Children. The Sick.
Rosa Valles, nurse
January 4, 2002
In this article Rosa Valles, a nurse, tells how this point in The Way helps her in her job. She works at Navarre University Hospital in Pamplona, Spain. She has also worked for Austral University in Argentina, and helped to set up the nursing division of the Campus Bio-Medico in Rome.
“Children. The Sick. As you write these words, don’t you feel tempted to use capitals? The reason is that in children and in the sick, a soul in love sees Him” (The Way, 419.
These words written by St Josemaria have, on countless occasions, provided the answer to the questions that came up daily in the twenty years I have worked as nurse supervisor, in a neonatal and pediatric intensive care unit. The answer was not merely theoretical; I have worked to make it part of my life little by little, discovering in it the real meaning of my everyday work. It was to see God himself incarnated in every child, and especially every sick child.
Calling St Josemaria’s considerations to mind while “at the foot of the crib” has enabled me not only to remain in God’s presence in my work, but to struggle against routine and put more effort into looking after each baby, because each is created in the image and likeness of God. “In children and in the sick, a soul in love sees Him.” Thinking more deeply about this statement, I have come to see more clearly how infinitely God loves human beings, because it led me on to consider that Jesus had been an embryo, Jesus had been a fetus.
When I was looking after a tiny little premature baby weighing just 500 grams, I was overwhelmed to realize that God himself had submitted to the law of our nature, passing through the same stages of development as every human baby. I thought about how his little body, as it developed, was nourished by Mary’s blood; he would hear her heartbeats, and the words of loving expectancy that every mother-to-be says to the baby in her womb.
God became man and entered into the history of the world at a given moment, like any mortal, and from that point until the end of time we will be able to contemplate him like that: the God-man, a baby. A new-born baby is the most vulnerable thing in creation, unable to survive without the right care. The total dependency of children and the sick moves us to dedication, effort, self-giving, and generosity. And through his weakness as a little child, God shows us how much he needs us, and needs our love. He approaches man through his weakness, gently and sweetly, evoking tenderness and moving our hearts to be capable of great things.
“He has become so small – you see: a Child! – so that you can approach him with confidence” (The Way, 94). How easy it is to get to know God the Child through other children, and so learn about the greatness of little things and the strength of the weakest. It is hard to understand and accept the suffering and sorrow caused by sickness and death, still more so when the person suffering is a child, let alone a new-born baby. These universal questions are hard to answer without the light of faith.
“Christ’s whole life, from his birth in Bethlehem, was filled with a burning desire to carry out the saving decree of God the Father,” wrote St Josemaria (Christ is Passing By, 95). Christ’s coming into the world was marked with the cross of opposition. He was born in a cold stable. He had to flee his native land in his Mother’s arms – the same arms that, when his time came to die, would receive his dead body taken down from the Cross. He always chose the worst for himself, because he began his redeeming work the moment he came into the world.
Could this be the answer to the mystery of the suffering and death of a child? Could it be that these children are chosen by God to cooperate, unknowingly, in the work of redemption? Could God have created these souls in his infinite love so that they may rejoice in God’s presence for ever, having spent hardly any time on this earth with its trials and difficulties? These thought-provoking questions helped me to give a meaning to my work and also to help parents accept God’s will.
Impelled by questions such as these, and following St Josemaria’s advice to turn my work into a Mass by offering it up together with the Sacrifice of Calvary, I have often repeated, when looking at sick children, the words from the liturgy of the Mass: “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer 1), with the intention of incorporating the children’s suffering into the Cross, where it would find its real meaning and they would become identified with Christ.
Throughout these years I have had many opportunities of trying to explain the meaning of suffering to parents and children. Every time, I invoked the intercession of St Josemaria, who was so humanly and supernaturally affectionate that he could always bring consolation and comfort to those who needed it.
I remember a twelve-year-old boy who had been seriously injured in an accident. The only part of his body he could move was his head, and his respiratory system had collapsed so that he could not breathe unaided. He had first been treated in another hospital, where he had fought for his life, and then transferred to our intensive care unit. His parents told us, with enormous sorrow, some of the things they had heard him say, about how it was a pity he had not died in the accident, because his life, the way he was now, was not worth living. It was clear that among the many treatments he needed, we had to help him to understand the true meaning of his condition, so that he could cope with the rest of his life.
I kept thinking of something St Josemaria wrote in The Way of the Cross: “God is my Father, even though he may send me suffering. He loves me tenderly, even while wounding me. Jesus suffers, to fulfill the Will of the Father... And I, who also wish to fulfill the most holy Will of God, following in the footsteps of the Master, can I complain if I too meet suffering as my traveling companion? It will be a sure sign of my sonship, because God is treating me as he treated his own Divine Son” (The Way of the Cross, 1, 1). After praying to St Josemaria for help, certain that he would be my best intercessor in helping the boy understand his situation, I pointed to a crucifix that was opposite the bed and asked him if he knew who it was, and what had happened to him. He half-knew it, possibly because he was unprepared for the question or perhaps because he hadn’t received any religious teaching for some time. We put the whole story together between us.
I explained to him that Jesus on the Cross, like him, was unable to move. His hands and feet were nailed down. Like him, Jesus could only breathe with great difficulty, because of his position. He was suffering like that because that was the condition for bringing everyone in the world to Heaven. And he chose the people he loved most, to be with him on the Cross, so that they could help him in his enterprise. Obviously he, the sick boy, was one of the people Jesus had chosen. It was going to be difficult for him, but there were many people in the world who stood in need of that sacrifice. So his life was worth more than anyone else’s, because he was one of the people who had been given a special job to do by Jesus, to help him. He might meet people in the course of his life who didn’t know this or couldn’t understand it, but he should never forget it whatever happened, because Jesus was relying on him.
I stayed beside him for a while, as he shed tears and then went to sleep. Every day from then on he would ask for me to come and tell him again “the bit about the Cross”. He always listened with the same concentration. I hope that now that he has returned to a relatively normal life, in view of his serious limitations, he still remembers it.
There is no greater suffering in this world than that of parents who have to watch their child suffering and dying. A desperate mother, as her child was dying, said to me in tears: “I just can’t understand how our Lady, who was a mother herself, can allow God to do this to my son. I can’t bear the thought of living without him.” I tried to encourage her to “get inside the Gospel”, as St Josemaria used to recommend (cf. Friends of God, 216 and 222), and contemplate Mary at the foot of the Cross, close to her Son as he was dying. I tried to explain how the terrible suffering that Mary underwent helped to make Jesus’ death fruitful. I don’t know how much consolation it was to her, but she went from rebellion – perfectly natural, humanly speaking – to acceptance, and sought strength in going to pray to our Lady every day. As we read in The Way, “Marvel at Mary’s courage: at the foot of the Cross, with the greatest of human sorrows — there is no sorrow like her sorrow — filled with fortitude. And ask her for that same strength, so that you too can remain beside the Cross” (The Way, 508).
In this article I have aimed to reflect on some of the ways St Josemaria’s spirit has influenced my work. He incarnated it in his own life and, preaching tirelessly, brought it to thousands of people throughout the world, who are fighting to be contemplatives in their daily lives. It is a spirit that can fill every second of our lives and that, thanks to my professional calling, has led me to touch the very root of the mystery of Christianity: the mystery of God’s love and mercy. As a result, I too write Children and the Sick with capital letters.
List of Contents
- Alex Grew 6' Last Night
- The Personalism and Universalism of Josemaría Escrivá
- Cardinal Paul Shan S. J., Bishop of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
- Children. The Sick.
- A goal offered to God
- God doesn’t let himself be outdone in generosity
- Designing every garment to enhance the dignity of the woman who wears it
- Conversion story
- The Meaning of Love
- A book restorer who found his Way
- Christians in the media
- From Toxicity to Transcendence: St. Josemaria and Contemplation in the Workplace