Ancient cultures thought that illness was a divine punishment. The sick person or their ancestors failed God in some way and got what they deserved. Associating with someone who was diseased or who worked in an unethical job harmed other people’s health as well. They believed that if they went near someone who was sick or disabled, then they would receive the same fate. Sickness was considered a curse and the curse was thought to be contagious.
Jesus declared this theory was wrong. He ministered to the sick and maimed–even people with leprosy, a greatly feared condition. He reached out to outcasts with kindness. When asked if a blind man or his parents had sinned and caused the man’s disability, Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (John 9:3). Jesus continued to say that the sufferer was God’s instrument. The man became blind so “that God’s work might be revealed in him.”
In difficult situations, we sway toward increased or decreased faith. But illness might be a particularly influential tool for faith development. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his fortitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death” (1500). The Catechism goes on to say that illness can lead to despair and revolt against God. However, it can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him” (1501).
We can’t possibly know the reasons for agony and loss. We can only trust that God knows and works in our best interest. The people and things of this world fade beyond our grasp: our focus intensifies on the Lord. God alone demands our attention.
—Excerpt from Young in the Spirit. Spiritual Strengthening for Seniors and Caregivers, available from Amazon.com, ACTA Publications, and my website.