Tuesday, 7 February 2012

On the good use of illness

This is the title of a post reporting the words of Pope Benedict XVI at the Angelus in St Peter's Square on Sunday last, 5th February. The full text of the Angelus address is here, in Italian.
“Illness can be a salutary moment in which to experience the attention of others and to pay attention to others.".... Illness, the Pope added, is a typically human condition in which we feel strongly that we are not self-sufficient but need others.
For some, particularly those whose illness arises from old age and is therefore likely to extend over a longer period of time, the experience of depending on others is difficult. One of the things that I sometimes say when I find myself in the position of visiting someone who is sick is that it is alright to be dependent on the care of others, and that most of us have had situations when we have cared for others and it is natural for us to have a time when we too need to be cared for.  Human life has a natural dynamic of our caring for others and our being cared for by others in our turn.

Another aspect of Pope Benedict's words applies to those who visit the sick. Illness represents a particular moment in which the visitor can "pay attention" to the one who is sick. It is not just a special moment for the one who is sick, but also for the one who visits, particularly for family members or close friends. Sometimes that visiting is difficult - a patient suffering from dementia or who is unable to speak, for example - but it always retains its nature of being a special moment, a moment which I describe with the word "irreplaceable".
Tuttavia, nella malattia, abbiamo tutti bisogno di calore umano: per confortare una persona malata, più che le parole, conta la vicinanza serena e sincera. [Above all, in illness, we all have need of human warmth: to comfort the person who is ill, more than words, what counts is a calm and sincere closeness.]
At the beginning of his message for the forthcoming World Day for the Sick on 11th February, Pope Benedict uses a phrase which puts this question of the value of sickness, or, more precisely, the valuing of the person who is sick, in the context of the culture of life. I would perhaps add that it is also a question of the person who is sick being able to value their own experience of illness, of their being able to welcome their own human life even when it manifests weakness.
 In the generous and loving welcoming of every human life, above all of weak and sick life, a Christian expresses an important aspect of his or her Gospel witness, following the example of Christ, who bent down before the material and spiritual sufferings of man in order to heal them.

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