On Sunday, Pope Francis denounced the increasingly prevalent mentality which claims that sick and disabled persons cannot be happy, and should be kept out of sight from society. In reality, he said, true happiness is achieved by our capacity to love.
“In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model,” the Pope said during his June 12 homily for Mass in St. Peter's Square.
Speaking at the the Mass, which was the last major event of this weekend's Jubilee for sick and disabled persons, the pontiff decried the belief that such persons “cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment.”
“In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis,” he said.
This mentality suggests that the sick and disabled should be kept apart from society in “enclosures” or on “'islands' of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being.”
People who “shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability,” he said, “fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations,” he said.
In reality, happiness can only be achieved “if we are capable of loving,” the pontiff said.
“How many disabled and suffering persons open their hearts to life again as soon as they realize they are loved! How much love can well up in a heart simply with a smile! The therapy of the smile. Then our frailness itself can become a source of consolation and support in our solitude.”
Sunday's Mass in the Vatican was the final major event of the June 10-12 Jubilee for the sick and persons with disabilities. It was the latest initiative in the Holy Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8, 2015, and will conclude Nov. 20, 2016.
In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the day's reading from St. Paul to the Galatians on the “mystery of the Christian life, which can be summed up in the paschal dynamic of death and resurrection received at baptism.”
Through Baptism, each of us “dies and is buried with Christ,” the Pope said, and then, “remerging, shows forth new life in the Holy Spirit.”
“This rebirth embraces every aspect of our lives: even sickness, suffering and death are taken up in Christ and in him find their ultimate meaning.”
Speaking especially for the those taking part in the Jubilee, the pontiff reflected how everyone will one day face — often painfully — “frailty and illness, both our own and those of others.”
While these “dramatically human experiences” take different forms, they nonetheless “raise the pressing question of the meaning of life,” he said.
When faced of these experiences, some may become cynical, “as if the only solution were simply to put up with these experiences, trusting only in our own strength,” the Pope said.
Others, meanwhile, may put their trust in science with the belief that medicine has a cure, despite the fact that this is not always the case, he said.
Francis drew from the day's Gospel account of the woman caught in adultery who, like persons who are sick and disabled, is cast aside by society. “Jesus accepts and defends her,” and “is attentive to her suffering and her plea,” the Pope explained.
His tenderness toward the woman “is a sign of the love that God shows to those who suffer and are cast aside.”
In addition to physical suffering, the pontiff spoke also of spiritual suffering, which he described as “one of today’s most frequent pathologies.”
“It is a suffering of the heart; it causes sadness for lack of love,” he said. “When we experience disappointment or betrayal in important relationships, we come to realize how vulnerable and defenseless we are.”
“The temptation to become self-absorbed grows stronger, and we risk losing life’s greatest opportunity: to love in spite of everything.”
The pontiff stressed that Jesus, through his passion, loved us to the end, and understands our suffering because he experienced it himself.
“Can we reproach God for our infirmities and sufferings when we realize how much suffering shows on the face of his crucified Son?” he said.
“Jesus is the physician who heals with the medicine of love, for he takes upon himself our suffering and redeems it. We know that God can understand our infirmities, because he himself has personally experienced them.”
“The way we face suffering and limitation is the measure of our freedom to give meaning to life’s experiences, even when they strike us as meaningless and unmerited.”
In our weakness we are strengthened and receive what we need in Christ's suffering for “his body, the Church,” Francis said, concluding his homily.
“For that body, in the image of the risen Lord’s own, keeps its wounds, the mark of a hard struggle, but they are wounds transfigured for ever by love.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, before leading those present in the weekly Angelus prayer, Pope Francis issued a special thanks to all those who traveled from throughout Italy and other countries to take part in the Jubilee for the sick and persons with disabilities.
“Thank you especially, you have wanted to be present in your conditions of illness or disability,” he told those present.
The Pope also extended his “heartfelt thanks” to doctors and healthcare professionals, who set up “Health Points” at the four papal basilicas in Rome, including St. Peter's Basilica, and who offered specialized tours for hundreds of people.
Francis also acknowledged the participants in this weekend's international conference on caring for people with Hansen's disease.
He expressed his gratitude to the organizers and participants, and his “hope for a fruitful commitment to the fight against this disease.”