29 February 2008

Meditations On Care Of The Sick

Fr. Vincent McNabb in his book 'Meditations on St. John' wrote a small chapter titled Care of the Sick. It is based on the Gospel of St. John ch.4, 41-54.

"I should like to turn now to our relationship to sickness. I am not concerned here with how we should behave when we are ill. The sanctification of souls by sickness is a very important function in our life on earth but the sanctification of those who have to do with the sick is also very important in the spiritual life. For God's sake remember that sickness is a great trial. I do not mean for the sick, but for the people who look after them. When we are sick the normal way of looking at things disappears; things which to the healthy seam very little become immensely important to the sick. For instance---the tea is half cold. To a normal person it means very little, but to a sick person it means everything. The bed is not properly made---what does that matter if we sleep as soon as our head touches the pillow; for a sick person it may almost mean a bed-sore in twenty-four hours. Please realise that sickness gives the sufferer an entirely different view and a prolonged illness displaces almost everything.
The sick are the most important people in the household. They are the afflicted of God. And if they are rather impatient, or anything else, it doesn't matter. 'He whom thou lovest is sick.' Always remember when you have to do with sickness that if there is any doubt about the rule of the Church you must always stretch it. How I rub that into young priests. I say: 'My dear Father, the sacraments are for the people, not the people for the sacraments. Please give so-and-so extreme unction---would you mind giving it and having the fight afterwards, not before...' The Church teaches us a lot by its external privileges to the sick. It dispenses everything---all the positive laws of the Church are waived. The sick should be treated as the pearls of the community and if they are rather disgruntled--it does not matter; they must be cared for with great generosity and charity. Some people think that the first thing you must give a sick person is a sermon. Where do people get these ideas? It is bodily care that is the first duty. In a sense the sick can look after their spiritual affairs, but they cannot look after the body. They can look after their souls---and some are troubled about their souls, as if they needed to reminded of their duty to pray to God and so on when perhaps they are miles ahead in the spiritual life. But they cannot look after the body and our primary duty of charity, love of God, is to look after it for them. it was my great privilege to have a brother, now dead, a doctor. He attended my father at his death. I well remember how struck I was with the extreme reverence of his service to my father's body; it had something almost priestly in it and never had I so realised the divinity of service to a human body as when I saw the service of a son to his dying father. There can be something almost like a sacrament in our attention to human bodies, something akin to my priestly attention each morning to the Body of our Lord.
The sick should be spared every avoidable pain; it is not our duty to increase any pain; it is our duty not to increase it and to do everything to alleviate it, to prevent further suffering---everything except the taking away of life. Our duty is to spare that poor body further pain and if inadvertently we give the slightest pain we should beg pardon most humbly. All the humble acts of looking after the body, washing it, feeding it, etc. are holy. No wonder St Joseph is the patron of a happy death. He was very happy in his priest, Jesus, and his nurse, his beloved wife. I like to think of our Lord and our Lady sparing St. Joseph every pain in the attention they gave him.
If we would only ask the sick what we can do for them we would be surprised at the simple things they want. When I have instructed children as to how they might help the sick I have always tried to impress on them that they should find out from the sick person what they would like done. Some lady-bountifuls come and insist on doing what they want---and their place is better than their company. I know of one sufferer who has never been known to complain---I call her the Professional. I never talk piety---she has it all day and wants a change. Instead I usually make her a cup of tea. i have known cases where I have asked 'My child, what can I do for you?' and the answer has been 'Oh Father could you reach me a glass of water'---I have nearly wept."


Tracy said...

I have just awarded you an Excellence Award - details at my blog!

Ray from MN said...

Welcome to Twin Cities blogdom and the parish of St Blogs.

I happen to have a ministry where I visit patients in a Twin Cities hospital. Thank you for this post.

To see who else is blogging around here, check out the sidebar in my Stella Borealis blog at www.northlandcatholic.blogspot.com

There's a lot of action around here.

Thanks for the tip on Father Echert's problems at Holy Trinity. I regularly attend his "Argument of the Month Club" sessions at St Augustine's.

Ray Marshall


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