MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER ON THE OCCASION
OF THE TWENTY-THIRD WORLD DAY OF THE SICK
(11 FEBRUARY 2015)
“I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this, the twenty-third World Day of the Sick, begun by Saint John
Paul II, I turn to all of you who are burdened by illness and are united in
various ways to the flesh of the suffering Christ, as well as to you,
professionals and volunteers in the field of health care.
This year’s theme invites us to reflect on a phrase from the Book of Job:
“I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame” (Job 29:15). I would like to
consider this phrase from the perspective of “sapientia cordis” – the wisdom of
1. This “wisdom” is no theoretical, abstract knowledge, the product
of reasoning. Rather, it is, as Saint James describes it in his Letter, “pure, then
peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without
uncertainty or insincerity” (3:17). It is a way of seeing things infused by the Holy
Spirit in the minds and the hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings
of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God. So let
us take up the prayer of the Psalmist: “Teach us to number our days that we
may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). This “sapientia cordis”, which is a gift of
God, is a compendium of the fruits of the World Day of the Sick.
2. Wisdom of the heart means serving our brothers and sisters. Job’s
words: “I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame”, point to the service
which this just man, who enjoyed a certain authority and a position of
importance amongst the elders of his city, offered to those in need. His moral
grandeur found expression in the help he gave to the poor who sought his
help and in his care for orphans and widows (Job 29:12-13).
Today too, how many Christians show, not by their words but by lives
rooted in a genuine faith, that they are “eyes to the blind” and “feet to the
lame”! They are close to the sick in need of constant care and help in washing,
dressing and eating. This service, especially when it is protracted, can become
tiring and burdensome. It is relatively easy to help someone for a few days
but it is difficult to look after a person for months or even years, in some cases
when he or she is no longer capable of expressing gratitude. And yet, what a
great path of sanctification this is! In those difficult moments we can rely in a
special way on the closeness of the Lord, and we become a special means of
support for the Church’s mission.
3. Wisdom of the heart means being with our brothers and sisters. Time
spent with the sick is holy time. It is a way of praising God who conforms us
to the image of his Son, who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give
his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). Jesus himself said: “I am among you
as one who serves” (Lk 22:27).
With lively faith let us ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the grace to
appreciate the value of our often unspoken willingness to spend time with
these sisters and brothers who, thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more
loved and comforted. How great a lie, on the other hand, lurks behind certain
phrases which so insist on the importance of “quality of life” that they make
people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!
4. Wisdom of the heart means going forth from ourselves towards our
brothers and sisters. Occasionally our world forgets the special value of time
spent at the bedside of the sick, since we are in such a rush; caught up as we
are in a frenzy of doing, of producing, we forget about giving ourselves freely,
taking care of others, being responsible for others. Behind this attitude there is
often a lukewarm faith which has forgotten the Lord’s words: “You did it unto
me’ (Mt 25:40).
For this reason, I would like once again to stress “the absolute priority of
‘going forth from ourselves toward our brothers and sisters’ as one of the two
great commandments which ground every moral norm and as the clearest sign
for discerning spiritual growth in response to God’s completely free gift”
(Evangelii Gaudium, 179). The missionary nature of the Church is the
wellspring of an “effective charity and a compassion which understands,
assists and promotes” (ibid).
5. Wisdom of the heart means showing solidarity with our brothers and
sisters while not judging them. Charity takes time. Time to care for the sick and
time to visit them. Time to be at their side like Job’s friends: “And they sat
with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a
word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13). Yet
Job’s friends harboured a judgement against him: they thought that Job’s
misfortune was a punishment from God for his sins. True charity is a sharing
which does not judge, which does not demand the conversion of others; it is
free of that false humility which, deep down, seeks praise and is self-satisfied
about whatever good it does.
Job’s experience of suffering finds its genuine response only in the cross
of Jesus, the supreme act of God’s solidarity with us, completely free and
abounding in mercy. This response of love to the drama of human pain,
especially innocent suffering, remains for ever impressed on the body of the
risen Christ; his glorious wounds are a scandal for faith but also the proof of
faith (cf. Homily for the Canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II, 27 April
Even when illness, loneliness and inability make it hard for us to reach
out to others, the experience of suffering can become a privileged means of
transmitting grace and a source for gaining and growing in sapientia cordis.
We come to understand how Job, at the end of his experience, could say to
God: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you”
(42:5). People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they
accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable
of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full
6. I entrust this World Day of the Sick to the maternal protection of
Mary, who conceived and gave birth to Wisdom incarnate: Jesus Christ, our
O Mary, Seat of Wisdom, intercede as our Mother for all the sick and for
those who care for them! Grant that, through our service of our suffering
neighbours, and through the experience of suffering itself, we may receive and
cultivate true wisdom of heart!
With this prayer for all of you, I impart my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 3 December 2014,
Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier