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Compassion and forgiveness take courage, promote healing

Many years ago, I attended a directed retreat. The spiritual director assigned to me was a 39-year-old Jesuit priest confined to a wheelchair, immobilized by multiple sclerosis. He said to me, "Jim, there’s a lot you can learn from the sick."

He then asked me to assist him in going to the bathroom, an intimacy I had never experienced. Jesus was there. My independent streak was humbled right then and there.

When visiting a particular hospital patient, she told me, "Sometimes you have to get sick in order to get well."

She was very sick, and she got well, not just physically, but spiritually too. Again, another deep insight into the reality of life. Jesus was there. I was challenged to enter into a new form of surrender.

When my father experienced a sustaining sobriety, I forgave him for all the hurts inflicted on our family for so many years. As he experienced reconciliation, I believe it helped him to maintain sobriety for the last years of his life. Jesus was there. And it healed so much of my own inner anger.

"Comforting the sick" and "forgiving offenses" are the focus of today’s reflection on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Sickness may be minor and temporary or it may be life-threatening.

Offenses may be relatively trivial or they may be deeply wounding, leaving scar tissue in our hearts. Some hurts go with us to the next life, where ultimate healing can happen.

Sometimes the challenge for us is that in comforting the sick, we rediscover our own mortality and our own inner sickness and limitations (original sin). And in forgiving others, we recognize once again our own need for repentance (personal sin).

Traditional means of forgiveness and comfort still work: personal visits, courageous conversations, cards, flowers, spiritual bouquets and the like. New technologies have given us e-mail, Skype, Facebook and the like, to communicate.

But in either case, we still need the spiritual gift of courage for these works of mercy.


Father James Tiegs is the pastor of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish, Omaha.


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