The more you pray, the more I refuse to listen
for your hands are full of blood!
Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Seek justice: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow.
Isaiah 1: 15-17
Saint Camillus de Lellis, the patron of nurses and the sick, died 400 years ago, on July 14, 1614.
He was an unlikely candidate for sainthood. As a soldier he was known for his brawling and his gambling. At one point, several hagiographers remark, he even “lost the shirt off his back.”
He suffered from an ulcerous wound on his leg and spent time in a hospital in Rome where he eventually found work. But he was dismissed for unruly behavior.
After gambling left him penniless, he tried to enter the Capuchins but he was turned away at the recurrence of the ulcerous wound and returned to the hospital.
His administrative capabilities were recognized and he found a place in the administration. Yet he found the condition of the hospital and the “care” provided to be woeful inadequate.
Camillus eventually founded a religious congregation of men that cared for the physical and spiritual needs of the sick. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they vow “perpetual physical and spiritual assistance to the sick, especially those with the plague.”
Camillus saw the face of Christ in the poor and even received mystical experiences of the crucified Christ, but he said
I don’t like this talk about mystical union… do good and help the poor…since we’ll have plenty of time to contemplate God in heaven.
As I read this, I recalled today’s reading from Isaiah 1: 10-17, where the prophet castigates the people for lavish worship services while they ignore lives of love of God and care for the poor.
Care for the sick and the poor is not easy. I have deep regard for nurses, doctors, and other hospital nurses who see their work as a ministry to the suffering.
Would that we would be more like St. Camillus and really care for the poor. As Pope Francis said yesterday to members of the congregations of St. Camillus:
To you who have gathered here in St Peter’s Square, as well as to health professionals serving in your hospitals and nursing homes, I wish that you grow more and more in the charism of charity, fueled by daily contact with the sick.
May we all grow in the charism of charity, fueled by daily contact with the poor, the sick, and those at the margins of society.