The Camillians and mercy: San Camillo

giubileoThe fact that mercy gives us an outlook similar to that of Christ who, in his turn, embodied the way in which the Father looks at each man, depends on the fact that Jesus is contemplated first, with an intensity that is extended to identification with him.

Otherwise one could not truly explain the way in which St. Camillus de Lellis behaved – he not only wanted to do the best for his patients, to the point of wanting to manage the whole hospital, but he also required first and foremost – from himself and those who worked with him – tenderness.

He personally received every sick person at the doors of the hospital and embraced him; that person’s feet were washed and kissed. Then the rags he was wearing were removed, he was clothed with clean underwear, and then placed in a bed that had been well made. Camillus wanted people who would help him ‘not for payment but voluntarily, and who because of their love of God would help the sick with that lovingness that mothers usually have for their sick children’. Those who worked with him observed him in action so that they could learn from him: ‘When he took a patient into his arms to change his sheets he did so with so much affection and diligence that he seemed to be handling the very person of Jesus Christ’.

At timed he shouted out to the people who worked with him: ‘More heart, I want to see more motherly love’. Or: ‘More soul in those hands!’. Camillus was not afraid to clean with his naked hands sick people who were ravaged by cancer, and then he kissed them, explaining to those who were present that ‘the sick poor are the eyes and heart of God and so what you did to these poor people you did to God Himself’.

That sick people were for him an extension of the suffering humanity of Christ, can also be seen in certain ways of behaving that he had, at times without him being aware of the fact. One of his biographers tells us: ‘One night I saw him kneeling near to a sick poor man who had such a foul and stinking cancer in his mouth that it was not possible to bear such a fetid smell. And yet with all of this Camillus was speaking to him being very close to him, ‘breath to breath’, and he said to him words of such affection that he seemed to be crazed in his love, calling him in particular: ‘My Lord, what can I do to serve you?’, thinking that he was his beloved Lord Jesus Christ’. Another witness was to record: ‘I have seen him on a number of occasions weeping because of his very great emotion, believing that Christ was in those poor men, so that he worshipped the patient as though he was the person of the Lord’.

These phrases may seem exaggerated but the impression that Camillus made on those who observed him was not exaggerated: between practical mercy towards his neighbour in need and tenderness for the person himself of Christ, he allowed no gap, and to such a point that he pushed himself to narrating to some patients the sins of his past life, being convinced that he was speaking about them with his Jesus. In his eyes and his heart Jesus never became an ideal, a value, a cause, or a reason for action: Christ was and remained an adorable and adored presence.