As humans, we naturally despise any illness that comes our way. It disrupts our plans and in the most severe cases may even lead to death.
Outside of faith in God, sicknesses are seen as a curse that needs to be eliminated.
Yet, according to St. John Paul II, getting sick can be turned into a profound moment of encounter with God.
He reflects on the frustration that sickness can bring into our lives in his message for the first annual World Day of the Sick in 1992.
Illness, which in everyday experience is perceived as a frustration of the natural life force, for believers becomes an appeal to “read” the new, difficult situation in the perspective which is proper to faith. Outside of faith, moreover, how can we discover in the moment of trial the constructive contribution of pain? How can we give meaning and value to the anguish, unease, and physical and psychic ills accompanying our mortal condition? What justification can we find for the decline of old age and the final goal of death, which, in spite of all scientific and technological progress, inexorably remain?
However, when viewed in the light of faith, an illness can bring us closer to God.
Yes, only in Christ, the incarnate Word, Redeemer of mankind and victor over death, is it possible to find satisfactory answers to such fundamental questions.
In the light of Christ’s death and resurrection illness no longer appears as an exclusively negative event; rather, it is seen as a “visit by God,” an opportunity “to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love” (Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, n. 30).
The history of the Church and of Christian spirituality offers very broad testimony of this. Over the centuries shining pages have been written of heroism in suffering accepted and offered in union with Christ. And no less marvelous pages have been traced out through humble service to the poor and the sick, in whose tormented flesh the presence of the poor, crucified Christ has been recognized.
While it is certainly natural to despise any illness, the witness of the saints challenges us to view it as a gift that can be united to the cross of Jesus Christ.
When our illness is offered to God, then and only then can we find meaning in the pain and suffering and see the light in the darkness.