If I were asked to choose a sub-theme for the pontificate of John Paul II, it would be his often repeated imperative: "Gaze on the face of Jesus."
Movie - the Passion of the Christ is about to be released, it promises to be controversial but it will once again put religion on the front page of our newspapers and be discussed around kitchen and dining room tables. The meaning is the passion is explained succinctly in today's gospel reading from the farewell discourse of the Lord, as we gaze upon the face of Jesus:
"Before the hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father, Jesus said to the disciples, 'this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you...'"
NMI - "Stake everything on charity"
50. ...."The scenario of poverty can extend indefinitely, if in addition to its traditional forms we think of its newer patterns. These latter often affect financially affluent sectors and groups which are nevertheless threatened by despair at the lack of meaning in their lives, by drug addiction, by fear of abandonment in old age or sickness, by marginalization or social discrimination. In this context Christians must learn to make their act of faith in Christ by discerning his voice in the cry for help that rises from this world of poverty. This means carrying on the tradition of charity which has expressed itself in so many different ways in the past two millennia, but which today calls for even greater resourcefulness. Now is the time for a new "creativity" in charity, not only by ensuring that help is effective but also by "getting close" to those who suffer, so that the hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and sisters."
The sick are created in God's image and reflect the crucified Christ. As a church only in Christ is it possible to find satisfactory answers. Christ brings meaning and ennobles suffering. We must learn to unite our sufferings with Christ, prudentially alleviating it as much as possible. In our sick brother or sister we are called to see the face of Christ, to discern his voice in their cry for help, and to get close to them.
Blessed Theresa of Calcutta insisted that in the poor and sick we serve is the same Christ we encounter in the Eucharist. They are sacraments to us; we are ministers of healing to them. Our care must be holistic, a care that pays attention to the biological, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the sick. Such care cannot be restricted to a hospital or nursing home bed. We have to ask ourselves how do we treat the person who has a lifetime disability? The emotionally ill individual who feels stigmatized? The marginalized who feel rejected? The struggling sinner in all of us who seeks God's mercy.
Deeply concerned with our response to the sick, we need to go forward with fresh dedication. Like days of old when we used to go to grandma's house or church, we put on our best clothes - ".....cloth yourselves with compassion and kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.... with love that binds everything together in perfect harmony... and be thankful."
This is a special occasion for growth with an attitude of listening, reflection and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness. The great danger is that we might be tempted to look back at all that we have accomplished and risk dislocating our shoulders as pat ourselves on the back. This isn't a time to focus so much on what we have done but rather on what we have received through this ministry of meeting and servicing Christ in our sick brothers and sisters
"Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus."
Caring for those who are sick and suffering is not easy work.We must hear Christ's words: "You will be sorrowful but sorrow will be turned into joy." (Jn16)
In December 1954, Carlo Carretto left his life as a successful teacher and renowned writer and activist in Italy and set out for the Algerian Sahara to become a Little Brother of Jesus. He wrote about his ten year pilgrimage in the African desert in his book Letters from the Desert.
"The first nights I spent here made me send off for books on astronomy and maps of the sky; and for months afterwards I spent my free time learning a little of what was passing over my head up there in the universe...
"Kneeling on the sand, I sank my eyes for hours and hours at those wonders, writing down my discoveries in an exercise book like a child....
"Finding one's way in the desert is much easier by night than by day ... In the years which I spent in the open desert I never once got lost, thanks to the stars. Many times I lost my way because the sun was too high in the sky. But I waited for night and found the road again, guided by the stars.
"How dear they were to me, those stars, how close to them the desert had brought me. Through spending my nights in the open, I had come to know them by their names, then to study them, and to get to know them one by one. Now I could distinguish their colour, their size, their position, their beauty.
I knew my way around them, and from them I could calculate the time without a watch."
It is also true that we can sometimes navigate best in life in the darkness of pain and suffering, the glitz and glitter of the daylight today can blind us and cause us to lose our way. The solution is to continue to gaze upon the face of Christ in the sick and suffering who will show us the way as we get close to them.
☩ Frederick Henry