When asked, “What is love?” a six-year-old girl replied, “When my grandma got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over to paint her toenails anymore. So my grandpa does it for her even though he has arthritis too. That’s love.”
Jesus’ compassion for the sick and suffering shows us that people with illness have a special place in God’s heart. As part of the healing process, the Divine Physician offered people with afflictions the surety that they are worthy of God’s love. And to feel profoundly loved by God is to love him in return, according to the patron for people with arthritis, St. Alphonsus Liguori.
Christ endured much pain on the cross for love of us. Alphonsus wrote that “it is not so much the sufferings of Jesus Christ as the love he showed us in enduring them that obliges and all but constrains us to love him,” adding, “Lord, everything that I see on the cross invites me to love: the wood, the form, the wounds in your body; and above all, your love invites me to love you and never forget you.”
For the last forty years of Alphonsus’ life, a spinal disease curved the vertebrae of his neck until his chin was buried permanently on his chest, producing a deep, easily infected wound. He also had chronic respiratory ailments, sciatica, poor vision, partial deafness, scruples, and depression. He was completely crippled for the last twelve years of his life.
His doctor was astounded by his ability to handle pain: “Witnessing his peace, we felt pain had no power over him. Even if his only pain were the wound in his chest that was infected to the bone, it would have been enough to drive another person mad. Never once did I hear him complain.”
Why didn’t Alphonsus complain when the pain was nearly intolerable? “After many treatments, I remain in about the same condition except, perhaps, that I am in greater pain than ever,” he wrote to another priest. “The doctors do not seem to know what to do next, and so I have decided to leave things to God.”
That is love.