Let me conclude by summarizing my reflections on the voice of illness by sharing the wisdom of a friend, the wife of a deacon candidate. One of her colleagues at work was dealing with what seemed to be depression. All of a sudden it was as if a darkness and heaviness has descended upon her. One day, seeing she was too ill to stay at work, my friend offered to drive her home, as she didn’t even seem capable of driving. While driving my friend said to her, “if you want to talk, I’m happy to listen, but if you want to just rest and be silent, that’s OK too.” When my friend was recounting the story to me, I remarked to her, “You were being a deacon’s wife.” She looked at me and replied, “No, I was being a friend.”
And that, I think summarises it all. We need to be friends to all we meet, but especially of the poor and the needy, just as Christ was a friend to the poor and needy. We are called to be friends to those who are suffering and who are lonely. The Church is called to be a friend to the poor. And who is a friend? Someone who listens out of true love and who is present is a true friend. A true friend does not judge, nor sets the agenda. A true friend does not have any prejudices or biases. A true friend loves and sees the dignity in everyone. A true friend always offers hope and seeks to comfort. I am reminded of St. Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.
A true Christian friend recognises that everyone’s dignity comes from the fact that God loved us first. This friend recognises that God alone is God and He is our comfort and healing. He is our Salvation and He makes all things new. A true Christian friend recognises that we can encounter God in our woundedness and pain. We encounter God in our poverty and loneliness; in our despair and desperation. God is in our insecurities and weaknesses, in our emptiness, our fears and our longings. God himself is in our voice of illness. God may not take away our suffering and we may never understand the reason or purpose of our suffering, but our God suffers with us.
During this past Season of Advent and now Christmas, these notions have been reinforced for me, (not just because of all those wonderful readings from Isaiah) for I believe that this is the God of Advent and Christmas: the God whose earthly mother was an unmarried pregnant teen-ager, the God who was born in a dirty stable because of an inconvenient and patronising census, who survived a horrible massacre of infant boys, who was persecuted into exile and who lived the first years of his life as a refugee in a strange land. This God, who came to “shine on those who dwell in darkness” is the same God who was betrayed, arrested, mocked and beaten, tortured and who died hanging on a cross as a common criminal. But it is that same God who is also our resurrection. And because of this, the only way to respond to the voice of illness is as a true friend, who can depart from the point of his or her own brokenness in compassion, to 'suffer with' all those she or he meets. This is how we can best help people discover where God is. If that is all we do, then, I believe, we have served well.
Read all the posts of The voice of illness: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part 7.
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