Hope in sickness and suffering

“Through faith in God and the crucified Christ, we find the strength to love, even our enemies, and to give of ourselves for the good of others.”

In 2014, on the occasion of the Twenty-second World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis again addressed the sick and all those who provide them with assistance and care.

According to the Holy Father, the Church recognizes the sick as a unique manifestation of the suffering Christ. In our pain, we are not alone, as Christ shares in our suffering and illuminates its significance.

By taking upon himself illness and suffering, the incarnate Son of God transformed them and provided them with new meaning.

They need no longer be negative, but positive, when in union with Christ.

Through faith in God and the crucified Christ, we find the strength to love, even our enemies, and to give of ourselves for the good of others.

The proof of our genuine faith in Christ is our selflessness and our love for our neighbors, especially the suffering and marginalized.

According to the Holy Father, the Son of God incarnate did not eliminate sickness and hardship from the human experience.

However, he transformed them by taking them upon himself and giving them a new significance.

This new significance stems from the fact that they no longer have the final say in our lives; instead, abundant life is now the ultimate outcome.

Furthermore, he transformed them by making them positive rather than negative, through union with Christ.

Jesus is the path we follow, and we can do so with the help of his Spirit.

As the Father gave us the Son out of love, and the Son gave himself to us out of the same love, we can love others in the same manner by giving our lives for them.

Faith in God leads to goodness, and faith in the crucified Christ gives us the strength to love, even to the point of loving our enemies.

The demonstration of authentic faith in Christ is in the act of self-sacrifice and the spreading of love for our neighbors, especially those who do not deserve it, as well as for the suffering and neglected.

Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28) point to the mysterious path of grace that is revealed to the simple and gives new strength to those who are weary and tired.

These words of Christ express the solidarity of the Son of Man with all those who are hurt and afflicted. How many people suffer in both body and soul!

Jesus urges everyone to draw near to him—“Come to me!”—and he promises them comfort and repose.

According to Frances, “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!”

The Pope, repeating the words of Jesus, said that the sick, the oppressed, and the poor realize that they depend entirely on God and, beneath the burden of their trials, stand in need of his healing.

According to the Holy Father, 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 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.

Why does Jesus have these feelings?, the Pope asks. Because Jesus himself became frail, endured human suffering, and received comfort from his Father.

Indeed, only those who personally experience suffering are then able to comfort others. There are so many kinds of grave suffering: incurable and chronic diseases, psychological diseases, situations calling for rehabilitation or palliative care, numerous forms of disability, children’s or geriatric diseases.

At times human warmth is lacking in our approach to these.

What is needed is a personalized approach to the sick, not just of curing but also of caring, in view of integral human healing.

In experiencing illness, individuals not only feel threatened in their physical integrity but also the relational, intellectual, affective, and spiritual dimensions of their lives.

To the Holy Father, serious illnesses can bring human existence to a crisis point and trigger profound questions. Initially, one may react with resistance, questioning why such misfortune has befallen them.

Despair may set in, leading to a sense of hopelessness and loss of purpose. However, in such circumstances, faith in God can be tested and simultaneously provide a source of positivity, the Pope noted.

This is not to say that faith eradicates illness, pain, or the associated questions, but rather it offers a means to comprehend the underlying significance of these experiences.

Through faith, we can unlock a gateway that enables us to perceive how illness may facilitate our proximity to Jesus, who shares in our struggles and carries his own burden of suffering.

In addition, Mary, our Mother, has firsthand knowledge of this path and provides us with the key to navigate it.

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