VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday denounced the culture of pleasure and entertainment and the “obsessive” pursuit of perfect bodies, saying they lead to society hiding away — and even eliminating — the disabled and those it deems imperfect or “unacceptable.”
The pope’s words came during the celebration of Holy Mass in a packed St. Peter’s Square, on the Jubilee for the Sick and Persons with Disabilities.
At the liturgy, the scripture readings were proclaimed by people with various disabilities and translated into International Sign Language. The pope also gave special permission for the Gospel to be dramatized in order to allow the text to be understood by the faithful with mental and intellectual disabilities.
In his homily, the pope acknowledged the fundamental reality that “human nature, wounded by sin, is marked by limitations.” Yet, he continued, “it is thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment.”
“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,” he said.
“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,” the pope continued. “Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life.”
“The world does not become better because only apparently ‘perfect’ people live there,” he said, “but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase. How true he said are the words of the Apostle: ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’ (1 Cor. 1:27).”
Indeed, the pope observed, some of today’s worst suffering is not physical but spiritual in nature.
Echoing the soon-to-be-saint, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who once said that “the greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy” but “being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for,” Pope Francis identified spiritual “sadness” as one of today’s most frequent spiritual pathologies.
The happiness that everyone desires is only attained if we are capable of loving, he said. “The true challenge is that of who loves the most.”
Like anyone, the disabled and those who suffer flourish in experiencing that they are loved, especially by Jesus, who in his Passion and Cross, took upon himself our suffering, gave it meaning, and redeemed it. Furthermore, the pope added, “we know that God can understand our infirmities, because he himself has personally experienced them (cf. Heb. 4:15).”
“The way we experience illness and disability is an index of the love we are ready to offer,” Pope Francis concluded, extolling the power of redemptive suffering. “We know that in weakness we can become strong (cf. 2 Cor. 12:10) and receive the grace to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for his body, the Church (cf. Col. 1:24).”
Read the complete official English text of the pope’s homily on the Jubilee for the Sick and Persons with Disabilities here.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Do You Obsess Over Physical Attractiveness?]
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.