Pope Francis in general audience reflected on the subject of suffering and sickness in family life as he continues the series of catecheses on the family

On Sickness and Suffering of Family Members
 “And I think of how important it is to educate children as little ones to solidarity in the time of sickness. An education that lacks sensitivity for human sickness hardens the heart”

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

We continue with the catecheses on the family, and in this catechesis I would like to touch on a very common aspect in the life of our families, that of sickness. It is an experience of our fragility, which we live in the main in the family, as children and then, especially, as elderly, when infirmities arrive. In the ambit of family bonds, the sickness of persons that we love is endured with “more” suffering and anguish. It is love that makes us feel this “more.” So often it is more difficult for a father and a mother to endure the sickness of a son, of a daughter than their own. The family, we can say, has always been the closest “hospital.” Even today, in many parts of the world, the hospital is a privilege for a few, and it is often far away. It is the mother, the father, brothers, sisters and grandparents that guarantee care and help to heal.

In the Gospel, many pages narrate Jesus’ meetings with the sick and his commitment to heal them. He presents himself publicly as one who fights against sickness and who has come to heal man from every illness: the illness of the spirit and the illness of the body. The evangelical scene just referred to in Mark’s Gospel is truly moving. It says thus:  “that evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons” (Mark 1:32). If I think of great contemporary cities, I wonder where the doors are where the sick can be taken hoping that they will be cured! Jesus never removed himself from their cure. He never passed by, he never turned his face elsewhere. And when a father or a mother, or simply friendly persons brought him a sick person for him to touch and heal, he lost no time; healing came before the law, even the very sacred one of rest on the Sabbath (cf.Mark 3:1-6). The Doctors of the law rebuked Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath, he did good on the Sabbath. But Jesus’ love was to give health, to do good: and this is always in the first place!

Jesus sends his disciples to carry out his own work and he gives them the power to heal, namely, to come close to the sick and heal them completely (cf. Matthew10:1). We must have well in mind what he says to the disciples in the episode of the man born blind (John 9:1-5). The disciples – with the blind man in front of them there! – argued about who had sinned, because he was born blind, he or his parents, to cause his blindness. The Lord says clearly: neither he nor his parents; he is thus so that God’s works are manifested in him. And he healed him. See God’s glory! See the task of the Church! To help the sick, not to get lost in chatter, but to help always, to console, to relieve, to be close to the sick; this is the task.

The Church invites to continuous prayer for her dear ones stricken by sickness. Prayer for the sick must never be lacking. In fact, we should pray more, be it personally, be it in community. We think of the evangelical episode of the Canaanite woman (cf. Matthew 15:21-28). She is a pagan woman, she is not of the people of Israel, but a pagan who begs Jesus to heal her daughter. To put her faith to the test, Jesus first answered her harshly: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman did not give up – when a mother asks help for her child, she never gives up. We all know that mothers fight for their children – and she answers: “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table!” as if to say: “At least treat me like a dog!” Then Jesus says to her: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (v. 28).

In face of sickness, also in families difficulties arise because of human weakness. However, in general, the time of sickness makes the strength of family bonds grow. And I think of how important it is to educate children as little ones to solidarity in the time of sickness. An education that lacks sensitivity for human sickness hardens the heart. And it makes youngsters “anesthetized” to others’ suffering, incapable of confronting suffering and of living the experience of limitation. How many times we see a man, a woman arrive at work with a tired face, with a tired attitude and when they are asked “”What is wrong?” they answer: “I slept only two hours because we take turns to be close to the baby, the sick one, the grandfather, the grandmother.” And the day continues with work. These things are heroic; they are the heroism of families! — those hidden heroisms that are done with tenderness and courage when someone is sick at home.

The weakness and suffering of our dearest and most sacred loved ones can be for our children and our grandchildren a school of life – it is important to educate children and grandchildren to understand this closeness in sickness in the family – and they become so when in moments of sickness they are accompanied by prayer and the affectionate and solicitous closeness of relatives. The Christian community knows well that, in the trial of sickness, the family is not left alone. And we must say thank you to the Lord for those beautiful experiences of ecclesial fraternity that help families to go through the difficult moments of pain and suffering. This Christian closeness, of family to family, is a real treasure for the parish — a treasure of wisdom that helps families in difficult moments and makes the Kingdom of God understood better than many discourses! They are caresses of God.

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