PATIENCE IN SICKNESS
Patience in the time of sickness is the touchstone by which the spirit of a Christian is proved to be pure gold, or only alloy. Some are patient, devout, cheerful as long as they enjoy good health, but when visited by some illness they commit a thousand faults. The gold is found to be only base metal.
We must practise patience in the time of sickness. This is the touchstone by which the spirit of a Christian is proved to be pure gold or only alloy. Some are patient, devout, cheerful as long as they enjoy health, but when visited by some illness they commit a thousand defects: they appear to be inconsolable; they are impatient with all, even with the person who attends them through charity; they complain of every pain or inconvenience they suffer; they complain of everybody and everything, saying that they are treated with neglect and inattention. The gold is found to be base metal. But such a person may say: I suffer so much, and can I not even complain, or tell what I endure? You are not forbidden to make known your pains when they are severe, but when they are trifling, it is a weakness to complain of them to all, and to seek sympathy and compassion from every one who visits you. And should the remedies prescribed not remove your pains, you should not yield to impatience under them, but resign yourself in peace to the will of God.
Another may say: Where has charity gone? See how I am forgotten and abandoned on my bed of sickness! I pity you; not on account of your bodily infirmities, but on account of your want of patience under them, which makes you doubly sick — in body and soul. You are forgotten? But you have forgotten Jesus Christ Who died abandoned for your sake on the Cross. And what profit do you derive from complaining? Complain of yourself because you have but little love for Jesus Christ, and therefore have so little patience. St. Joseph Calasanctius used to say: “If the sick had patience there would be no more complaints.” Salvian writes that there are many persons who, had they good health, could not be Saints. With regard to saintly women, we know from their published Lives that they were almost all continually afflicted with various infirmities. For forty years St. Teresa was not free from pain for a single day.
Some one will say: I do not refuse to accept sickness, but I regret that on account of my infirmities I am not able to go to Communion, or to make mental prayer, and that I am a burden to all. Allow me to answer all these excuses one by one. Tell me, why do you wish to go to the church in order to communicate? Is it not to please God? Well, but if it be God’s will and pleasure that you are not to go to the church to communicate, but that you are to remain in bed to suffer, why should you be troubled? Blessed John of Avila wrote to a priest labouring under sickness: “Friend, do not stop to examine what you would do if you had health, but be content to remain sick as long as it shall please God. If you seek the will of God, it matters not whether you are in sickness or in health.” St. Francis de Sales has even said that “we serve God better by sufferings than by works.” You say that in sickness you cannot make Mental Prayer, and why can you not? I grant that you cannot apply the mind to reflection, but why can you not look at the Crucifix, and offer to your crucified Saviour the pains you suffer? And what prayer can be better than to suffer, and to resign yourself to the Divine will, uniting your sufferings to those of Jesus Christ, and presenting them to God in union with the sufferings of His Son? You say that in sickness you are useless, and a burden. But as you conform yourself to the Divine will, so you ought to suppose that others also conform to it, when they see that you are a burden, not through your own fault, but by the will of God. Ah! such desires and complaints spring, not from the love of God, but from self-love; for we would want to serve the Lord not in the manner that pleases Him, but in the way that is agreeable to ourselves!