onto the scene and wounds us, we are left stunned. Moreover, others might abandon us at such times. Or, in our own moments of weakness, we may feel that we should abandon others in order to avoid becoming a burden. This is how loneliness sets in, and we can become poisoned by a bitter sense of injustice, as if God himself had abandoned us. Indeed, we may find it hard to remain at peace with the Lord when our relationship with others and with ourselves is damaged. It is crucial, then, even in the midst of illness, that the whole Church measure herself against the Gospel example of the Good Samaritan, in order that she may become a true ‘field hospital,’ for her mission is manifested in acts of care, particularly in the historical circumstances of our time. We are all fragile and vulnerable, and need that compassion which knows how to pause, approach, heal, and raise up. Thus, the plight of the sick is a call that cuts through indifference and slows the pace of those who go on their way as if they had no sisters and brothers….

“Experiences of bewilderment, sickness, and weakness are part of the human journey. Far from excluding us from God’s people, they bring us to the centre of the Lord’s attention, for he is our Father and does not want to lose even one of his children along the way. Let us learn from him, then, how to be a community that truly walks together, capable of resisting the throwaway culture.”

~Pope Francis, Message for the 31st Annual World Day of the Sick