"Don't get old and don't get sick!" was the advice given many years ago by an elderly, hospitalized man to a very young priest on his weekly pastoral visits. As you may have surmised, I was that young priest. That man's words have accompanied me in my ministry for over twenty-five years. Considering the inevitable, one would find it oddly comical that obeying his counsel would require one to depart this earth both young and healthy. Actually, in his doleful state this man saw in my youthful vigor something he once had and had no more. Since that encounter long ago, I have witnessed like sufferings of so many other due to the disabilities of age or tragic illness. Indeed, their eyes had become "windows of the soul" and one could see a search for meaning and for hope in what they had to endure. Even in the presence of expert care and tender concern, there was an inner longing for some solution to the conundrum of life. Love and caring are powerful medicines, but more was needed to effect a cure for the critical condition of their souls. One must look to the ~ who bore the world's infirmities and conquered them.
Many of the miracles recorded in the gospels recount incidents of Jesus curing someone of either a physical or a spiritual malady. In restoring a person to physical health, Jesus always looked first to the faith of the individual. Most noteworthy were Jesus' healings through the forgiveness of a person's sins. Here was the meaningful restoration intended by Jesus. Granting humanity's mortal nature, any healing of a physical ailment restores one to a temporary state of health. Eventually, death was the victor. Thus Jesus seeks true and eternal healing through the forgiveness of sin. This is a potent reminder of the essential value and sacredness of life. The appellation "shut-in" often is used to categorize a person who is constrained by illness or injury from engaging in what is considered to be "normal" activity. Depending on the age or the personality of the individual, one may feel a pronounced sense of loss, anger, despair, resignation, and uselessness or one may find a certain peace and a deeper wisdom in his or her life.
For the latter a process of love and discovery has taken place. Feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness based on the inability to meet the criteria of a life now past are rejected in favor of the recognition of a more profound worth and of a divine value in living. Linked to Christ, suffering becomes redemptive. Often, there is a fervent effort to express the primacy of God's love and the importance of loving one another. This not pious speculation on my part, but an accurate account from personal experience.
We are all shut-ins. Throughout the stages of life, we struggle with various limitations. We strive to reach new goals and to develop the skills necessary to accomplish them. If we are thoughtful, we begin to realize that, indeed, we are on a journey filled with choices to be made and opportunities to be seized or missed. Our mettle is tested by the vagaries of life. As we make our pilgrim way, I am convinced that it is God's will that we grasp the evolutionary processes of the soul and uncover the lessons lying just beneath the surface of our experiences. There are treasures buried in the sands of time. In this sacred and beautiful gift of life, epiphanies arise to be discerned and appreciated.
Dwelling in the heights of our most enthusiastic celebrations and in the depths of our gravest fears is one great truth. It finds expression in a statement by an English journalist after spending an appreciable amount of time observing with work of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta:
"Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account. It is inconceivable that it should be in some cases one, and in some cases the other ."
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S..J. (1881-1955)
Until our souls break free from all that fetters us, we trust as children of God.