During these last days I have been in a daze. Ever since the news on Tuesday morning, that my little sister needed to have some ominous tests done, I felt like someone who is permanently in a state of freshly having been slapped. I can’t quite get away from worrying about my little sister, no matter what I do, and I keep thinking about whether enough time has passed before I can call her or someone else in my family again to see whether there are “news.” Clearly, this is not about news, but about needing to stay close, even at a distance.
Later that same day - last Tuesday - I then read the interview with Pope Francis, and one passage in particular stuck in my mind:
“A teacher of life for me has been Dostoevskij, and a question of his, both explicit and implicit, has always gone around in my heart: “Why do children suffer?” There is no explanation. [...] In front of a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to me is the prayer why. Why, Lord? He doesn’t explain anything to me. But I feel that he is looking at me. So I can say: You know the why, I don’t it and You don’t tell me, but You are looking at me and I trust You, Lord, I trust your gaze.”In many ways my little sister, who is 12 years younger than me, is still like a child to me - even though she is an adult and, as a medical doctor, knows incomparably more about what is going on with her than I ever could. Maybe that is why Pope Francis’ words had such a particular resonance for me. Looking at my little sister, I just keep asking “Why?”
Since his words seemed to fit my situation so intimately, I set out to look at what else he has said about the subject of suffering and illness and I found a couple of other, deeply insightful words by him.
First, how Jesus is particularly present in those who are sick and that this is connatural with his presence in the Eucharist. Those who are sick are essentially tabernacles:
“On the altar we adore the Flesh of Jesus; in the people we find the wounds of Jesus. Jesus hidden in the Eucharist and Jesus hidden in these wounds. [...] The Christian adores Jesus, the Christian seeks Jesus, the Christian knows how to recognize the wounds of Jesus. [...] Jesus is present among [those who are sick], it is the Flesh of Jesus: the wounds of Jesus are present in [those who are sick].”This is not meant as an explaining away of illness, but simply as in identification of our suffering with that of Jesus and with Jesus himself. That this is not a matter of explanation, but instead of vicinity and of believing to be looked upon with love, is also clear from Francis’ (and Benedict XVI’s) words in Lumen Fidei:
“To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. Christ is the one who, having endured suffering, is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).”Finally, in one of his morning homilies, Francis also spoke about three features of how I have felt during these last days: lamenting my little sister’s illness, feeling restless and praying viscerally:
“To lament before God is not a sin. A priest I know once said to a woman who lamented to God about her misfortune: ‘But, madam, that is a form of prayer. Go ahead with it.’ The Lord hears, He listens to our complaints. Think of the greats, of Job, when in chapter three (he says): ‘Cursed be the day I came into the world,’ and Jeremiah, in the twentieth chapter: ‘Cursed be the day’ – they complain even cursing, not the Lord, but the situation, right? It is only human.Dear Jesus, please, take this cross away from my little sister; help us always feel your loving gaze.
Pray for [those who are sick]. They must come into my heart, they must be a cause of restlessness for me: my brother is suffering, my sister suffers. Here is the mystery of the communion of saints: pray to the Lord, ‘But, Lord, look at that person: he cries, he is suffering. Pray, let me say, with the flesh: that our flesh pray. Not with ideas. Praying with the heart.”