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Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 2, 2017

by Professor Hosffman Ospino Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Education School of Theology and Ministry

Hosffman Ospino holds an MA in theology with concentration in Church History and a PhD in Theology and Education from Boston College. Dr. Ospino's research concentrates on the dialogue between theology and culture and the impact of this interchange upon Catholic theological education, catechesis, and ministry.

For your reference - Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Ezekiel 37:12-14
Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

Lent

I Am Ill…Would You Care for Me?

"Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…[I was] ill and you cared for me.'" (Matthew 25:34-36b).

Illness confronts us in radical ways with the fragility of our human condition. The strength and vitality of youth, the sense of being in control, and the assumption that health is something we can take for granted come into question when we become ill. Whether experiencing a mild cold or a toothache, or the natural decline that comes with age, or coming to the realization that life is ending because of a terminal condition, being ill is a reminder that our lives are limited. It is also an invitation to treasure the gift of health in our lives and in other people's lives.

It is precisely in the midst of experiencing the vulnerability of being ill that we find ourselves the most in need of someone to take care of us. Being ill often requires depending on the careful care of others. These others are often relatives and friends who walk with us during the difficult times of illness with their love, compassion, patience, and dedication. Those others also include doctors, nurses, counselors, researchers who develop medicines, companies that build medical equipment, and countless other people that work hard to care for us. One should elevate a prayer every day for all people in the world who dedicate their lives to the care of those who are ill.

While many of us are privileged to count on others to care for us and have access to the best medical care when we become ill, many people in our own neighborhoods, towns, and cities are not that lucky. Despite the efforts to expand health care coverage, about 28 million people in our country remain uninsured and millions are at risk of losing the health insurance they have. The cost of medicine and high quality medical treatment is often prohibitive for low-income families. Hospitals in poor and rural contexts are often underfunded. Many vulnerable populations in our midst lack decent access to health care: children, older people, and pregnant women living in poverty; people living in rural areas; racial/ethnic minorities; and people with disabilities, among others. Environmental contamination (e.g., unhealthy water and air, exposure to chemicals and radiation) severely undermines the health and the life expectancy particularly of people living in the peripheries of our towns and cities. Many of our sisters and brothers are dying before their time because they are not receiving adequate health care.

The words of Jesus, "[I was] ill and you cared for me," invite us this week to turn our attention to those who are ill in the immediacy of our lives, starting with our relatives and friends. We are called to see the face of Christ in them, to love them, and to care for them as they endure the difficult moments that come with illness. Those same words also demand that we care for our sisters and brothers who do not have access to health care, who cannot afford medicine and life-saving treatments, who are alone in hospitals and nursing homes, and who remain practically invisible in the anonymity of their homes with health conditions that prevent them from having a public life. We are called to see the face of Christ in them, to love them, to care for them as they endure not only the difficult moments that come with illness, but also conditions that undermine their health and reduce their life expectancy.

Catholics in the United States have been at the forefront of caring for the ill. Worth highlighting is the dedicated and transformative ministry of tens of thousands of vowed women religious who have served in hospitals, clinics, and health centers throughout the country. Catholic hospitals continue to provide care with a preferential option for life and the poor. Many lay Catholic doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel dedicate their lives to serving those who are most vulnerable, nationally and internationally.

When we encounter the sister or brother who is ill in our midst, regardless of their race/ethnicity, gender, age, and religion, they are the face of Christ for us here and now. Are we seeing the face of Christ in the person who says, "I am ill…would you care for me?"

Accompanying someone who is ill may not be easy. When the other suffers, especially if this is a person close to us, we suffer as well. That is exactly what the word compassion means: to suffer with the other. However, taking care of the ill often requires simple gestures. During his November 9, 2016, audience, reflecting about the words of Jesus that inspire this reflection, Pope Francis provided some practical insights:

Those who are sick often feel alone. We cannot hide the fact that, especially in our days, in sickness one experiences greater loneliness than at other times in life. A visit can make a person who is sick feel less alone, and a little companionship is great medicine! A smile, a caress, a handshake are simple gestures, but they are very important for those who feel abandoned. How many people dedicate themselves to visiting the sick in hospitals or in their homes? It is a priceless voluntary work. When it is done in the Lord’s name, moreover, it also becomes an eloquent and effective expression of mercy. Let us not leave the sick alone! Let us not prevent them from finding consolation, or ourselves from being enriched by our closeness to those who suffer. Hospitals are true "cathedrals of suffering" where, however, the power of supportive and compassionate charity is also made evident.

As we continue to journey through this powerful season of Lent, let us focus part of our prayer and reflection time on how we take care of the ill in our families, our faith communities, our social circles, towns and cities, and in our country.

What can you take up this Lent once you see the face of Christ in the person who is ill? Let me offer you a few suggestions:

Educate yourself, your family, and community about health care issues

Have a conversation with your children or grandchildren about this topic. Host a meeting in your faith community to talk about how to take better care of people who are ill in the community. Draw from the wells of our Catholic wisdom and commitment. For instance:

Advocate

Explore what your parish, diocese, or faith-based organization is doing to increase access to health care, especially among vulnerable populations in our society. Become involved in conversations about health care options that reflect a sound Christian vision and build the common good. Write or speak with your political representatives to learn what they are doing to address situations in which people lack adequate access to good health care. Express your opinion informed by your faith.

Do something practical this Lent

  • Visit a relative or a friend who is ill. Bring a message of hope and encouragement.
  • Visit someone in your faith community who is ill, in the hospital, or in a nursing home.
  • Offer a prayer, as often as possible, for people who are ill.
  • Pray for people who dedicate their lives to improving the health of others and for those who accompany people who are terminally ill during their last moments.

For reflection and discussion:

1. What can you do as a person of faith to raise awareness and take action about better access to health care for all?

2. What will you do this Lent to see the face of Christ in the person who is ill?

3. Can you spare 15 minutes of your busy life at some point this week to pray and meditate? If so, name that moment, reserve it, and treat it as sacred. Return to this reflection during that time.

Please submit a comment or response to this week’s Reflection below. We will post as many possible.

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