You can learn a great deal studying the lives of the saints and reading their words. Two giants in the field of social service and pastoral care, St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) and St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660), co-founders of the Daughters of Charity, spoke together often about serving the poor and the sick. Here is one of their conversations:
As for your conduct with the sick, may you never take the attitude of merely getting the task done. You must show them affection; serving them from the heart; inquiring of them what they might need; speaking to them gently and compassionately.
Affection. Service. Solicitude. Gentle compassion. This was their advice to their first followers 400 years ago. Good advice then. Good advice still.
February 11, 2018 is the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Sick, the 26th annual observance established by Pope St. John Paul II in 1992 “to be a special time of prayer and sharing.” It coincides with the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which commemorates the site of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, and of many miraculous healings attributed to Mary since her appearance there in 1858. Millions of pilgrims who are ill and their caretakers still travel there each year in the hope of a miracle which, in itself, is miraculous.
This year, our Holy Father Pope Francis has reminded us:
Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power …The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion. Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions. We cannot forget the tender love and perseverance of many families in caring for their chronically sick or severely disabled children, parents and relatives. The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies. Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission. It is a shared responsibility that enriches the value of the daily service given by each (“Message for World Day of the Sick 2018”).
It is important for every Christian to keep uppermost in his/her mind that the Lord Jesus Christ redeemed the world by suffering himself. “Follow me” was his invitation. Throughout his life, prior to his own painful death on the Cross, the Lord Jesus showed special concern for the sick, often touching them, embracing them, comforting them with affection, service, solicitude and gentle compassion. Good actions then. Good actions still.
“When I was sick, you looked after me (Matthew 25:36)” was one of the pathways to eternal life that the Lord Jesus pointed out in the Gospel, one of the ways for us to “follow” him. World Day of the Sick is not merely a commemoration. It is an opportunity to extend the Lord Jesus’ own compassion to our fragile sisters and brothers, suffering in body, mind and soul. We all know someone who is suffering in those ways.
“World Day of the Sick” is also an opportunity for the sick themselves to look at the Lord Jesus on the Cross and to ask him to join their pain and suffering to his own. Yes, it is a reminder to the sick of our human mortality, not as an end but as a means to the immortality he promises to those who believe in him, who trust in him, who hope in him, who love him.
Whether we are well or ill, whether our days may be many or few in God’s plan, whether we care for the sick or are cared for by their affection, service, solicitude and gentle compassion, let our prayer be on this World Day of the Sick the words of St. Paul: “I live by my faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave his life for me (Galatians 2:20).”