"How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!"
I love these lines from the poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit priest, who wrote them reflecting on his ministry to the sick and now dead farrier, Felix Randall. In the course of the poem Father Hopkins describes briefly but with great feeling how he brought the Sacraments to this dying but once powerful man. He describes how this strong and skilful man was brought low by suffering but through the ministrations of the priest and the grace of the Sacraments came to be resigned to what he had to suffer before he died.
The priest-poet remarks that “Seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears”, and while filled with admiration at the handsome power of the blacksmith at his forge – a wonderful expression of the beauty and skill of the human person – somehow it is in our weakness and helplessness that we discover most about ourselves and others.
The values of so many of those around us, place so much store by health and quality of life and, while these are things never to be taken for granted, they can so easily mask the profound truth and goodness and beauty of our humanity. It is only in the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross that our minds are fully opened to the presence and closeness of God who makes his home in the heart of each one of us.
In ministering to the sick the priest makes incarnate the closeness of the whole Church to those who suffer but at the same time acts as a prism through which the world can find in the one who suffers the deepest dignity of the human person and the ageless presence of the God who brings salvation to the world through the Cross.
Mgr. Paul Conroy