Article written by Fr. Luciano Sandrin published in the review ‘Settimana’, published by Dehoniane (Bo) February 2015
In his Message for the twenty-third World Day of the Sick Pope Francis addresses those who bear the burden of illness and the various professionals and volunteers who take care of them, inviting them to reflect upon a phrase from the Book of Job: ‘I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame’ (29:15). And he does this from the perspective of wisdom of the heart: ‘a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit in the minds and the hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God’. This is a wisdom which is a gift of God and which, therefore, we must ask of him: ‘Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom’ (Ps 90:12). But it is also the outcome of human work.
Looking, the Heart and Hands
Faced with the suffering that we come across each day we can pass by on the other side, like the priest or the Levite who do not allow themselves to be distracted from their engagements, or we can be like the Samaritan who sees, allows himself to be led by his heart and does not pass by on the other side: he stops, he takes care of the wounded man, and for a moment he interrupts his journey. He makes himself a neighbour through looking, through his heart and through his hands.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan everything takes place on the road, on the outskirts of the holy boundaries: ‘compassion’ or ‘neglect’. Still today on the roads of life we draw near to God or we draw away from those with whom Jesus identifies: the many wounded people who call for our attention. We are called to proclaim the love in which we believe and to bear witness to our hope with a ‘faith that works through charity’ (Gal 5:6). In the deaconate of charity our faith and our hope find their most authentic forms of witness. And this is the worship that God most welcomes and is also a test of our faith: ‘one cannot know if your worship of God is true if you do not have an opportunity to test it in your correct relationship with man’.
We can do this through dialogue, encounter, disinterested love, words that save, celebration that knits up relational threads with God and the community, professional care, and political and social engagement; taking care of a person but also of his or her family, trying to change society and to transform culture.
We are called to care for people during the various moments of their history, expressing, in particular in experiences of frailty and especial vulnerability, reciprocal care, the exchange of love and a ‘comfort’ inhabited by the Spirit: attention – to use the language of Pope Francis – paid in particular to the outskirts of the world and existence which are not only places but also and above all else people, families and entire social groups. This is attention that arises from ‘a heart that sees’, as Benedict XVI reminds us in Deus caritas est: ‘This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly’ (n. 31). This is the programme of a Christian. It is also the secret that the fox reveals to the Little Prince: ‘one only sees well with the heart. The essential is invisible to our eyes’.
As Christians we are called to see people as Jesus looked at them, to transform memory of his healings into works, imitation and prophecy, to encounter people where they really are. They live in health and in illness, in joy and in pain. But it is above all else during moments when frailty makes itself especially felt that they try to find, in our care and our welcoming nearness, the compassionate presence of the Father, the hands of the Son who pours on wounds the oil of comfort and the wine of hope, and the wisdom of the Spirit.
Job is Qualified
Wisdom of the heart, these are the words of the Pope, is to go forth towards our brother, and be with him and serve him, to be supportive of him without judging him: that is to say not doing as Job’s friends did – they thought that his misfortune was a punishment of God for some sin he had committed.
In the passage which contains the words ‘I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame’, Job reconsiders his life and highlights that he has always been at the service of the needy, in line with God. And thus he is qualified because he has always defended the poor, even with rather strong methods: ‘I broke the jaws of the perverse’. Many Christians, still today, follow this line of witness: ‘They are close to the sick in need of constant care and help in washing, dressing and eating. This service, especially when it is protracted, can become tiring and burdensome. It is relatively easy to help someone for a few days but it is difficult to look after a person for months or even years, in some cases when he or she is no longer capable of expressing gratitude’.
Experience of illness and care can be a ‘great path of sanctification’ in which one can rely upon the nearness of the Lord and the attentive heart of a community that sees and does not pass by on the other side. ‘Time dedicated to the sick is holy time’: it is praise of God, a pathway of conformation to the image of His Son and special support for the mission of the Church. It is a service that brings us to dedicate time to very many sick people who, thanks to our nearness and our affection, feel more loved and more comforted. Quality of life is a criterion by which to improve our relationship of care not to decide which lives ‘are worthy of being lived!’.
With the help of the Spirit, people immersed in illness, in loneliness and in pain can also become accredited witnesses to the love of God. Even Job, at the end of his experience, became wiser: ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you’ (42,5). And God accredits him, rebuking his friends, as a good ‘theo-logian’ who said ‘righteous things’ about Him.
The Silence of the Synod
Not only sick people but also families must be the objects of loving care by the Church community, especially during moments that create especial suffering and can be transformed into challenges for conjugal love as well. We are reminded of this by the final Message of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops: ‘We may think of the suffering that may appear with a diversely abled child, with a grave illness, with the neurological deterioration of old age, and with the death of a loved one. The generous faithfulness of many families that go through these trials with courage, faith and love is admirable. They see such trials not as something that is torn away or inflicted but as something that is given to them and that they themselves give, seeing the suffering Christ in that sick flesh’.
This is a statement that at least in part redeems the ‘silence’ of the last Synod of Bishops – both the voice of the Christian community summed up in the Instrumentum Laboris and the Report which was the outcome of the deliberations of the Synod are its outcome – on the impact that experiences connected with illness, with disability, and with forms of dementia linked to ageing (and the at times ‘unbearable’ pain that accompanies them) have on the lives of families that ‘co-exist’ with these experiences, at times for many years. The reference in article n. 57 in my view amounts to too little here: ‘the Church supports families that welcome, bring up and surround with their affection diversely abled children’.
Forgetfulness or distraction of a Church that little resembles the Good Samaritan who ‘saw and did not pass by on the other side’. There is a whole year to restore its attention and also to listen to those voices of suffering and the requests for help that come from those families who ‘co-exist’ with pain, illness and disability.
The promise to be faithful in joy and in pain, in suffering and in illness, and to take care of each other throughout their lives, does not concern only the spouses – it also concerns the Christian community in its relationship of love with Christ who is present in those who suffer.
Fr. Luciano Sandrin – Camillian
 Cf. L. Sandrin, Lo vide e non passò oltre. Temi di teologia pastorale (Edb, Bologna, 2015).
 D.M. Turoldo, Anche Dio è infelice (Piemme, Casale Monferrato (AL) 1991), p. 90.
 Cf. the Message of Pope Francis for the Twenty-third World Day of the Sick, for the reflections that follow as well.
 Cf. L. Sandrin, N. Calduch-Benages, and F. Torralba Roselló, Aver cura di sé. Per aiutare senza burnout (Edb, Bologna, 2009).