Pope Francis says that those who care for the sick and give of themselves with generosity and straightforward love – like St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta – are amongst the Church’s most credible evangelizers.
In his message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated on 11 February, the Pope focused on Jesus’s words to the Apostles: “You received without payment; give without payment” (Mt 10:8).
Just as life is a gift from God, he said, and cannot be reduced to a personal possession or private property, he said that “caring for the sick requires professionalism, tenderness, straightforward and simple gestures freely given, like a caress that makes others feel loved”.
“Amid today’s culture of waste and indifference”, he said, “gift” is the category best suited to challenging today’s individualism and social fragmentation, while at the same time promoting new relationships and means of cooperation between peoples and cultures.
“Gift” he explained is much more than simply giving presents: it involves the giving of oneself and entails the desire to build a relationship.
“Gift is a reflection of God’s love, which culminates in the Incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”, he said.
The Pope also mentioned dialogue – the premise of gift – that, he said, creates possibilities for human growth and development capable of breaking through established ways of exercising power in society.
Pointing out that each of us “is poor, needy and destitute” needing the care of our parents to survive when we are born and remaining in some way dependent on the help of others at every stage of life, Pope Francis said a frank acknowledgement of our limitations “keeps us humble and spurs us to practice solidarity as an essential virtue in life”.
Urging believers to act responsibly to promote the good, he noted that “Only if we see ourselves, not as a world apart, but in a fraternal relationship with others, can we develop a social practice of solidarity aimed at the common good.” At the same time, he said, no one should be afraid to regard themselves as needy or reliant on others, because individually and by our own efforts we cannot overcome our limitations.
Do not fear acknowledging those limitations, he explained: “for God himself, in Jesus, has humbly stooped down to us and continues to do so; in our poverty, he comes to our aid and grants us gifts beyond our imagining”.
Established in 1993 by Pope Saint John Paul II on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, a different city is chosen each year to host the World Day of the Sick. This year the choice has fallen on Calcutta in India and Pope Francis highligted the figure of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a model of charity who made God’s love for the poor and sick visible.
“In all aspects of her life”, he said, “she was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, of those unborn and those abandoned and discarded… She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity”.
The Pope upheld her further saying that “she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created”.
Describing her mission to the urban and existential peripheries as an eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor, the Pope said “Saint Mother Teresa helps us understand that our only criterion of action must be selfless love for every human being, without distinction of language, culture, ethnicity or religion”.
Pope Francis’s message also praised the generosity of so many volunteers who, he said, are so important in health care and who eloquently embody the spirituality of the Good Samaritan. He thanked the many associations run by volunteers that are committed to particular fields of health care including those who promote the rights of the sick, raise awareness and encourage prevention.
Noting that countless persons who are ill, alone, elderly or frail in mind or body benefit from these services, he urged them to continue to be a sign of the Church’s presence in a secularized world: “Volunteer work passes on values, behaviours and ways of living born of a deep desire to be generous. It is also a means of making health care more humane.”
The Pope also thanked Catholic healthcare institutions for their service, saying they are called “to give an example of self-giving, generosity and solidarity and he warned them against the trap of “simply running a business”.
Health, he said, “is relational, dependent on interaction with others, and requiring trust, friendship and solidarity. It is a treasure that can be enjoyed fully only when it is shared. The joy of generous giving is a barometer of the health of a Christian”.
Finally Pope Francis urged everyone “at every level, to promote the culture of generosity and of gift, which is indispensable for overcoming the culture of profit and waste”.