Florence, 17 May 1986
An important talk in which Chiara does not speak with competence but from her experience that in accepting suffering one draws closer to God. This is a strong message for those who personally live an illness or for those who are alongside ill or elderly people.
If at the basis of laws or social projects we place a mentality lacking in respect for the suffering, the disabled and the elderly, then little by little we create a false society. We give importance only to a few values like physical well-being, strength, exaggerated productivity and power, while we distort the purpose for which a nation lives; that is, for the good of the human person and society.
Health, as we know, is a precious gift which should be protected.
Thus we should do all we can so that our bodies and everyone else’s, too, receive nourishment and rest, and are not exposed to sicknesses, accidents or an exaggerated amount of sports.
The body is also important for a Christian.
But if there is a loss of health, we must remember that there is a Life which is not conditioned by the state of our health, but by the supernatural love that burns in our hearts.
And it is this superior Life which gives value to our physical life even when we are sick.
If we consider illnesses merely from a human point of view, we can only affirm that they are misfortunes.
But, if we look at illnesses from a Christian point of view, we can see that they are trials in which we must train ourselves for the great trial which awaits all of us, when we will have to face the passage to the next Life.
Didn’t the Holy Father1 just recently say that illnesses are spiritual exercises, sermons that God Himself preaches to us?
People who are sick have a richness that others do not have; a richness of another kind.
In speaking of asceticism and mysticism, the Church refers to illnesses not only in reference to the field of medicine, but as purifications that God sends, therefore as small steps towards union with God.
In addition, our faith tells us that in sickness a person participates in the sufferings of Christ. In this light, the sick person is another Christ crucified who can offer his or her suffering for what is of most value, the eternal salvation of all people.
In the frenzy of work and daily life we are tempted at times to see people who suffer only as marginal cases to help so that they can quickly recover and return to their activities. It doesn’t occur to us that they are the ones who even now can do the most, who can contribute the most.
People who are ill can positively carry out their role on behalf of humanity only if they are understood and loved. Love can help them to give meaning to their condition and to be aware of what they represent.
And what holds true for the sick, holds true also for the disabled. People with a disability need love.
They need to be recognized for the value that their life has: it is sacred, as every other life is sacred, with all the consequent dignity. They need to be considered as persons and, as much as possible, live normal lives among other people.
What should we say about the elderly?
Every life calls for love, and the elderly are no exception.
Today even the elderly constitute a problem because of the increased number of people in this age category due to the higher average life expectancy.
Thus we are aware of a tendency in society to isolate the elderly, to consider them as a social burden because they are no longer productive. We speak of the elderly as a category apart, almost as if we were not speaking of human beings.
Besides the inevitable physical decline they experience, the elderly can become discouraged considering themselves as useless.
We must give new hope to the elderly.
Advanced age is nothing other than the third season of life.
Life that is born, develops, and declines, these are nothing other than three aspects of the one mystery of all life which derives from God-Love.
In certain Asian and African countries, the elderly are highly respected because they possess wisdom.
In fact, the elderly person emphasizes which is essential, what is most important.
We remember what was said about St. John the Evangelist. At the age of eighty, while visiting the Christian communities, he was asked about the message of Jesus. He always replied: “Love one another,” as if he had nothing more to add. With this phrase he had truly focused on the central thought of Christ.
To distance ourselves from the elderly is to deprive ourselves of a patrimony.
We must value them by loving them.
And we must value them even when they are sick and seriously ill, when there is no more hope humanly speaking, and their need for assistance is pressing.
Before God, there is no life, no part of life, that is not worthy of being lived.
(From a talk at a day meeting of the “Movement for Life”)
1 Pope John Paul II
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