On Sickness and Suffering of Family Members
In this week’s catechesis, Pope Francis addressed the issue of illness within the context of the family. He called to mind both the extreme difficulty as well as the gift that suffering and sickness can be for families. When a family member suffers, their illness is “endured with ‘more’ suffering and anguish. It is love that makes us feel this ‘more’.” Because of the bonds of love between family members, it can be much more difficult to witness the suffering of a parent, grandparent, child, or sibling, than to endure one’s own. Nevertheless, “the family…has always been the closest ‘hospital,’” full of those who “guarantee care and help to heal.”
The Holy Father reminded his audience of the way Christ treated the sick and suffering, with steadfast commitment to heal from illness both of spirit and body. “He never passed by, he never turned his face elsewhere…healing came before the law, even the very sacred one of rest on the Sabbath (cf. Mark 3:1-6).” Because of his love, healing always came first for Christ, and this is the love he likewise calls his disciples to embody. It is through the sick that we can truly “see God’s glory,” and at the same time “see the task of the Church!”
Pope Francis implores his listeners to be fervent in prayer for the sick. Like the Canaanite woman (cf. Matthew 15:21-28), our faith may be tested, but if we remain ardent, the Lord will answer our prayers.
In caring and praying for one another in this way, families bonds are greatly deepened and strengthened. “And think of how important it is,” the Holy Father pointed out, “to educate children as little ones to solidarity in the time of sickness.” When children do not learn this way of accompaniment, their hearts become hardened and they grow “incapable of confronting suffering and of living the experience of limitation,” that everyone must face.
On the other hand, when children do learn to care for and suffer with their “dearest and most sacred loved ones,” suffering becomes “a school of life.” The closeness that is built up by this accompaniment is a beautiful gift—“a treasure of wisdom,”—both to individual families, and the family of the Church. In Pope Francis’s words, experiences of this closeness “are the caresses of God.”