The Balm of Sickness
How often in welcoming and blessing groups of pilgrims who gather at the feet of the common father of all the faithful, Our anxious thought has flown to those who were absent, to you above all, beloved sons and daughters, the sick and infirm of Italy and of the whole world, who cannot come here with those others, because you are nailed to the cross of your sufferings.
How often has Our heart yearned to visit you, to pass in your midst in much the same way as Jesus did during His earthly life, on the shores of the lake, along the roads, in the homes, and as He continues to do in the Eucharist, in the shadow of the great Marian shrines, blessing and healing. But how is it possible to visit you, scattered as you are over the whole surface of the globe, in which there is not one corner that is immune from sickness and suffering?
And so We thought of visiting you with Our word, of making Our voice travel to the very end of the earth, reaching all without exception, wherever you may be, in hospitals, in sanatoria, clinics, private domes, to speak with each of you alone, to bend over your bed, to make you feel the tenderness of Our paternal affection, to apply to your sufferings the balm of the passion of our Savior Jesus Christ, a balm which, if it does not always heal, at least always brings comfort and relief.
As the Holy Year approaches, We would like to prepare you for this great period of grace by helping you better to understand and appreciate the harvest you can reap by meditation on the sufferings of Jesus: a harvest which can sweeten your bitter lot with patience, enlighten it with hope, transfigure it with the consciousness of its value and of its fruitfulness.
The balm of the passion of Jesus will give you the patience to bear this trial. It is often very difficult for poor human nature, oppressed by the weight of sickness, or by an acute or chronic illness which tortures by its intensity or endlessness, to be resigned, to go on believing that God loves it still when He lets it suffer so! Is it not crucified? Yes; but look at Him Who is “the crucified” par excellence. Do you recognize Who it is? He is the beloved Son, in Whom the Father is well pleased. (a) Behold Him, look into His eyes, and tell the Good God that you believe that He loves you.
Stretched perhaps on an uncomfortable bed, as you turn now to one side and now to the other without ever finding peace, look at Jesus, held immobile by the nails which fix Him to the rough wood of the bare cross.
Is your throat burning with fever? Are the medicines bitter? To Jesus on Golgotha they gave only vinegar and gall. ( a) And so to each of your complaints He replies sweetly: “Ah yes! I know how it is; I experienced the same pains. Having taken upon Myself all sufferings, by that experience too, I am compassionate and merciful.”
This balm, too, will support your hope. Perhaps you feel it tottering at times. The suffering lasts so long! Will it perhaps last forever? That may be only your impression, but it may be, alas, that your sickness is humanly speaking incurable, and that this you know. You have prayed, but have not obtained either a complete cure or even an improvement. And so you feel that God has abandoned you.
Then a sense of discouragement fills your heart, and overcome by suffering and despondency, you let a groan escape you. Unless this becomes a complaint, your Heavenly Father will not reprove you for it. He hears it as if it were a lament of His beloved Son, to Whose voice He seemed to remain deaf. Look on Jesus, then. Prostrate in agony He had prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass Me by; only as Thy will is, not as Mine is.” ( a ) Dying on the cross He had cried: “My God, My God, why bast Thou forsaken Me?” ( b) And, obedient unto death, He exclaims: “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.” (c) But behold Him later: risen, glorious, blessed for all eternity!
No; your suffering will not last forever. Open your heart to immortal hope, and say with the afflicted Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that on the last day I shall rise up from the dust ... and in my flesh I shall have sight of God.” (a) Give heed to the Apostle St. Paul, who assures us that “these present sufferings are not to be compared to that glory which is to be revealed in us.” (b)
Finally, this balm will add to your sorrows an ineffable sweetness, because the passion of Jesus reveals the fruitfulness of your suffering for yourselves, for others, for the whole world. More than all else, you suffer because of your inactivity, because you feel you are unproductive and useless, a burden on those about you. And you grieve that your life is so unwholesome and sterile. Yet does not sickness serenely accepted refine the spirit, infuse into the soul noble thoughts, point out to wayward hearts the vanity and stupidity of worldly pleasures, heal moral ills, and inspire generous resolutions?
But there is still more to be added!
Look at the cross, look at all those who have suffered!
By His words and examples, Jesus taught men. By His miracles, He went about doing good. But it was by His passion and His cross that He redeemed the world: “We adore Thee, 0 Christ, and bless Thee, because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.” The same Jesus exhorts you to take up your cross and follow Him. It is an invitation to cooperate with Him in the work of redemption. Just as the Father sent Him, so He sends you; and We, His vicar here below, confirm and bless the mission He has entrusted to you. Beloved children, you who are sick and infirm, during the Holy Year We shall be depending on the prayers and activity of all the faithful. But We are counting still more on holy suffering, which, in union with the passion of Jesus, will give to that activity and to that prayer their perfection and efficacy.
That balm of the passion which strengthens you with patience and hope in your trial, and which enables you to appreciate its incomparable value and sovereign power, will certainly not harden you into a prideful form of insensibility, which has nothing in common with filial conformity to the will of the divine Father. This conformity closes neither heart nor lips to prayer, but lends them the odor of incense, which in the flame rises to the very throne of God.
Yes, 0 Jesus! Let Our prayer, in union with the sufferings of Thy most holy Mother, be accompanied also by the prayer of all who suffer in their own flesh, or in the flesh of those whom most they love in life.
Turn your eyes towards that poor father reduced to inactivity by illness, who cannot with the sweat of his brow nourish and educate his young children. Turn them towards that mother whose diminished strength forces her to abandon the family circle which with so much love she governed and directed for the well-being and happiness of the whole family.
Turn your eyes toward those young men, so determined and enterprising, who asked only to work and use their lives well, and now see themselves, instead, fastened to a bed of pain while so many others foolishly waste their health and youthful vigor. Turn your eyes to those men and women full of charity, instruments of God’s providence for the afflicted and the wayward, whose sickness is such a loss to those many unfortunate people once helped by their charity.
Jesus, hear Our prayer, hear Us as Thou didst hear the petition of the centurion for his servant, of the nobleman for his son, of Jairus for his daughter dying in the flower of youth, of the Cananite woman whose faith so deeply moved Thy heart.
But if in the secret of your adorable designs the trial is to be prolonged, perhaps to be ended only by death, then to these grant serenity, and a sweet and holy demise. To those others grant filial resignation, a full enjoyment of the supernatural fruits of the Holy Year, and the supreme consolation of fulfilling, despite the infirmity of their body, or rather by means of that very infirmity, the noble mission of salvation entrusted to them. To those who stand weeping at the bedside of the sick, give the strength to make their presence an encouragement, and to unite their distress with the sorrow of Thy most pure Mother standing at the foot of the cross.
And as a pledge of the most abundant divine comforts, may this Apostolic Blessing come upon you all, this Blessing which We invoke upon you with every fibre of Our heart.
Consecration of the Sick to the Blessed Virgin Mary
(Prayer composed by Pius XII)
O kind and good Mother, whose own soul was pierced by the sword of sorrow, look upon us while, in our sickness, we arraign ourselves beside you on the Calvary where your Jesus hangs.
Dowered with the high grace of suffering, and hopeful of fulfilling in our own flesh what is wanting in our sharing of Christ’s passion, on behalf of his Mystical Body, the Church, we consecrate to you ourselves and our pain. We pray that you will place them on that Altar of the Cross to which Jesus is affixed. May they be little victims of propitiation for our salvation, for the salvation of all peoples.
O Mother of Sorrows, accept this consecration. Strengthen our hopeful hearts, that as partakers of Christ’s sufferings we may also share in his comfort now and for evermore.