The Heart of the Gospel

Part 5

Visit the Sick

God has visited His people! (Luke 7:16) That was the cry of those who witnessed our Lord's healing power. The sick and the crippled flocked to Him, seeking the great mercy which is physical healing. Often, Jesus healed their bodies: always. He provided remedies for their souls.

While the sick most often came to Jesus, Jesus also visited them. Come down, their loved ones would plead. my servant Is suffering terribly my daughter is dying. And the Gospels tell us: Jesus went (Mark 5:23) So important is this corporal work of mercy, that the Divine Physician left us His own example.

It may seem that this work of mercy has little to do with St. Clare of Assisi. While in the 13th century there were groups of women who visited the sick, Clare's vocation lay in the cloister from which she doubtless "visited?' the sick in prayer.

But her life reveals something more: visiting the sick begins at home. From the early years of her Order, sickness ''visited" St. Clare's community. Her monastery had an infirmary with many sick Sisters. The Seraphic Mother herself carried the cross of chronic illness for almost twenty-nine years. She knew the isolation and loneliness, the weariness, the discouragement and the temptations which sickness can provoke. She also knew the remedy which Mercy Incarnate had provided: Visit the sick!

In her Rule we find several telling provisions for carrying out this corporal work of mercy. In her directives for the observance of monastic silence, the Seraphic Mother specifies that in the infirmary it is permitted the Sisters always to speak discreetly in what concerns the recreation and service of the sick. (RULE, 4) St. Clare recognized that, in times of illness, the heart needs lifting as much as the body needs extra care. Hence the "re-creating" touch of mercy must be seasoned with lightness and with laughter.

Clare likewise makes it clear that the care of the sick is a community affair: all are bound to provide for and serve their sick Sisters as they themselves would wish to be served should they be struck down with any illness themselves. (RULE, 8) Visiting the sick makes present the tenderness, compassion and solicitous concern which fill the heart. Often a listening ear and an understanding heart are the best medicine for those feeling the weight of illness, physical weakness and limitations. If St. Clare urges her Sisters to strive to have patience in trial or weakness (RULE, 9), she also provides the "support system' which enables the sick to cultivate that vision of faith from which springs true Christian patience.

St. Clare even invites her sick Sisters to become heralds of God's mercy. While the Sisters who escort the doctor to the infirmary are enjoined to keep a discrete silence, the Seraphic Mother urges each of the sick to briefly reply some good words to those who speak to them.  These "good words" are the fruit of the mercy welcomed and received - and then passed on to others.

Come down! The first sick ones needing to be visited are those closest to home in the circle of our own families and friends. Like every other work of mercy, the circle expands to neighbors, co-workers, fellow parishioners, the homebound and the elderly. We begin to meet our Lord in what Mother Teresa of Calcutta called the distressing disguise of the sick. Then we understand why this work of mercy is so important that Jesus declared: I was sick and you visited Me.

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