Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
Pope Francis on Sunday 12 June celebrated the Jubilee of the Sick and Disabled calling for solidarity and mutual acceptance in a world in a world that is obsessed with the perfection of appearances and it turns away from fraility and illness.
The Pope’s words came during his homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of thousands of sick and disabled people and their caregivers. Reminding the faithful that “even sickness, suffering and death are taken up in Christ and in him find their ultimate meaning”.
Pope Francis said that “each of us, sooner or later, is called to face – at times painfully – frailty and illness, both our own and those of others”. And he said that “it is thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment”. The Argentinean Pontiff also said that “in an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model”.
And warning against the culture that “such persons should best be kept apart, in some ‘enclosure’ – even a gilded one – or in ‘islands’ of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being” the Pope said that it in an “illusion … when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability” because “they fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations”. The Bishop of Rome went on by affirming that “the world does not become better because only apparently ‘perfect’ people live there … but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase”.
The Pope also pointed out that suffering is not only physical but also spiritual. Francis explained it this way: “It is a suffering of the heart; it causes sadness for lack of love. It is the pathology of sadness. When we experience disappointment or betrayal in important relationships, we come to realize how vulnerable and defenceless we are. The temptation to become self-absorbed grows stronger, and we risk losing life’s greatest opportunity: to love in spite of everything!”
In replying to this challenging situation Pope Francis said that “the happiness that everyone desires, for that matter, can be expressed in any number of ways and attained only if we are capable of loving”. The Holy Father said: “it is always a matter of love; there is no other path.” “The true challenge” he said “is that of who loves the most. How many disabled and suffering persons open their hearts to life again as soon as they realize they are loved!” Jesus, the Pope reminded us, “is the physician who heals with the medicine of love, for he takes upon himself our suffering and redeems it. We know that God can understand our infirmities, because he himself has personally experienced them (cf. Heb 4:15)”.
“The way we experience illness and disability,” he said, “is an index of the love we are ready to offer. The way we face suffering and limitation is the measure of our freedom to give meaning to life’s experiences, even when they strike us as meaningless and unmerited”. So, “let us be disturbed,” the Pope concluded. “We know that in weakness we can become strong (cf. 2 Cor 12:10) and receive the grace to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for his body, the Church (cf. Col 1:24) which carries “its wounds, the mark of a hard struggle, but they are wounds transfigured for ever by love”.
That is why Pope Francis, in the Angelus of February 7 of this year, emphasized that caring for the sick has always been considered an integral part of the Church’s mission. “To care for the sick, to welcome them, to serve them, is to serve Christ!” he said.
But the Church is not the building but you and me, its living members. Are we visiting and caring regularly for the sick and the disabled people?