Dear brothers and sisters:
The celebration of the 29th World Day of the Sick, which will take place on 11 February 2021, the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, is a propitious moment to give special attention to the sick and to those who care for them, both in the places where they are cared for and within families and communities. I am thinking in particular of those throughout the world who are suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. To all, especially the poorest and most marginalized, I express my spiritual closeness, while assuring them of the Church's solicitude and affection.
1. The theme of this Day is inspired by the Gospel passage in which Jesus criticizes the hypocrisy of those who say but do not do (cf. Mt 23:1-12). When faith is limited to sterile verbal exercises, without involvement in the history and needs of our neighbor, the coherence between the professed creed and real life is weakened. The risk is serious; for this reason, Jesus uses strong expressions, to warn us of the danger of falling into idolatry of ourselves, and affirms: "One is your teacher and you are all brothers" (v. 8).
The criticism that Jesus directs at those who "say, but do not do" (v. 3) is beneficial, always and for everyone, because no one is immune to the evil of hypocrisy, a very serious evil, whose effect is to prevent us from flourishing as children of the one Father, called to live a universal fraternity.
Faced with the needy condition of a brother or sister, Jesus shows us a model of behavior totally opposed to hypocrisy. He proposes to stop, to listen, to establish a direct and personal relationship with the other, to feel empathy and emotion for him or her, to allow oneself to be involved in his or her suffering to the point of taking care of him or her through service (cf. Lk 10:30-35).
2. The experience of illness makes us feel our own vulnerability and, at the same time, the innate need of the other. Our condition as creatures becomes even clearer and we experience in an evident way our dependence on God. Indeed, when we are sick, uncertainty, fear and sometimes consternation take hold of our mind and heart; we find ourselves in a situation of helplessness, because our health does not depend on our abilities or on our being "anxious" (cf. Mt 6:27).
Illness imposes a question of meaning, which in faith is addressed to God; a question that seeks a new meaning and a new direction for existence, and which sometimes may not find an immediate answer. Our own friends and relatives cannot always help us in this laborious search.
In this respect, the biblical figure of Job is emblematic. His wife and friends are not able to accompany him in his misfortune, indeed, they accuse him, increasing his loneliness and bewilderment. Job falls into a state of abandonment and incomprehension. But precisely through this extreme fragility, rejecting all hypocrisy and choosing the path of sincerity with God and with others, he makes his insistent cry reach God, who finally responds, opening a new horizon for him. It confirms to him that his suffering is not a condemnation or a punishment, nor is it a state of distance from God or a sign of his indifference. Thus, from the wounded and healed heart of Job, flows that moving declaration to the Lord, which resounds with energy: "I knew you only by hearsay, but now my eyes have seen you" (42:5).
3. Illness always has a face, even more than one: it has the face of every sick person, including those who feel ignored, excluded, victims of social injustices that deny their fundamental rights (cf. Encyclical Letter, p. 4). Fratelli tutti, 22). The current pandemic has brought to light numerous inadequacies in health systems and shortcomings in the care of the sick. The elderly, the weakest and most vulnerable are not always guaranteed access to treatment, and not always in an equitable manner. This depends on political decisions, the way resources are managed and the commitment of those in positions of responsibility. Investing resources in the care and attention of sick people is a priority linked to a principle: health is a primary common good. At the same time, the pandemic has also highlighted the dedication and generosity of health workers, volunteers, workers, priests, men and women religious who, with professionalism, selflessness, a sense of responsibility and love of neighbor, have helped, cared for, comforted and served so many sick people and their families. A silent multitude of men and women who have decided to look at those faces, taking care of the wounds of the patients, who felt they were neighbors because they belonged to the same human family.
Closeness, in fact, is a very precious balm that offers support and comfort to those who suffer in sickness. As Christians, we live projimity as an expression of the love of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, who with compassion has made himself close to every human being, wounded by sin. United to him by the action of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be merciful like the Father and to love, in particular, our sick, weak and suffering brothers and sisters (cf. Jn 13:34-35). And we live this closeness not only in a personal way, but also in a communitarian way: in fact, fraternal love in Christ generates a community capable of healing, which abandons no one, which includes and welcomes especially the most fragile.
In this regard, I wish to recall the importance of fraternal solidarity, which is expressed concretely in service and which can take on very different forms, all aimed at supporting our neighbor. "To serve means to care for the fragile in our families, in our society, in our people" (Homily in Havana20 September 2015). In this commitment, each one is capable of "putting aside his searches, worries, desires of omnipotence before the concrete gaze of the most fragile. [...] Service always looks at the face of the brother, touches his flesh, feels his projimity and even in some cases "suffers" it and seeks the promotion of the brother. For this reason, service is never ideological, since it does not serve ideas, but rather serves persons" (ibid.).
4. For a good therapy, the relational aspect is decisive, through which a holistic approach to the sick person can be adopted. Giving value to this aspect also helps doctors, nurses, professionals and volunteers to take charge of those who suffer in order to accompany them on a path of healing, thanks to an interpersonal relationship of trust (cf. New Charter for Health Care Workers , 4). It is therefore a matter of establishing a pact between those in need of care and those who care for them; a pact based on mutual trust and respect, on sincerity, on availability, to overcome every defensive barrier, to place the dignity of the sick person at the center, to safeguard the professionalism of health care workers and to maintain a good relationship with the patients' families.
It is precisely this relationship with the sick person that finds an inexhaustible source of motivation and strength in the charity of Christ, as demonstrated by the witness of thousands of men and women who have sanctified themselves by serving the sick. Indeed, from the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection flows the love that can give full meaning both to the patient's condition and to that of the caregiver. The Gospel testifies to this many times, showing that the healings that Jesus performed are never magical gestures, but are always the fruit of an encounter, of an interpersonal relationship, in which the gift of God that Jesus offers is matched by the faith of the one who receives it, as summarized by the words that Jesus often repeats: "Your faith has saved you".
5. Dear brothers and sisters, the commandment of love, which Jesus left to his disciples, also finds a concrete realization in our relationship with the sick. A society is all the more human the more it knows how to care for its fragile and suffering members, and it knows how to do so efficiently, animated by fraternal love. Let us strive towards this goal, ensuring that no one is left alone, that no one feels excluded or abandoned.
I entrust to Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick, all those who are ill, health care workers and all those who work with those who suffer. May she, from the Grotto of Lourdes and from the countless shrines dedicated to her throughout the world, sustain our faith and our hope, and help us to care for one another with fraternal love. To each and every one of you I impart my heartfelt blessing.
Rome, St. John Lateran, December 20, 2020, Fourth Sunday of Advent.