TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Caring for the sick

I am writing this message on Sunday 11 February which you may recall is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Saint Pope John Paul II began the observance of the World Day of the Sick, in 1992, in conjunction with the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, to raise the level of awareness of the sick and the role to which Christ calls each of us – to tend to their needs. We are asked to show acts of kindness and solidarity, and to pray for those who are sick and suffering. The day was established to give hope to them.  

Each year the Pope releases a message for this day, and I thought I would share with you some of this year’s message. As always, a message from Pope Francis gives us a timely reminder of what it means to be a Christian, and how the world would be if we all acted from the position of being fully human. The message begins with: 

“It is not good that man should be alone” (cf. Gen 2:18). From the beginning, God, who is love, created us for communion and endowed us with an innate capacity to enter into relationship with others. Our lives, reflecting in the image of the Trinity, are meant to attain fulfilment through a network of relationships, friendships and love, both given and received. We were created to be together, not alone. Precisely because this project of communion is so deeply rooted in the human heart, we see the experience of abandonment and solitude as something frightening, painful and even inhuman. This is all the more the case at times of vulnerability, uncertainty and insecurity, caused often by the onset of a serious illness. 

Towards the end of last year, I wrote about the Voluntary Assistance Dying Bill, which became law in NSW in November. When you read articles about the wish for people to end their lives voluntarily, it is often because they are alone and afraid,  and because they do not have the necessary support to provide them with hope, instead of despair. We are blessed in our diocese to have Pastoral Care and Palliative Care Workers at the Calvary Mater Hospital and Chaplains at the John Hunter Hospital. The doctors and nurses in both these hospitals show deep care and respect for those who are sick and dying, as well as their families. I am also conscious that in our Catholic Aged Care facilities and in their provision of Homecare, those being cared for are shown great love and compassion. They are accompanied until God calls them home.  

Pope Francis goes on to write in his message: 

Brothers and sisters, the first form of care needed in any illness is compassionate and loving closeness. To care for the sick thus means above all to care for their relationships, all of them: with God, with others – family members, friends, healthcare workers – with creation and with themselves. Can this be done? Yes, it can be done and all of us are called to ensure that it happens. Let us look to the icon of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37), to his ability to slow down and draw near to another person, to the tender love with which he cares for the wounds of a suffering brother. 

In this Sunday’s Gospel from Mark 1:40-45 a leper approaches Jesus and pleads to be cured. Jesus touches him, the unclean one, and he was cured. Jesus felt compassion for the man with leprosy, listened to him and responded with touch and with the words, “Be cured”.  

While it is not possible for us to perform miracles, we are invited to accompany our loved ones, our neighbours and strangers and offer them words of comfort, understanding and hope.  

And towards the end of Pope Francis’ message: 

At this time of epochal change, we Christians in particular are called to adopt the compassion-filled gaze of Jesus. Let us care for those who suffer and are alone, perhaps marginalized and cast aside. With the love for one another that Christ the Lord bestows on us in prayer, especially in the Eucharist, let us tend the wounds of solitude and isolation. In this way, we will cooperate in combating the culture of individualism, indifference, and waste, and enable the growth of a culture of tenderness and compassion. 

And that brings me to some words spoken by Bishop Michael Kennedy at our Staff Mass on Friday. He began by talking about our Eucharist as being the ‘lungs’ of the church and of us as a community. Eucharist is the very breath of breathing in and breathing out. We come to Eucharist to be nourished by the breath in and then we are sent out into the world by the breath out.  

This image has stayed with me over the weekend and even more powerfully as this week, I, along with the Pastoral Ministries Staff attended First Aid training. Part of this training is practicing CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation). We are unable to live without the supply of oxygen to our brains and other major organs. Therefore, it is to be reasoned that we are unable to live without the breath of Eucharist. It gives us the oxygen to keep ourselves, and the world around us, alive, healthy, and active.   

The instructions when flying provides us with a good message:  

In the event of decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Should an emergency situation occur, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help those around you. 

The invitation for us is to be nourished at the table of the Lord, in community and then to go out into the world with the healing power of Jesus.  

And to finish with a prayer: 

Hear our prayer, Oh God, and heal the many illnesses that afflict us in body, mind, and soul. Bring comfort to those who suffer. Bring consolation to those who despair. Bring strength to those of us who walk with the sick. 

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.