SEEING JESUS IN THE SICK AND ELDERLY (Read Mt. 25: 31-46)
UTILITARIANISM! A very long word, difficult to pronounce without tripping over one of the letters, and understood by very few, permeates the American society with its philosophy and praxis.
MEANING AND PROPONENTS. Two of the major proponents of this all-pervasive philosophy were English political philosophers of the 19th century—J.S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Its meaning? To be direct and to the point and as clear as possible, the meaning is the following: The human person has value in proportion to how much money they can make and save, as well as the possessions they accumulate. A classic example of this is given by the well-known author Charles Dickens in his literary masterpiece The Christmas Carol and his infamous character EBENEZER SCROOGE! Gaining money at whatever cost, holding on to it, and milking his worker Bob Cratchit for every minute of his time while paying him as little as possible in return, was the essence of Scrooge’s life, that is before his dream one Christmas Eve when he saw his own death which led to his conversion.
EXAMINE THE SOCIETY AS A WHOLE. Whether we like it or not, many people, sectors, and economic and political blocks in society are motivated by the desire for money, power, possessions, pleasure and ease, and they have little appreciation, if any at all, for the value of the human person. Much less is a handicapped, sick or elderly person to be valued and appreciated.
In light of this sad but all so true reality, let us reflect on ways that we can swim against the current, be counter-cultural, and raise the banner in defense of these people who are possibly considered a burden to society—most specifically the handicapped, the infirm, the elderly and the sick.
We would like to offer concrete actions that we can take on our part to elevate, sustain, encourage and promote the dignity of these cherished children loved so much by the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, persons loved in a special way by God’s best of friends—the Saints.
OUR PASTORAL, PRACTICAL PLAN TO SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE THE ELDERLY AND THE SICK
1. PRAYER. In any activity, enterprise, or initiative undertaken, we should always start with prayer, follow through with prayer, and end with prayer. In other words, we should lift up our minds, hearts and souls in humble supplication for the physical, moral, emotional and spiritual well-being of the elderly and the sick. What prayers? Any prayer offered with humility and purity of heart is pleasing to God. However, the most powerful prayer is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Holy Communion.
2. VISIT THE ELDERLY AND THE SICK. As a priest for more than three decades, and having often visited the elderly and the sick, it is appalling and disheartening to see so many of them abandoned—sad to say, even by their relatives and friends, the ones who should be closest to them and their greatest consolation, especially as they become weak and vulnerable in the twilight of their lives.
3. PRAY WITH THEM. First and foremost, we should always have in mind the importance of the spiritual welfare of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, but most especially the elderly and the ailing. Our greatest desire for them should be that they have a holy and happy death and attain the purpose of their life on earth—union with the Blessed Trinity forever in Heaven. Indeed, prayer is the key that unlocks the door to true happiness in this life and the Gateway to Heaven.
4. BRING THEM JOY! Smile at them! One of the most sure signs of being a follower of Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph is that of shining forth with a winning smile. Sadness, a long face, and a frown are contagious and emit a bad odor. However, to the contrary, a winning smile can transform a cloudy, rainy, gloomy environment into an ambience of joy and peace and consolation. Economically, a smile is the best deal around—free of charge and contagious!
5. BRING THEM A GIFT. Any gift offered with generosity of heart can easily create not only joy, but also a true bond of friendship. All of us have been elevated in spirit by being the recipient of some gift, even though in terms of economic value it might have been relatively small. The thoughtfulness and love behind the gift in the heart of the giver is what has the greatest value!
6. LISTEN TO THEM. One of the most famous one-liners of Shakespeare is the following: “Lend me your ears!” Exactly that! Lend your ears to the elderly and the sick who often suffer a crushing loneliness, abandonment and sense of futility in life. While listening to them, pay attention and show interest, even if the elderly persons, due to dementia or Alzheimer’s, repeat themselves over and over again. Never forget these elderly and sick persons are Jesus in disguise. The Lord Himself stated: “I was sick and you visited me…. Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, that you did to me.” (Mt 25: 36-40)
7. READ TO THEM! Many can no longer read well due to problems with their eyesight. What might you read? The Gospel of the day, a chapter from Saint Paul, a Psalm or a few of the Psalms, a short reading from the saint of the day. At the end of his life and nearly blind, Saint Alphonsus asked a brother to read a spiritual book to him, which helped him immensely. On one occasion, Alphonsus was so impressed by the clarity, unction and spirituality of the book that was read to him, that he enthusiastically blurted out: “Who wrote that? Whoever wrote this book must be a great saint!” The brother looked at the cover of the book and said, “The author is Bishop Alphonsus Maria Liguori!!!“
8. TALK TO THEM. Not only should we smile at them, listen to them, and read to them, but also we should talk to them. Tell them something interesting and uplifting to encourage them. Strive always to slip in some humorous anecdote or joke. This can have a lot of mileage in elevating drooping spirits.
9. EXPOSE THEM TO THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S CREATION. God is beauty and He expresses Himself in such a variety of ways, but in a special way through nature and animals, especially pets. An elderly or sick person cooped up in their room can get get cabin-fever linked with depression. Being exposed to the beauty of the sunrise or sunset, a glimmering rainbow, the fragrant aroma of spring flowers in full-bloom, a choir of birds chirping in unison to their heart’s delight, the majestic glory of a mountain cloaked with snow, a meadow speckled with a vast array of radiant flowers, can pull a lonely elderly or sick and depressed person from the depths of desolation to an overflowing consolation. Equally important and not to be overlooked, a frisky, happy, exuberant and friendly dog who wags his tail a mile a minute can serve as a sure conduit from sadness to joy!
10. BRING THEM JESUS, THE CHURCH, AND THE SACRAMENTS. How often it happens that we can easily become blind and oblivious to what is of greatest importance for the elderly and the sick as they approach the day in which the Lord will be calling them from this life to Judgment and eternity. Of greatest importance is to bring JESUS to the elderly and the sick! In concrete, bring the person of the priest to them so that they can receive JESUS through the Sacraments. Every Catholic should have the most ardent desire in his heart to have the extraordinary blessing of receiving the Last Sacraments before passing from this life to the next. By the Last Sacraments we mean the following in this order and sequence: Sacramental Confession to the priest, the Anointing of the sick, and finally the most Holy Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus the Lord, the Divine Physician and Savior. Moreover, if the person is dying, after receiving these three Sacraments, put the frosting on the cake by granting the now dying person the extraordinary grace and privilege of the Apostolic Pardon—which can only be granted by the priest. “Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May He open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.” By receiving this incredible gift from the treasure-store of the Church, if the elderly or the sick person has been called by God from this life to the next, they can have immediate access to Heaven. Upon dying they will be welcomed into the eternal and everlasting embrace of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for all eternity. The infinite and indescribable joys of heaven will be theirs forevermore!
In conclusion, every human person has infinite value. All are created in the image and likeness of God, and if baptized are living Tabernacles of the Blessed Trinity through grace. The handicapped, the sick, the elderly have great value and are truly loved by Jesus. He has a very special love for them in His Sacred Heart. In His Public Life, Jesus always showed a special attention, tenderness, love and compassion for the marginalized, the poor, the lepers, the sick and ailing. That is still the case. However, Jesus is now present in His Mystical Body, the Church, and you are one of His living members. You are called in a very special way to be the hands, the feet, the mind, and the Heart of Jesus in the manner in which you treat His loved ones—the poor, the handicapped, the ailing and sick, the elderly and even the dying. Jesus said this with utmost clarity to you and me: “I was sick and you visited me… whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, that you did to me.” (Mt 25: 36-40) Accept the challenge and come quickly to the aid of Jesus who is truly present in the distressing disguise of the poor, elderly, sick and suffering. It is truly the Lord Jesus Himself that you are serving!