It was precisely this phrase which came into my mind as I read, with great interest, Pope Francis’ message for the XXVIII (twenty-eighth) Day of the Sick that is annually celebrated on the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February.
This title for this year’s message attracts attention: Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28). Is there someone who is not, in some way or another, burdened by life’s problems and, much more, by sickness? Do we not need rest? And, who can really give us this urgent rest which we all need? For Pope Francis, Christ’s invitation to go to him in order that we rest from our life struggles is, in itself, “the solidarity of the Son of Man with all those who are hurt and afflicted” (no.1).
As we rightly read in this Gospel periscope, Christ’s solidarity towards the afflicted and the suffering ones is shown, primarily, by his presence full of hope. In his Angelus address of July 6, 2014, Pope Francis thus said: “When Jesus says this, he has before him the people he meets every day on the streets of Galilee: very many simple people, the poor, the sick, sinners, those who are marginalized by the burden of the law and the oppressive social system… These people always followed him to hear his word, a word that gave hope! Jesus’ words always give hope!” All this openly shows that Christ’s loving response to our suffering, both in our bodies as well as in our souls, is one of “comfort and repose” (no.1).
Elaborating on Christ’s merciful ethos for those who were crushed by life’s tragic and unprecedented circumstances, Pope Francis noted: “Jesus does not make demands of those who endure situations of frailty, suffering and weakness, but offers his mercy and his comforting presence. He looks upon a wounded humanity with eyes that gaze into the heart of each person. That gaze is not one of indifference; rather, it embraces people in their entirety, each person in his or her health condition, discarding no one, but rather inviting everyone to share in his life and to experience his tender love” (no.1).
From its very nature the Gospel is incarnational. Its message is there to be translated into our everyday actions. The Gospel is there to be assimilated and imitated. Hence, commenting on Christ’s words: Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28), the great Biblicist Saint Jerome, thus had to say regarding this passage in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians Book 3, Chapter 6. Here, Saint Jerome is talking about the light burden of the law of Christ.
“Bear one another’s burdens and so you will fulfil the law of Christ. Sin is a burden as the psalmist attests when he says: My sins weigh heavy upon me. But the Lord has carried this burden for us, teaching us by his example what we ourselves should do. For it is he who bore the burden of our sins; he was stricken for our sake (cf Is 53:8) and invites those who are weighed down by the heavy burden of the Law and of their sins to carry the easy burden of virtue, saying: My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Mt 11:30). Therefore whoever holds out a hand to the person who begs for support, not despairing of a neighbor’s salvation, who weeps with those who weep, is weak with those who are weak and who regards other’s sins as though they were his own: such a one fulfils through charity the law of Christ. What is this law of Christ? I give you a new commandment, that you love one another (Jn 13:34). What is the law of the Son of God? Love one another as I have loved you. How has the Son of God loved us? No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13). Someone who shows no clemency, who is not clothed with the bowels of mercy and tears, no matter what sort of student he is in spirituality, such a one does not fulfil the law of Christ”.
The clear implication of Saint Jerome’s words is the following: those who want to follow the Master they should emulate His example. They should do as He did. That is why, Pope Francis, in his message, strongly urges to us, healthcare workers, to “make patients feel the presence of Christ who consoles and cares for the sick, and heals every hurt” (no. 3). As healthcare workers, we are to remember that the person’s dignity, in each and every state of that person’s life, starting from its conception till its natural death, has to be cured and cared for as an integral human healing (see, no.2).
“Dear healthcare professionals, let us always remember that diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic treatments, research, care and rehabilitation are always in the service of the sick person; indeed the noun ‘person’ takes priority over the adjective ‘sick’. In your work, may you always strive to promote the dignity and life of each person, and reject any compromise in the direction of euthanasia, assisted suicide or suppression of life, even in the case of terminal illness.
When confronted with the limitations and even failures of medical science before increasingly problematic clinical cases and bleak diagnoses, you are called to be open to the transcendent dimension of your profession that reveals its ultimate meaning. Let us remember that life is sacred and belongs to God; hence it is inviolable and no one can claim the right to dispose of it freely (cf. Donum Vitae, 5; Evangelium Vitae, 29-53). Life must be welcomed, protected, respected and served from its beginning to its end: both human reason and faith in God, the author of life, require this. In some cases, conscientious objection becomes a necessary decision if you are to be consistent with your ‘yes’ to life and to the human person. Your professionalism, sustained by Christian charity, will be the best service you can offer for the safeguarding of the truest human right, the right to life. When you can no longer provide a cure, you will still be able to provide care and healing, through gestures and procedures that give comfort and relief to the sick”.
Let us we, as healthcare workers, who work for our patients benefit, keep reflecting to them the image of Christ, the Good Samaritan, by letting his caring tender love and closeness be our sole motivating force in this delicate yet important service that we can offer to humanity as such. Let us keep in mind that “care and attention” for both the sick person and his and her family entourage “which itself suffers and is in need of support and comfort” (no. 2) should be our goal of providing care.
Is this not the same solidarity that the Son of Man, Jesus Christ Our Lord, magnificently showed and keeps on showing with all those who are hurt and afflicted nowadays, in our society and beloved country?
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap