Luke 4: 38-44: The Healing of Peter’s Mother-In-Law
The Gospel today has a particular attractiveness to it because it is relevant and relatable to many of our situation today. You get to see the scene: Jesus’ fandom followed Him everywhere, and indeed, His was a huge crowd all wanting a piece of Him to heal and to exorcise their demons. But then, He takes a personal move: to cure the mother-in-law of Peter, who is His friend. This is cura personalis, you are able to personally care for an individual you particularly know.
Today, we will reflect on us, practicing cura personalis in healing, and is greatly meant for families who are isolated because of Covid19. How do we take care of our families or our friends, when one or more members are afflicted with Covid?
The homily today is a how-to, based on personal and pastoral experiences. Fr. Aytoy, the parish priest of Sta. Maria della Strada, requested me to write to both patient and their families in his parish, as part of their Faith, Family and Food program in response to the epidemic.
It is emotionally draining to be a patient or a family member of a patient. We often say, “ang sakit ng kalingkingan, sakit ng buong katawan.” Because of our intimate bond with each other, we share our pain, our fears, and our lives. And the struggle is prolonged, as it interferes in daily life: while worrying about their members who are sick, the student still needs to study, the working members still need to focus on their tasks at hand, and the patient needs to fight it out. We often ask, “how do I make it stop?” Here are some steps culled from my experience.
1. Turn to what you have.
Like breaking your piggy bank when you run out of money, it is helpful to check what you’ve got within yourselves or within your homes. Rely on what makes you feel safe, nurtured and deeply loved. You can browse cherished photographs, think about a funny memory with the sick person, and if you are the patient, fill your mind with memories of happy days. Good memories fortify the bonds you share. In the process, they become a foundation strong enough to ground you when your world is shaking. You therefore become more mindful of the good, and unmindful of the stressors. When suffering is shared, pain becomes more bearable.
St. Ignatius tells the exercitant who is in silence to intensify and activate their senses. Covid takes away our sense of taste and smell, and thus, it is just right that we fight to take it back. A family member of mine eats, even without taste, to force his body to pursue what it has lost and increase his desire to be healed. There is a tenet in Jesuit training: agere contra. Loosely, it means “to do the opposite” —when you are tired and your senses are numb, take out your eucalyptus and menthol balms to invigorate you!
3. Open the lines of communication.
Nothing beats having someone to talk to while we are at our worst. The same holds true to an experience of illness: we need to air out our emotions; to put words on what we feel. Psychology has it that naming what we feel makes the emotion lose its power over us. It is therapeutic to acknowledge our feelings by identifying every single layer of emotion, and then being able to express it with those we trust. This is the reason why shared prayer is greatly helpful. The letter of James (5:13-15) comes to mind:
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”James 5: 13-15
The tendency of others is to avoid the sick or their families, aggravating isolation. It is worse with Covid because without a cure in sight, it carries with it a stigma. But for people who serve God, as members of a community of believers, our sense of love conquers fear. We do agere contra, the opposite. We reach out to those who are suffering alone. Check on them regularly through safer means like social media or mobile device. Or, to have food brought to their doorsteps. Make them feel our presence, and let this sense of belongingness become a present to them.
The process of healing is not linear, but cyclical.
As we keep on repeating the above, our wounds slowly heal. Our bodies acquire the strength to fight what ails us. And our grieving hearts become consoled.