Compassionate and loving closeness with those who are ill

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Bishop Paul Mason, our Lead Bishop for Health and Social Care, offers this reflection on redemptive suffering and how we should establish relationships of ‘compassionate and loving closeness’ with those who are ill.

Reflection for the 32nd World Day of the Sick

This year’s World Day of the Sick coincides with the 40th anniversary of the publication of Salvifici Doloris, a letter by Pope St John Paul II on salvific and redemptive suffering. Eight years later, and shortly after being diagnosed with chronic illness, Pope John Paul established this commemoration, asking for the special protection of Our Lady of Lourdes on her feast day.

Salvifici Doloris focuses on suffering from the perspective of Christ’s redemptive death on the cross. “In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed” writes John Paul II.

These words remind us that, through Jesus, the suffering and the sick have an important role to play in the story of salvation. As a result of His suffering on the cross, Christ is bound to every ill and sick person. He shares their pain, and they share His pain.

Likewise, we are invited to take part in this story of salvation by caring for the sick and dying and, also, by being cared for when we are ourselves are ill. In this year’s letter for the 32nd World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis explains that we should care primarily by establishing a relationship of ‘compassionate and loving closeness’ with those who are ill. He reminds us that the struggle with illness is a relational act, not an individual one. Our ‘throwaway culture’, on the other hand, too often leaves the vulnerable behind and abandons them to solitude, which leads to neither physical nor spiritual healing.

These words hit close to home as we witness current debates over the introduction of assisted suicide. In the light of these challenges, we turn for the support of Our Lady on this feast day. Pope St John Paul II sincerely believed that her intercession saved his life so that he was able to proclaim the power of Christ’s suffering through his later illness. In the same way, her intercession can help us in our suffering so that we can become witnesses to Christ’s compassionate love for those who are ill.

To end with the words of Pope Francis’s message: “The sick, the vulnerable and the poor are at the heart of the Church; they must also be at the heart of our human concern and pastoral attention. May we never forget this!”

Bishop Paul Mason
Lead Bishop for Health and Social Care
Bishop of the Forces