‘Wisdom of the heart’ infused by the Holy Spirit

‘Wisdom of the heart’ infused by the Holy Spirit


The pope recently released his message for the 23rd World Day of the Sick, which will be held on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is titled Sapientia Cordis (Wisdom of the Heart) and takes its theme from the Book of Job 29:15 “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.”

In this short reflection Francis makes clear that for Christians, wisdom in the face of illness is not “theoretical, abstract knowledge,” but rather “a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit” allowing us to find God in suffering, whether our own or that of others.

He offers four definitions of this wisdom of the heart in relation to our brothers and sisters who are sick: serving them, being with them, going forth out of ourselves toward them, and walking in nonjudgmental solidarity with them. All of these are to be exhibited not in our words, but in the selfless deeds of pastoral care and ministry which constitute an authentic part of the Christian life. He calls caring for the sick, especially for long periods of time when the infirmed can no longer express gratitude, “a great path of sanctification.” In the most difficult moments of life, including its closing chapters, we “can rely in a special way on the closeness of the Lord,” and can serve in these moments as witnesses carrying out the church’s mission.

The document’s line that garnered the most international coverage reads as follows: “How great a lie … lurks behind certain phrases which so insist on the importance of ‘quality of life’ that they make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living.”

Such an analysis and its relationship to the church’s position on debates surrounding euthanasia need no commentary or explanation here. And yet, as with so much else with Francis, those who rely solely on headlines and sound-bites without reading his writings directly do themselves a disservice. It’s easy to miss the depth and expansive sweep of his vision if we rely on others to tell us what he said and what’s important in it. His teaching on end-of-life issues is unambiguous, but it is rooted in a broader, challenging call to every conscience, one rooted in faith, but which does more than offer condemnations for those who disagree with his or the magisterium’s positions.

He claims that for many of us the frenzy of “doing” and “producing” robs us of the commitment to the “absolute priority” of going forth from our positions of comfortable and sometimes judgmental security to encounter those in pain without mediation or fear. It is consistent with his repeated statements that we must “go outside of ourselves” with joy to announce the Gospel, because a church which loses the ambition or ability to do this and becomes “self-referential” itself gets sick.

He closes the document with a powerful plea: “Even when illness, loneliness and inability make it hard for us to reach out to others, the experience of suffering can become a privileged means of transmitting grace and a source for gaining and growing in sapientia cordis. We come to understand how Job, at the end of his experience, could say to God: ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you’ (42:5). People immersed in the mystery of suffering and pain, when they accept these in faith, can themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full meaning.”

Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), Rome.


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