One is only your Master and all of you are brothers (Mt 23:8). The relationship of trust, the foundation of caring for the sick
Dear brothers and sisters:
The celebration of the Twenty-ninth World Day of the Sick, which will take place on 11 February 2021, the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, is an auspicious time to provide special attention to sick people and caregivers, both in places intended for their assistance and within families and communities.
I am thinking, in particular, of those who suffer around the world from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. To all, especially the poorest and most marginalized, I express my spiritual closeness, while I assure you of the Church’s request and affection.
1. The theme of this Day is inspired by the Gospel passage in which Jesus criticizes the hypocrisy of those who say but do not (cf. Mt 23:1-12). When faith is limited to sterile verbal exercises, without getting involved in the history and needs of others, the coherence between professed creed and real life is weakened.
The risk is serious; for this reason, Jesus uses strong expressions, to warn us of the danger of falling into the idolatry of ourselves, and affirms, “One alone is your teacher and all of you are brothers” (v. 8).
The criticism that Jesus directs to those who “say, but do not do” (v. 3) is beneficial, always and for all, because no one is immune to the evil of hypocrisy, a very serious evil, the effect of which is to prevent us from flourishing as children of the one Father, called to live a universal fraternity.
Faced with the condition of need of a brother or sister, Jesus shows us a pattern of behavior totally opposed to hypocrisy. He proposes to stop, listen, establish a direct and personal relationship with the other, feel empathy and shock for him or her, let himself be involved in his suffering until he comes to take care of him through service (cf. Lk 10:30-35).
2. The experience of the disease makes us feel our own vulnerability and, at the same time, the innate need of the other. Our status as creatures becomes even sharper and we evidently experience our dependence on God.
Indeed, when we are sick, uncertainty, fear, and sometimes dismay take over the mind and heart; we are in a situation of helplessness, because our health does not depend on our capacities or that we “anguish” ourselves (cf. Mt 6:27).
Sickness imposes a question for meaning, which in faith is directed to God; a question that seeks new meaning and a new direction for existence, and sometimes may not find an immediate answer. Our same friends and family can’t always help us in this job search.
In this regard, Job’s biblical figure is emblematic. His wife and friends are not able to accompany him in his inconvenience, moreover, they accuse him by increasing in him loneliness and bewilderment. Job falls into a state of abandonment and misunderstanding. But precisely through this extreme fragility, rejecting all hypocrisy and choosing the path of sincerity with God and with others, he brings his insistent cry to God, who in the end responds, opening up a new horizon for him.
It confirms that his suffering is not a condemnation or punishment, nor is it a state of remoteness from God or a sign of his indifference. Thus, from Job’s wounded and healed heart, that moved statement springs to the Lord, which resonates with energy: “I knew you only by hearing, but now my eyes have seen thee” (42:5).
3.The disease always has one face, even more than one: it has the face of every sick and sick person, also of those who feel ignored, excluded, victims of social injustices who deny their fundamental rights (cf. Letter enc. Fratelli tutti, 22). The current pandemic has brought to light numerous inadequacies in health systems and gaps in the care of sick people. The elderly, the weakest and most vulnerable are not always guaranteed access to treatment, and it is not always equitably.
This depends on political decisions, how resources are managed, and the commitment of those in positions of responsibility. Investing resources in care and care for sick people is a priority linked to a principle: health is a primary common good.
At the same time, the pandemic has also highlighted the dedication and generosity of health workers, volunteers, workers, priests, religious and women who, with professionalism, selflessness, a sense of responsibility and love for others have helped, cared for, comforted and served so many sick people and their families. A silent crowd of men and women who have decided to look at those faces, taking care of the wounds of patients, who felt neighbors by belonging to the same human family.
Closeness, in fact, is a very valuable balm, providing support and comfort to those who suffer in the disease. As Christians, we live prosperity as an expression of the love of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, who with compassion has become close to every human being, wounded by sin. United to Him by the action of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be merciful as the Father and to love, in particular, the sick, weak and suffering brethren (cf. Jn 13:34-35). And we live this closeness, not only in a personal way, but also in a communal way: indeed, fraternal love in Christ generates a community capable of healing, which abandons no one, which includes and welcomes above all the most fragile.
In this regard, I would like to recall the importance of fraternal solidarity, which is expressed in a concrete way in service and which can take on very different forms, all aimed at sustaining one’s neighbour. “Serving means caring for the fragile of our families, our society, our people” (Homily in Havana, 20 September 2015).
In this commitment each is able to “set aside his quests, eagerness, desires for omnipotence in the concrete gaze of the most fragile. […] The service always looks at the brother’s face, touches his flesh, feels his friendhood and even in some cases ‘suffers’ it and seeks the promotion of the brother. That is why service is never ideological, because it is not used for ideas, but is served to people” (ibid.).
4. For good therapy, the relational aspect is decisive, where a holistic approach to the sick person can be adopted. Giving value to this aspect also helps doctors, nurses, professionals and volunteers take care of those who suffer to accompany them on a path of healing, thanks to an interpersonal relationship of trust (cf. New Charter of Health Workers , n. 4).
It is therefore a question of establishing a pact between those in need of care and those who care for them; a pact based on mutual trust and respect, sincerity, availability, to overcome any defensive barrier, put the dignity of the sick at the centre, protect the professionalism of health workers and maintain a good relationship with patients’ families.
Precisely this relationship with the sick person finds an inexhaustible source of motivation and strength in Christ’s charity, as evidenced by the millennial witness of men and women who have been sanctified by serving the sick. Indeed, from the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection springs the love which can give full meaning to both the condition of the patient and that of the caregiver.
The Gospel bears witness to this many times, showing that the healings that Jesus made are never magical gestures, but are always the result of an encounter, of an interpersonal relationship, in which the gift of God offered by Jesus corresponds to the faith of the one who welcomes him, as summarized by the word that Jesus often repeats: “Your faith has saved you”.
5. Dear brothers and sisters: The commandment of love, which Jesus left to his disciples, also finds a concrete realization in the relationship with the sick. A society is all the more human the more it knows how to care for its fragile and suffering members, and it knows how to do it efficiently animated by fraternal love.
Let us walk towards this goal, making sure that no one is left alone, that no one feels excluded or abandoned.
I entrust mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the sick, all sick people, health workers and those who prodite thee next to those who suffer. May she, from the Grotto of Lourdes and from the countless shrines dedicated to her throughout the world, sustain our faith and hope, and help us take care of each other with fraternal love. I cordially impart my blessing to each and every one of you.
Rome, St. John lateran, 20 December 2020, fourth Sunday of Advent.