Visiting the sick and bringing comfort when people are most vulnerable is such an important aspect of Christian living. Each of us has experienced illness and has seen how it touches our lives. Many times we feel weak, sad, lonely or forgotten. Sometimes, we just don’t want anyone to know we’re sick or we deny it altogether.
When we care for those who are sick, we are following Jesus’ teachings by bringing comfort to those who are ailing, healing them both in body (corporal) and in soul (spiritual). Tending to the physical needs, the Church, through the charity and hard work of religious communities, has founded hospitals and facilities providing all levels of care without bias. Catholic health care is a treasured and valuable part of Catholic outreach because it is centered on the heart of Jesus’ own teaching to care for our brothers and sisters as we would care for Him.
I am always struck by the annual performance of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic of A Christmas Carol. I think it is one of the best-told dramatizations of the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and symbolizes the precept of Jesus regarding mercy and the behavior that must be applied in the life of those who will be His disciples.
In the Dickens story, it is clear that the ghost of Old Marley is a protagonist, causing Ebenezer Scrooge to consider the point of Jesus’ teaching. Consider:
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”
I often think that Dickens channeled the sentiments of Jesus’ precepts on mercy in the words of many a character in the classic story. Consider:
“…He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the king will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’” (Mt 25:32ff)
The spiritual and corporal works of mercy form the grist of Catholic social teaching based on the precepts of Jesus’ call to penance and charity.
The spiritual care of the sick is fundamentally seen in the sacrament of the sick. Many of us remember the sacrament of extreme unction as the last prayer and blessing of the Church before someone died. Today, as the sacraments have been revised and communicated in some new ways, we understand that being anointed when we are sick is a visible way of experiencing the personal care of Jesus himself. The sacraments are, as we have been taught, outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace – His own special consolation and life.
Each of us can be a messenger of God’s saving grace at the time of sickness of our families or friends. When we visit those who are sick, we should keep in mind that we need to be polite and courteous. Many times, those who are sick don’t want to carry on long conversations or be lectured about the similarities in our pains or illnesses to theirs. A visit to the sick can be as wonderful as simply sitting by a bedside and silently offering the rosary. A visit to the homebound can be as much a healing as an offer to go to the grocery store or take someone to a doctor’s appointment.
Treat others as you would treat Jesus Himself. Remember your own suffering and pain and God’s mercy will flow through you as a healing for others in his name.
And I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!