Visit the sick

With the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes approaching (February 11, the day after Ash Wednesday this year, which is why it might pass somewhat unnoticed), which the Church also dedicates as the World Day of the Sick, it might be good to consider a Corporal Work of Mercy, visiting the sick. 

Pope Francis reminded us in a Nov. 27, 2013 general audience that Jesus demands that we see Him in the sick. “Let us remember that He is present in the weakest and the most needy. [I]n the well known parable of the Last Judgment, He says: ‘I was sick and you visited Me, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Mt 25:35-36, 40).

Since Jesus Himself has warned us that we will be called to account before Him as to whether we visited Him in the sick, we had better make sure that we are doing this. 

On another occasion (nearly a year later, on Nov. 23, 2014 at a canonization Mass) Pope Francis cited the same Biblical verses and explained their connection to our Salvation. “The starting point of Salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ Works of Mercy through which He brought about His Kingdom. The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity. In the twilight of life we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters. Upon this will depend our entry into, or exclusion from, the Kingdom of God: our belonging to the one side or the other. Through His victory, Jesus has opened to us His Kingdom. But it is for us to enter into it, beginning with our life now — His Kingdom begins now — by being close in concrete ways to our brothers and sisters who ask for bread, clothing, acceptance, solidarity, catechesis. If we truly love them, we will be willing to share with them what is most precious to us, Jesus Himself and His Gospel.”

Jesus wants us to visit the sick because they are in particular need of accompaniment. In his message for the 2016 World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis explained, “Illness, above all grave illness, always places human existence in crisis and brings with it questions that dig deep: Why has this happened to me? We can feel desperate, thinking that all is lost, that things no longer have meaning. In these situations, faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus Who walks at our side, weighed down by the cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our mother, who has known this way first hand.”

The Holy Father explained that the Blessed Mother, at the wedding at Cana, displayed her loving concern for others, which she then translated into action. “In Mary’s concern we see reflected the tenderness of God. This same tenderness is present in the lives of all those persons who attend the sick and understand their needs, even the most imperceptible ones, because they look upon them with eyes full of love. How many times has a mother at the bedside of her sick child, or a child caring for an elderly parent, or a grandchild concerned for a grandparent, placed his or her prayer in the hands of Our Lady! For our loved ones who suffer because of illness we ask first for their health. Jesus Himself showed the presence of the Kingdom of God specifically through His healings.”

We are called to be a presence of the Kingdom when we visit the sick. We are similar to the servants at Cana. “These unnamed people in the Gospel teach us a great deal. Not only do they obey, but they obey generously: they fill the jars to the brim (cf. Jn 2:7). They trust the mother and carry out immediately and well what they are asked to do, without complaining, without second thoughts.”

Our visits to the sick, be they in hospitals, nursing homes or their own homes, should be done with love, not grudgingly. Just as we are called to see Christ in them, the way we interact with them should help them to see Christ in us. The pope noted, “On this World Day of the Sick let us ask Jesus in His mercy, through the intercession of Mary, His mother and ours, to grant to all of us this same readiness to serve those in need, and, in particular, our infirm brothers and sisters. At times this service can be tiring and burdensome, yet we are certain that the Lord will surely turn our human efforts into something Divine. We too, whether healthy or sick, can offer up our toil and sufferings like the water which filled the jars at the wedding feast of Cana and was turned into the finest wine. By quietly helping those who suffer, as in illness itself, we take our daily cross upon our shoulders and follow the Master” (cf. Lk 9:23).

Mary is ready and waiting to accompany us on our visits to the sick. Let us go with her.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts