February 11 – THE SICK BROTHERS
THE SICK BROTHERS
Not all sick Brothers live in nursing homes. Br. Eugene-Marie, Superior General, who was almost constantly ill, had to take a course of treatment in a spa every year; nevertheless, he was extremely active and frequently on the move. However, it is in nursing homes that the greater number of sick Brothers live today, especially at La Hilliere, France, (See 21 February) and Val-des-Rapides, Canada. Some Provinces, which have no nursing homes, find other solutions: in Brazzaville, two 80-year-olds ended their lives at a home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor; in Belgium some live in retirement homes. The main thing is to end well, i.e. in a saintly way.
How many “saints” live in sickrooms! How many Brothers stricken with disabilities, suffering mentally, have ended their days in serenity, · without ever complaining, even cheerfully. Br. Anastase wrote in his circular No. 9: “I think of Br. Constantin, for example, who was a martyr to rheumatism and was confined to his room, but turned it into a place generating a good spirit and optimism. I think also of Br. Marc, whose face ever cheerful despite a painful disability (which afflictd him for 18 years) was beaming with joy on hearing the least piece of news about anything which reflected well on the Institute.”
Some sick Brothers continue to make themselves useful. In Canada Br. Jacques B urelle (1913-1995) exercised from his sickroom and for 12 years his very special charism as an organiser of spiritual exercises for large groups, in particular of pilgrimages lasting one year to all the Marian shrines in Canada. At La Hilliere in France, Bro, Athanase Chabot (1941-1987) gave himself to highly specialised computer work and led the activities of a fraternity of sick people.
The spiritual journey of Br. Athanase is exemplary. In 1974, on his return· horne from Gabof}, be: wa-s very weak and suffering from severe respiratory insufficiency whose cause was difficult to diagnose; very soon he had to wear an oxygen mask most of the time. It was a hard situation for a young and brilliant maths teacher to cope with. Round Pentecost Sunday 1976, hoping for a miracle cure, he travelled to Lourdes with several thousand Charismatics. There he discovered the world of the sick. He wrote: “A different unsuspected world opened before my eyes, and I felt somewhat . ashamed on seeing sufferings far worse than mine and borne courageously and uncomplainingly. The serene faces were beaming with deep peace and joy. Yes, I feel ashamed for all my inner revolts which are making it difficult for me to accept, and draw great benefit from, a very minor trial compared with those I witnessed. In this room, people pray as they breathe(…). This pilgrimage with the Charismatics has been a highlight in my life and I hope it will mark a fresh start in my love for the Lord.”
Shortly after joining La Hillierefor good in 1981, he made a retreat for several days and concluded it with Fr. de Foucauld’s act of abandonment. He lived it intensely. A Daughter of Wisdom, who looked after him, stated, «Many times I heard him say: “My illness is perhaps the great opportunity of my life”». As a wise man of prayer he said “perhaps”. He knew that the Lord might have led him by other ways. But he looked on these “ways of the cross” as “ways of life”.