Bernardo M. Villegas
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Sickness is also Sign of Love of God

          As I wrote last September, my mother was preparing for the celebration of her 100th birthday on October 9, 2009. Thanks to the prayers of many of you, the much-awaited day could not have been happier for her. Several bishops led by Cardinal Guadencio Rosales and priests started the day with a concelebrated Mass in the parish church of Sto. Tomas, Batangas, whose restoration into one of the most beautiful churches of Batangas was a project to which my mother contributed in no small way. After receiving Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the next greatest joy of my mother was to be surrounded with hundreds of the people she loves most: her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren; her relatives on both the Malvar and Villegas sides; her townmates; her closest friends of which there are many; and other well wishers. It was a day that all of us who were there will remember for the rest of our lives.

          Two weeks after that memorable event, my mother contracted a very painful sickness, herpes or shingles. Although not life-threatening, it brought excruciating pain to her left arm. Doctors say that it will take a long time for the pain to disappear. In the midst of her suffering, my mother showed an admirable supernatural sense. She could not thank God enough to have spared her the sickness before her birthday. She has repeatedly remarked to us her children how good God is for having allowed her to celebrate her 100th birthday in full health. In her characteristic generosity, she was glad more for the joy that she gave to us and all those who love her to see her full of life and vigor on that day. Indeed, she brightened the lives of so many people who were uplifted in spirit by just talking to her and hearing her laughter and witty remarks.

          Then the illness struck. Just in time for the beginning of Advent. It was a coincidence that as my mother was feeling the most acute pain, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a talk to some sick people and their caregivers at the Hospice Foundation of Rome, which provides free aid to people with terminal cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. The Pontiff told his audience: "We know how some grave pathologies inevitably cause, for those who suffer from them, moments of crisis, of bewilderment and serious confrontation with their personal situation." He then encouraged the caregivers to give the sick all the respect and support that they need while they face the difficulties and sufferings linked with their health conditions.   He recognized the importance of the use of palliative care, which is able to soothe pain that comes from the illness and to help infirm persons to get through it with dignity.   Then he added: "Nevertheless, together with the indispensable palliative care clinics, it is necessary to offer concrete understanding, comfort and constant encouragement." In this regard, I must say that my three sisters have not been lacking in the care with which they have showered my mother during this painful illness.

          What is most consoling to my mother is the thought contained in the following words of the Pope: "Your illness is a very painful and unique trial, but before the mystery of God who took on our mortal flesh, it receives its meaning and becomes a gift and an occasion for sanctification...When the suffering and discomfort are the worst, know that Christ is associating you with his cross because through you he wants to  speak a word of love to those who have strayed from the road of life and, closed within their empty egoism, live in sin and separation from God."

          "In fact, your health conditions testify that the true life is not here, but with God, where every one of us will find joy if we humbly walk in the footsteps of the true man: Jesus of Nazareth, Master and Lord. In the light of faith we can read in sickness and suffering a special experience of Advent, a visit from God, who, in a mysterious way comes to bring liberation from solitude and meaninglessness and transform suffering in time into a meeting with him, into hope and salvation."

          Needless to say, all of us who love her are praying that the pain would finally go away. But even in her sickness, our mother has shown us that God is never far from those who are trying to do His will. Again, thanks to all of you who have prayed and are praying for the health of my mother. Although we accept whatever God wills, we are joining Cardinal Rosales and the other bishops who wished her many more years of life. For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.