In his continuing talks addressing marriage and family life, Pope Francis turned his thoughts to those families who have sick or handicapped members, praising their “hidden heroism” in the face of difficulties.
In his weekly audience Wednesday, Francis acknowledged that though illness can sometimes strain family ties, “generally speaking, the time of sickness strengthens bonds within the family.”
A sick or handicapped child, the Pope suggested, provides a golden opportunity for parents to educate their children in “solidarity” from an early age.
Francis remarked how often we see a man or woman arrive to work looking exhausted and when we ask them what is wrong, they reply, “I only slept two hours because at home we take turns caring for the baby, the sick kid, the grandfather, the grandmother.” And yet the workday continues.
This, the Pope said, “is the heroism of families! That hidden heroism that shows itself with tenderness and courage when someone at home is sick.”
Sickness, he suggested, is an experience of human frailty, which we live mostly in a family environment starting when we are small, but right up to the “aches and pains” of old age. “In a family setting,” he said, “the illness of those we care about is borne with an added ‘something extra’ of suffering and anguish. It is love, he said, that makes us feel this ‘something extra.’”
Francis also warned that “an education that downplays sympathy for human illness can make the heart wither.” As a result, he said, if we are not careful, children can become “anesthetized” to the suffering of others, incapable of dealing with sorrow and life’s deepest sorrows.
The Pope also underscored how central the question of human illness and healing were to the life and message of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.
Jesus, he said, “presents Himself publicly as One Who struggles against disease and Who has come to heal people from all afflictions: those of the spirit and those of the body.”
So many came to him, Francis said, bringing their sick and infirm. It is moving to see that Jesus “never backed away from their needs. He never just passed by, never turned His face away,” he said.
Christ always made time for those in need, Francis added, so much so that “the doctors of the law rebuked Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath, did good on the Sabbath. But the love of Jesus meant healing and doing good, and that always takes priority!” he said.
Francis also urged all Christians to pray more for the sick, and for all those who are afflicted. “We must pray more, both personally and as a community,” he asserted.
Finally, the Pope encouraged Christians to be especially near families that suffer the ordeal of sickness. “The Christian community knows that the family, in the trial of illness, should not be left alone,” he said.
And yet how wonderful Christian fellowship proves when we are able to help families through the difficult time of pain and suffering, he said. This Christian closeness, from family to family, is a real treasure for the church “and makes us understand the Kingdom of God better than many sermons!”
“These are God’s caresses,” the Pope shared.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.