In his message for the World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis has condemned the attitude hiding behind the “quality of life” slogan, insisting that every life has quality and is worth living.
“How great a lie,” said Pope Francis, “lurks behind certain phrases which so insist on the importance of ‘quality of life’ that they make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!”
The World Day of the Sick was instituted by Pope John Paul II just a year after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and celebrated for the first time on February 11, 1993. He chose the date for the annual celebration to coincide with the Catholic feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which Catholics associate with miraculous healings.
February 11, 2015, will mark the 23rd celebration of the World Day of the Sick, and Pope Francis’ message was released Tuesday.
Pope John Paul coined the expression of the “culture of death” to describe a modern mentality that places the value of people in their productivity and considers them worthless once their utility is exhausted.
In the message, Francis urged Christians to learn the “wisdom” of caring for brothers and sisters who are sick and infirm, as a way of “praising God” and becoming like Jesus, who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
According to Francis, “Time spent with the sick is holy time.”
The Pope also recognized how arduous this task can be, but he insisted it has great value. “This service,” he said, “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.”
Francis called this care for the sick “a great path of sanctification” and said that in “those difficult moments we can rely in a special way on the closeness of the Lord.”
He said that at times “our world forgets the special value of time spent at the bedside of the sick,” noting that often, “we are in such a rush” that “we forget about giving ourselves freely, taking care of others, being responsible for others.”
To the sick themselves, Pope Francis said that their difficult situation is also a means of growing in holiness. “Even when illness, loneliness, and inability make it hard for us to reach out to others, the experience of suffering can become a privileged means of transmitting grace,” he said.
“People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full meaning.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.