The place of illness at the early years of my life is still alive and kicking in my memory. Sickness seems to be a state of life that every child from a poor family background would unreasonably aspire. This unpredictable longing to become sick is hinged on the fact that any kind of edible which is not placed before a sick child is one which he or she has desired not, regardless of the family’s financial statue. Well, the crux of the matter in this reflection is very far from the above analogy but not contradictory.
Moreover, many scholars and friends frown at the above assertion because for them, sickness irrespective of its kind emerged as a result of moral, physical or metaphysical evil. Therefore, they misconstrue sickness as a habitation in a cobweb of helplessness.
Nevertheless, beyond every reasonable doubt, I stand tall to express the clarification that sickness is a well packaged privilege for the living. In order to avoid a cloudy conviction in this reflection, we shall pause and ponder from a mere linguistic intelligence into objective meaningfulness, from a mere logical consistency into inspirational coherency, and from a mere descriptive and prognostic effectiveness into higher explanatory powers. This write- up therefore, intends to clarify our scope of sickness, address the sickness as God’s will, unfold the rapport between the body and the soul, affirm the immortality of the soul and above all, confirm sickness as an enabling environment by which this soul (man) can attain a theocentric transcendence.
CLARIFICATION OF THE CONCEPT “SICKNESS”
Lexically, the word ‘Sickness’ have been variously reflected and severally trusted into the lime light by different health professionals. Generally, sickness is an impairment of normal physiological function affecting part or all of an organism. More so, it is a sign that one is alive and was healthy before the emergence of the illness. Besides, it is unthinkable in the circumstances of death. In other words, it reveals our humanity. It is worthy to note that the nature of the sickness in question does not incorporate psychological, moral, social or intellectual sickness. It only welcomes the physical sickness.
Nevertheless, according to Kubbler Ross, there are five stages of a dying person, especially one diagnosed with a terminal disease like cancer, HIV/AIDS, vital organ failures such as kidney, liver, brain (CVA), and heart. They are as follows;
Denial: When someone is newly diagnosed with a terminal disease, he tends to device denial strategies to subdue these odds. When the sickness becomes obvious, he or she gets into the second stage unknowingly.
Anger: This stage is usually expressed in three different ways; anger at God for making others more privileged than him or her, envy of others who are enjoying life and do not seem to care about his or her pitiable condition, and unnecessary anger towards doctors, nurses and families.
Bargaining: This stage is often between the patient and God in which he patient makes series of promises to God to be fulfilled if and only if he or she gets better.
Depression: At this stage, the patient feels that God has deserted him or her and mourns for the loss of job, hobbies, mobility, and family members and friends.
Acceptance: This stage is often associated with giving up and realizing the inevitability of death. The patient at this critical stage begins to long for the presence of a priest so as to prepare for a happy death. It is at this stage that the privileges of sickness abound. At Kobler Ross’ stage of acceptance, a patient becomes convinced that his or her so called ‘pitiable condition’ is God’s will.
SICKNESS AS GOD’S WILL
Sickness irrespective of its kind comes as a result of God’s permissive will. And God’s will, must be described as an infinitely perfect intellectual appetency. That is, God’s will follows his intellectual knowledge. Meanwhile, if God allows sickness, it simply implies that sickness can only be centred on the good as known by his intellect. This is predicated on the fact that God cannot allow that which will eventually become harmful as an end to human nature unless man’s free-will gradually corrupts God’s lovely plan for man. That is to say that sickness is a means towards attaining God’s ultimate design for man, especially the soul. It is a divine gift that offers man a gracious opportunity for self indulgence and soul sanctification. In fact the body and the soul play complementary roles at this moment.
RAPPORT BETWEEN THE BODY AND THE SOUL
In human nature, the body, no doubt, is the first and the most obvious dimension of man. Yet, it is also intuitively obvious that the body alone does not constitute the entire human reality, it does so only in union with the soul. Between these two constitutive elements of man there exists an essential distinction and a profound bond and unity. They are essentially distinct in that one belongs to the spiritual sphere and the other to the material. They are profoundly united because they give origin to a single being; Man. They are so united that any operation of one necessarily involves the presence of the other and vice versa. They simply cannot function independent of each other, in other words, there exists a symbiotic relationship between them. The above clarification about the rapport between the body and the soul has become necessary in this reflection because it reveals that the well being of the soul is undeniably determined by the state of the body. Meanwhile, when the body is lavishly immersed in pleasure, the man (the composite being) forgets to care for the soul and so the soul suffers, but when the body faces the reality of its temporal existence, man begins to care for that which is immortal and that is the soul.
Sequel to this, it is worthy to express the certainty that the fate of the body after its separation from the soul is phenomenally evident: complete decomposition and disappearance, whereas the soul continues to exists, even with its personal identity, in the spiritual world. Against this backdrop, one can confidently lend credence to the catechism of the Catholic Church No 363, in which it is stated that the soul did not just signify the spiritual principle in man but of greatest value in him. The question at this juncture is; ‘’how can we care for that which is of greatest value in man, that which is eternal, immortal and indestructible? What are the possible means, by which our soul can actualize a theocentric transcendence, identify with the saints and re-unite with its creator? Well, such means are not farfetched; “love God and love your neighbour as you love yourself” but this direction can be fastened with efforts on top gear when man faces the challenges of the cessation of the vital process in him, in other words, when man begins to experience the inevitability of his temporal existence on earth, that is to say, when man becomes ill. Although man may be incapacitated in loving God and neighbours at this moment, yet he possesses the privileges of righting all wrongs before death through the priest.
WHAT ARE THE PRIVILEGES?
In a nutshell, sickness creates a serene atmosphere that predisposes the mind and body for a moment of sober reflection and enviable characters that may welcome holiness as the only alternative to authentic existence. Sickness could be seen as expressing the fuller sense and the quintessential analogy imbedded in the Pauline statement which reads “for when I am weak then I am strong’’ (2Cor. 12:10). This is because, a sick Christian is apparently weak in committing sin, and conscious of the possible dissolution of the molecular structuralization necessary for the phenomenon of life, he or she begins to build up spiritual agility towards the attainment of eternal happiness. No wonder God offered many saints the privileges of passing through these purifying crucibles that gained for them enough indulgences with which they became fit as fiddle for the bosom of the eternal father.
Besides, the Presbyterorum Ordinis no.5 has it that the priests, who have the key of the heavenly treasures, set their enduring seal into relieving those who are ill with the sacraments of the church, when and where necessary. Meanwhile, my personal experience of the tireless efforts of Rev. Fr. Josephat Odo, in administering sacrament to the sick, at Bishop Shanahan Hospital speaks volume to the axiom that the salvation of the soul is the supreme law (Salus Animarum Suprema Est).
More still, two things interestingly significant about sickness are; it is a wonderful sacrifice worthy to be offered to God for the forgiveness of sins and a veritable opportunity to share in the passion of Christ, such that He who has passed through our weaknesses yet without sin, is the High Priest ever ready to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb.4:15). Sickness also creates an enabling environment for healthy Christians to acquire graces as they extend corporal works of mercy to the unhealthy ones.
Caution! The conception of sickness as an evil is simply an illusion and the denial of divine intelligence about the incidence is a delusion. Having confirmed the emergence of sickness as the permissive will of God, and projected the superiority of the soul over the body and the unprecedented desire of the soul to rest in God, we cannot deny the fact that this incessant quest of the soul can be quenched through the bed of pain. It becomes even more plausible and practicable when we are not unaware of the privileges of sickness to the living. Well, we do not intend that Christians should pray for sickness but when it comes, may we welcome it as a divine gift from God necessary for the satisfaction of man’s inarrestible self-transcendence.