Pastoral Care of the Sick
The advent of the novel coronavirus has many effects on the various institutions of the world especially the Church. In the wake of this pandemic that shackled the world to the famous lockdowns and the shutdowns of economic powers, the human person begins to think about universalism and the quest to care for one another. The Church also thought of ways to bring back ecclesiology to the members without endangering them. Ecclesiology here means the theology (especially practical Catholic theology) as applied to the nature and structure of the Catholic Church.
The Who Health Organization (WHO) and various Research groups came out with practical considerations and recommendations that circulated in the context of COVID-19. The Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis prayed and encouraged the world and the universal Church during the heat of the outbreak of the pandemic.
Christians all over the world never ceased praying and various Faith-Based Communities worldwide also joined in the fight against this time not the ‘archenemy of the Church’, the devil but against a common enemy, the coronavirus. One saying of Jesus Christ becomes a common quivering on the lips of many Christians despite all hopes were dashed: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt.28:20) Although the world has not totally conquered the battle against the pandemic, there is a musing to engage in to help the Church after the pandemic.
What I termed Post COVID-19 Ecclesiology. These are musings and suggestions looking from the perspectives of Pastoral Care of the Sick, Pastoral Care for the Caretakers of the Sick, Pastoral Care for the Healthcare personnel, volunteers, support staff, Pastoral Care for Christian Communities and Pastoral Care for those stigmatized because of COVID-19.
The suggestions and directives delineated in this article are my personal musings and drawing deeply from Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on Fraternity and Social Friendship (Fratelli Tutti) and some ecclesial documents.
In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis talks passionately and as a leader of the Catholic Church on Pandemics and Other Calamities in History saying: “True, a worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are global community, all in the same boat, where one’s person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.” (Fratelli Tutti, 32)
Musing on these words of the pope brings a lot of aspects about the human life and the need to help each other in times of calamities especially during these not normal times.
The global community that the pope talks about in the quotation above calls for world leaders and evidently Church leaders to come together to devise novel ways to counter the novel virus.
The concern of others should inevitably be our concerns in these times.
The Church is growing accustomed to the ravages of the virus and there is always the need to think about the ecclesiology of this time which is definitely shaped and informed by COVID-19.
There are a lot of members of the Church that are/were sick before the advent of the virus and others contracted the virus and are sick and most probably others also got sick from the infodemic peddled by people about the virus and the pangs of horrors the virus howled at us. What is the concern of the Church in regard to giving pastoral care to these (those who are sick and especially who have contracted COVID-19)?
The Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council with the primary objective of the Council allows fresh air into the Church in what Pope John XXIII termed as aggiornamento gives more pastoral approach to ecclesiology.
This spirit of Second Vatican Council prompts the Council to issue the constitutions or principles upon which the Church reoriented itself and became closer to the people.
The Pastoral Care of the Sick brings to mind the need for the community of believers to help the sick person not only allowing the priest alone to administer this sacrament.
In fact, the Introduction to this sacrament talks about human sickness and its meaning in the mystery of salvation. Salvation is therefore not a solo venture but a social reality of the Church.
The Rite says “Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people; yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage.
From Christ’s words they know that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and for the salvation of the world.
They also know that Christ, who during his life often visited and healed the sick, loves them in their illness.” (Pastoral Care of the Sick, 1) Therefore, we must as Christians help our brothers and sisters who have contracted this virus and other illnesses in order that they may feel welcomed in this community of the Church.
Consequently, Pope Francis says that “unless we recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources, the global illusion that misled us will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness. Nor should we naively refuse to recognize that “obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.” The notion of “every man for himself” will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.” (Fratelli Tutti, 36)
This is a clarion call for the Church and the world that it is solidarity and the shared value of living in a community that can help us in these difficult times. The Church is called out as a beacon of hope in this time of the pandemic and it is necessary that the Church in this era incorporates into her ecclesiology the need for a more inclusion of solidarity among the laity.
The Pew Research Center in a major study in 2012 found out that more than 80 percent of people around the world adhere to religion especially in times of crisis.
The Church should come out with innovative and creative options in order that the pastoral care of the sick will not be practiced only by the priest but by the laity as well.
This is not the time of pointing fingers and playing the blame games of asking the question, who are the cause of this pandemic?
The Church in her ecclesiology foresaw the occurrence of these pandemics that is why pastoral cares are given to the sick even before the event of the novel virus. Should the Church not be adding more innovative elements not ecclesiastically detached from the Pastoral Care of the Sick?
The Pastoral Care of the Sick mentions profoundly that the Lord Jesus in the Gospels showed great concern for bodily and spiritual welfare of the sick. And what is so important and soothing is that Jesus Christ commanded his followers of which the Church is the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ to do likewise (Pastoral Care of the Sick, 5).
It is only through the act of love that we can help our brothers and sisters who are sick especially those who have contracted the virus. It is true as Gaudete et Exsultate, 145 states that “a community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan.
There are times when, by a gift of the Lord’s love, we are granted amid these little details, consoling experiences of God.” The love that we will show to one another and especially those infected with the virus will show the world that we are truly Christians and Disciples of Christ.
This act of love will reecho the mandatum of Jesus Christ “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn.13:34) There is no condition attached to this mandatum because just as we are, Jesus Christ loves us. Despite the fears and stigmas revolving around those who contracted the virus, there is the need for the Church as a sacrament of love to imbue in her members that zeal to love these people.
As the Pope talks about consumerist lifestyle in the Fratelli Tutti, it is an indication that just as the global world is embracing consumerism, the Church is also at risk of embracing it. In fact, members of the Church are active members of the world.
Therefore, the lifestyle of consumerism can hamper the pastoral care of the sick on the part of both clergy and laity. The culture of consumerism is gradually eating into the very fabric of our global society. Since, the Church as an institution is both divine and human, that which affects the world eventually affects the Church. It will be appreciable if there is something like a ‘consumerism love’ especially for the sick.
Part II to follow soon