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World Day of the Sick, a day for everybody

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

Twenty-seven years ago, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II took the fortunate initiative of dedicating the liturgical Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, Feb. 11, to pray for the sick and to provide them with the best possible assistance. Both he and his successors have enhanced the celebration by assigning a slogan to each day. Pope Francis’ call for 2019 is the evangelical phrase, “You received without payment; give without payment” (Mt 10:8).

Illness and health concern every human being. The boundaries between the healthy and the sick cannot be more porous: He who is healthy today wakes up sick tomorrow; he who feels sick one day can recover soon after. During our earthly pilgrimage, we experience that shift between health and illness, until the day when the last disease arrives, the one that does not heal, the one that opens death’s door to the afterlife.

While we are on the journey of our temporary life, we ​​will fall sick with more or less frequency. The time will arrive to exercise patience while we wait to heal with therapeutic remedies. We must never despair, as do those who flirt with the idea of ​​suicide, saying that it is about disposing of one's own life. Those who think so forget that life is a gift, not something we have acquired. As Pope Francis says, “Human life cannot be reduced to a personal possession or private property,” which is based on a radical Paulist question: “What do you possess that you have not received?” (1 Cor 4:7). In addition to patience, the patient also needs humility to recognize himself in need of help and accept it with gratitude.

When we are healthy, we will have abundant opportunities to show merciful solidarity towards those who suffer the trial of illness. The patient should never be viewed as a “case” but as the person he or she is.

Pope Francis applauds “medical and biotechnological advances.” However, patients need more than medical technology for the body. They need holistic health, because disease also affects the patient’s psychological and spiritual dimension; he needs to feel loved and accompanied. The professional medical staff, volunteers and relatives have the mission of making the patient feel loved during the health crisis. The Church, for its part, facilitates chaplains for hospitals and nursing homes. In some health care centers there is an excellent pastoral team composed of priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. These pastoral ministers not only attend to the sick, but also to their relatives, who often feel very worried.

This Feb. 11, 2019, the World Day of the Sick will be celebrated with special solemnity in the Indian city of Kolkata. This crowded city witnessed the heroic charity of St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who in 1946 felt the calling to dedicate herself to serving the poorest of the poor. She, alone at the beginning, tended to the sick who were dying in the streets, without discriminating against anyone because of their race or religion. In the sick, she only saw the neighbor in need of help. According to Pope Francis, St. Mother Teresa adhered to just one principle of action, “selfless love for every human being.” In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity with those who shared her charism.

No one can ignore the fact that health care involves expenses; many people earn their living from medical services and they must be paid well. However, profit cannot be the main motivation in the field of medicine. Pope Francis warns against the logic of “profit at any price.” The patient cannot be seen only as a source of profit. Health structures should also have the necessary means to provide care to those who lack economic resources, including the homeless who wander the streets.

Finally, another temptation to overcome is to accelerate the death of the sick through so-called “euthanasia.” Today, medical science has made great progress in alleviating the suffering of the terminally ill; there is no excuse to kill the patient so that he does not continue to suffer. In addition, many sick people understand the co-redemptive meaning of their suffering and prefer to leave this world only when God calls them.

Let us take advantage of this day, Feb. 11, to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Health of the Sick. May she inspire respect and love for all human life from conception to natural death.

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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