I minister to people who are ill all the time, but right now I’m facing illnesses in three people—a classmate from college and two in-laws—that are leading to their imminent deaths. I feel quite helpless as I realize there is nothing I can do to make them well again.
So when I came across some recent writings from Pope Francis about ministering to the sick, it helped me realize that while we’re not able to miraculously cure sick people as we’d like, our outreach to the sick can indeed be healing to all involved.
Here are four points he makes:
1. “We can bring God’s peace to the sick through service and care.” Being sick—especially when we are critically ill—can be one of the most frightening experiences, not only for sick people, but for their families as well. The nurses, aides, doctors, social workers and others in the health care profession bring peace when they do their best in serving those in their care. And when we visit or send messages of solidarity, we bring peace because the person who is ill does not experience their sickness alone. They know they are loved.
2. “Difficult moments become the path to forge stronger relationships with family, communities, and with God.” Sometimes the illness of a relative becomes an opportunity for reconciliation when there was prior estrangement. People take time from their regular routines and sit at the bedside of an ailing person. Brothers and sisters get together to help each other in making decisions about the future care of a parent. And people often turn to God in deeper ways during these distressing times.
3. “Men and women in science cultivate and apply God’s gift of creation for the treatment and cure of diseases, setting free the oppressed.” Pope Francis recognizes the contribution of medical researchers and those on the front lines of medical care. And when I hear of the young people in our community who are choosing to study for the medical fields and who will eventually have careers in health care, I’m filled with optimism as I expect that many of them will eventually advance the cutting edge of treatment and cures. I pray for them all the time.
4. “God sets one free, helps one endure suffering for the sake of a greater joy yet to come.” Sometimes that freedom and joy come when a person is healed and returns to their normal life. Sometimes that freedom and joy come because the sickness led to the healing and restoring of important relationships. Sometimes that freedom and joy come in an ultimate way when people die and are relieved of their suffering and are reunited with their ancestors in heaven.
I still wish I could cure everyone I visit in hospitals or homes, especially my closest loved ones. But I realize that while I don’t have that power, each of us has the power to bring the healing of peace and accompaniment that truly assists a person to recover or as they journey to eternal life.