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We are called to love the sick and suffering

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

February 10, 2021

I still remember the routine. Whenever I became sick while I was growing up, usually in the middle of the night, there was one word that I would call out loudly and it always brought relief: “MA!” Vicks Vapo-Rub and flat Ginger Ale, among other medicinal remedies, were always in ready supply when the need arose. But it was my mother who provided the reassurance that all would be well. How do you spell relief when you are hurting?

February 11 is World Day of the Sick. In his message for this occasion, Pope Francis wrote: “The experience of sickness makes us realize our own vulnerability and our innate need of others.” How terrible it must be when the sick are not able to be with family and loved ones when they are hurting, even dying. We have seen the news clips. We have personally experienced the anguish of separation during this seemingly endless pandemic.

COVID-19 has revealed for all of us the caring and sacrificial hearts of health care workers, support staff, volunteers, pastoral workers, family members and others who minister to the sick and honor their human dignity. We have learned during this pandemic that we should never take one another’s presence for granted or think that we can go it alone.

Besides medical care, we owe the sick and suffering person our time and attention. So many who suffer through this pandemic have been treated, comforted and served lovingly. The suffering face of my neighbor is the pained face of the suffering Christ.

I was recently reading about a gloomy December day in 1673 when people were coping with an epidemic. There was no statistical report of the daily victims in the evening news, as we have become accustomed these last several months. However, the stats in London were contained in “plague bills,” posters displaying the recorded deaths of the previous day, and the seemingly endless tolling of bells, which were used to mark the passing of each dying sufferer. (Andrew McGowan, 2020)

The dean (and poet) of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London also became sick. He reflected on his own experience as well as what was happening around him in the public health crisis of his day. He observed, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” These famous few lines of John Donne suggest a compassionate solidarity, urging us to a sense of intimate connection when others die, are dying, or are suffering in any way.

You and I are called to be merciful like the Father and to love our sick and suffering sisters and brothers. We live this closeness personally, but also as a community. Love in Christ generates a healing community that does not leave anyone behind. Our family of faith is attentive to and reaches out to our most vulnerable sisters and brothers. This time of a pandemic has become a graced time because we have been recipients and givers of such loving care and attention. As members of this family, we spell relief: MOTHER CHURCH! She brings us the reassuring Presence of our Healing Christ. We entrust our sick to Mary, Mother of Mercy and Our Lady of Lourdes. May she sustain our faith and hope and help us care for one another.

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