After making the crossing to the other side of the sea,
Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret
and tied up there.
As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him.
They scurried about the surrounding country
and began to bring in the sick on mats
to wherever they heard he was.
Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,
they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak;
and as many as touched it were healed.
Don’t ever forget that, even though the house is sordid, you are approaching Christ. Remember what the Lord said: “The good you do to the poor is good done to me.” Around the sick, the poor, the unfortunate, I see a particular light that we do not have. —Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
Mark tells us that just by reaching out to touch Jesus’s cloak, each sick person He encountered was healed. This gives us a wonderful image of Jesus as Healer, capable of removing every affliction and restoring us to health if only we reach out for Him. In this Year of Mercy, we are reminded of the ways in which we are called to be Jesus to others by visiting the sick and suffering, and Pier Giorgio Frassati gives us an extraordinary example of service to the sick and poor.
And yet Pier Giorgio’s life and death are not a story of miraculous healing—on the contrary; he was overtaken by a sudden, fatal case of poliomyelitis, which he contracted while visiting an abandoned sick person. He performed a corporal work of mercy, and it ended up killing him. What does this tell us about God’s mercy? Did God abandon Pier Giorgio in his time of need? Did He deny him the healing that He had granted to so many before? How can we reconcile our simplistic ideas of how God will work in our lives with our actual human experience, which often seems cruel and unfair?
God does indeed want to heal us—truly heal us, not just in a superficial way, but in a way that utterly transforms us. More than the healing of our bodies, He desires the healing of our souls.
Pier Giorgio accepted his illness in humility and trust that God’s will would be done. This was not what he had hoped or planned for his life, but he offered up his sufferings, knowing that he could glorify God even through his weakness. He may not have understood why he should suffer in this way, but his trust in God was deep enough that he didn’t need to have an answer. He accepted even suffering and death as a gift from God.
Our sufferings, received with humility, can actually strengthen the health of our souls. They can soften our hearts, make us grow in empathy and trust, and help us become more aware of our dependence on God. They can become opportunities for others to minister to us and practice mercy; they can bring us closer in community with others who are suffering in similar ways. They can bring us closer to the Cross, our salvation; they are ultimately a path to the glory of Heaven—the only place where our healing will be truly complete. When Pier Giorgio said that he saw a “particular light that we do not have” around the sick and impoverished, he was seeing the glow that accompanies their ascent to heavenly glory; through their sufferings they became closer to God. And so when God sent him illness as well, he could appreciate it as a gift instead of just a burden.
We can and should pray for the healing of all the infirmities in our lives, both physical and spiritual. When we feel that we can’t bear the load anymore, we ought to call upon our God in confidence, knowing that He is capable of healing all our physical maladies and that He cares for us as His children. Often He demonstrates that care through physical healing. But if physical healing does not come, or if we must wait through prolonged suffering for our prayers to be answered, we should not abandon our trust in God. He is still working in our lives, He is willing to help us carry our crosses, and He is working on healing us more completely, more deeply, and more intensely than we could have imagined.
After Pier Giorgio’s death, his mourners—the poor and sick he had visited so many times—came to see his body and reached out to touch him, like a relic. Through Pier Giorgio, they had met Jesus; and just as crowds of sick people once reached out to touch Jesus’s cloak and be healed, crowds of sick people now reached out to touch Pier Giorgio Frassati. They recognized the light of holiness in him, a light that transcended even suffering and death.