By Mary E. Jaminet
February 8, 2008
Despite advances in health care, sick and elderly persons are often threatened by neglect, abuse, and even assisted suicide and euthanasia. Yet the Church reaches to the heart of things by declaring the great value in human suffering. When I learned that the Church marks February 11 as World Day of the Sick, I remembered watching my parents act as caregivers for my dying Grandma Helen. Their example opened my eyes to the beautiful wisdom of God's plan for growing in holiness, and taught me the various ways in which caring for the sick is an important part of our pro-life ministry.
Our response to the sick is a witness to the world of their inherent dignity as persons. It reinforces the truth that no matter one's age, status, or condition of dependency, God granted each of us the gift of life. It is right and just to respect that life. We have stewardship of human life, but not dominion over it.
My parents' daily physical and emotional challenges presented opportunities to "rise above" the situation and work on their interior spiritual life. Their six years of care for my grandmother became a model of self-giving love, and their response to her suffering, sickness, and death shaped and fostered their own personal holiness. Christ calls us all to sanctification by putting love into action, and caring for the sick is a beautiful way of accomplishing this goal and allowing ourselves to become signs of God's love.
Care of the sick also promotes attitudes of healing and protecting, rather than eliminating human life. Our caring witness undermines the false notion that we eliminate suffering by eliminating suffering people. The existence of precious and unrepeatable beings, though poor, sick or vulnerable, is not a "problem"; it is our call to action. Instead of avoiding the suffering of those around us or resenting the inconveniences they present, we are called to turn toward them and bring the hope of God's healing and grace.
The sick and those who care for them need not bear these burdens meaninglessly. They can unite their daily struggles with those of Christ. " . . . [P]ain, received with faith, becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and happiness of His Resurrection" (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of the Sick, 2008).
The Blessed Mother is our perfect model for acceptance of God's will. Following her example, we learn to bear suffering and pain with hope and love. It is fitting that this 16th World Day of the Sick falls on the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes, France. Just as pilgrims to Lourdes have experienced spiritual and physical healing through Mary's intercession, may we receive strength from God to embrace the suffering in our lives. Through this and in our care for the sick, we become an inspiring witness to God's precious gift of life.
Mary Jaminet is Special Project Coordinator at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife.