After four years of making our way through the corporal works of mercy each Lent (feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, and clothing the naked), our family arrived at the fifth corporal work of mercy: caring for the sick.
I was sick, and you cared for me.
This year, we had come up with lots of ideas to unite ourselves with the sick. As an act of gratitude for the health that we have, we wanted to make a promise to be active in some way every day. We thought we might commit to a 40-day fitness plan, or perhaps as a family pledge to walk 40 miles in 40 days! However, right before Lent, my husband got a call that he was scheduled for back surgery… on Ash Wednesday! This put an end to our plans to step up our physical activity, but gave us a new opportunity to care for the sick… right in our own home! His 6-8 week expected recovery time took us straight through Lent, and besides helping him with his rehab exercises and the chores he normally performed that require lifting anything over five pounds, we also reduced our daily screen time (to great dismay of some of the children) in order to free up more time in our day to go for walks with Dad, which were essential to his recovery.
Other ideas: This is a great time to give up unhealthy treats and habits (like replacing some of your daily screen time with physical activity). You could commit half an hour of outdoor activity every day, rain, snow or shine, recognizing that there are many who are bedridden and unable to even experience fresh air. Besides also praying for the sick, you could make cards for parishioners in your parish who are too ill to attend mass, donate to a hospital or health foundation (our kids decided to participate in Jump Rope for Heart this year as part of their Lenten journey!), or make double batches of your family suppers and deliver a meal to someone recovering from childbirth or surgery, or experiencing illness, depression or grief. Living out this corporal work of mercy could also simply mean spending time with someone who is in need of extra attention and care, especially those to whom it may be difficult to minister. I always find it easier to feel compassion for my children when they are very sick and lethargic with fever than when they are nearly recovered and have become bored and whiny! It certainly takes greater patience and mercy to extend care to the bored and whiny, or to those whose pain or medication makes them irritable and even unkind, or to those struggling with a mental illness we find difficult to relate or understand.
Our patron saint of caring for the sick: It’s pretty tough to choose only one patron saint of the sick – there’s a saint for every imaginable medical condition! However, we might single out St. Damien of Molokai: he left his home of Belgium and risked his health to minister to the lepers of Molokai, eventually becoming “a leper with the lepers”, and dying of the disease at the age of 49.