by Bill Dodds
AS RESPECT LIFE Month rolls around each October, I realize that one of the joys of working with family caregivers is being able to point out to them that often what they’re doing is more than they realize they’re doing.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of caregivers say, “I used to do [insert activity here], but now…” referring to the sacrifices they had to make to care for a loved one.
They used to volunteer for this or that cause, or sing in the parish choir, or host the extended family for Thanksgiving dinner, or send out Christmas cards, attend daily Mass during Lent, hold down a full-time job.
But now, they are responsible for taking care of a spouse, a parent or a child with special needs.
This year, I have some added good news for them from Pope Francis: Family caregivers have their priorities straight. They know what really matters.
About a month ago, you probably read stories about the pontiff telephoning “ordinary” people and having a friendly chat with them. What you may not have noticed is that during the six months since he was elected pope, there have been a number of reports of what he has said – as cardinal and as pope – about caregivers.
The bottom line: You’ve done your share of respecting and cherishing life.
For example, in his homily marking the feast of St. Thomas on July 3, Pope Francis reflected on Jesus telling Thomas to touch his wounded hands and side.
“We need to touch the wounds of Jesus,” the pope said. “We must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: His life changed.”
Touching the Wounds
When family caregivers “touch the wounds” of those they care for, when they offer help in so many ways, they’re doing what the pope describes and encourages. Their life is changed.
Another example of how the pope sees the caregiving issue is in an article with quotes from On Heaven and Earth, a book based on a conversation between him, when he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the head of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, and Rabbi Abraham Skorka.
“There are many who abandon those that fed them, who educated them, who wiped their bottoms. It hurts me; it makes me weep inside,” wrote then-Cardinal Bergoglio.
“God must be very fond of the old because those who are pious with their parents are showered with blessings.”
He also said that “crossing the threshold of the faith … means approaching every person who lives on the edge of existence and to call them by name. It means taking care of the weakest and supporting their trembling knees, in the certainty that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do for Jesus himself.”
Caregiving is generous and concrete. Caregiving is pro-life.[hr] Bill Dodds writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service. He, and his late wife, Monica, were the founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver (www.FSJC.org).