Monday, June 22, 2015

The Enemies At The Sickbed

 Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
 In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
 the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
he is called blessed in the land;
you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

 The Lord sustains him on his sickbed;
in his illness you restore him to full health.
 As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me;
 heal me, for I have sinned against you!”

 My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
 And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words,
while his heart gathers iniquity;
when he goes out, he tells it abroad.

 All who hate me whisper together about me;
they imagine the worst for me.
 They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

 But you, O Lord, be gracious to me,
and raise me up, that I may repay them!
 By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.

 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.
 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
Amen and Amen
Psalm 41

Reflection – This psalm is entitled, often, in psalters and breviaries ‘a psalm in time of sickness.’ That may well be; as usual, there is more going on here than just someone with a tummy ache or a bad back. Most of us do not, at least in any visible way, have our ‘enemies’ gather around our sickbed to taunt us and lift their heels against us.

With all respect, I do sometimes wonder at the world the psalmists lived in – they certainly seem to be surrounded by a whole lot of not nice people. On the relatively rare occasions when I am sick, I get surrounded not by people shouting in triumph over me, but by people bringing me chicken soup and the like.

That being said… on the other hand this is exactly what happens to us when we are weak and vulnerable, failing and frail in life. It Is maybe not human enemies who surround us with taunts and gibes, but serious illness is a time of spiritual peril and temptation. Chronic pain and long protracted weakness leave a person prey to all sorts of vicious spiritual attacks: “Just give up… what good is your life… you are accursed… lie down and die…” And so on and so forth. At times it may be our own diseased thought processes; at times it may genuinely be attacks from the one true Enemy of humanity.

One of the great effects of the Sacrament of the Sick is that it unites the suffering one to Christ in his or her illness, and so does exactly what this psalm says, pours out the graciousness of God to the person so that this Enemy may not shout in triumph over them.

At the same time, this psalm speaks to just how evil the whole euthanasia movement is. Call it assisted suicide or whatever—it is euthanasia. Sickness is a time of temptation and spiritual struggle. 
The dying process is fraught with terrible battles against despair, against all sorts of tragic lamentations and desperate combat against not just physical death but the deeper spiritual death—the death of faith, the death of hope, the death of love.

To have the doctor who is supposed to be caring for you standing over you with a needle saying constantly in the midst of these battles “We can end this all now, you know!” is pure evil, even if the intentions are in fact kindly. To have the government—which let us not forget means you and I—standing at the bedside of the person saying “Hey, why don’t you just kill yourself?” is simply wicked.

So perhaps this psalm is not so remote and odd after all. We are surrounded by spiritual enemies in our sicknesses, and now more and more are surrounded by human enemies in (alas!) the members of the very profession who are supposed to be helping us and the society who is supposed to cherish us support us.

So in the light of that, let us pray for all the sick and turn to God in our own ailments, that he deliver us all from evil and raise us up in the sight of our foes. Amen.


  1. Thank you for this post. This information provided me with a greater understanding into how much people with depression have to contend with literal 'assaults' in their thought life ... and that an equal 'assault' of prayer is absolutely necessary to be a part of the 'daily care' they receive. While medication may help some people for a while, there REALLY IS a spiritual component to illness/depression!

    1. This is actually something where priests in general really do have a lot of relevant experience that would be worth listening to. Illness is a time of tremendous spiritual travail, and so many priests really do spend a fair bit of time directly involved with people in that battle.


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