BLESSED FRANCIS’ HOLY INDIFFERENCE IN ILLNESS.
As regards our Blessed Father’s patience in time of sickness, I myself was with him in one only of his illnesses, but others, who saw him in many and were frequent witnesses of his patience, gentleness, and absolute indifference to suffering, tell us marvels on that subject.
For my part, on the one occasion when I saw him stretched upon his bed, suffering with so much endurance and sweetness, the sight at once recalled to me what St. Catherine of Genoa tells us of a certain soul in Purgatory. This poor soul she represented as so perfectly united to God by charity that it was physically unable to utter the slightest complaint, or to have the faintest shadow of a desire, which was not absolutely in conformity with the divine will. Such souls, she says, wish to be in Purgatory exactly as long as God shall please, and this, with a will so contented and so constant, that for nothing in the whole world would they be elsewhere unless it were His will. This is exactly how our Blessed Father suffered, without in any way losing heart, because of the services which he might have been able to render to God and his neighbour had he been in health. He wished to suffer because to do so was the good pleasure of God, Who held the keys of his life and of his death, of his health and of his sickness, and of his whole destiny.
If he was asked whether he would take this or that, physic or food, whether he would he bled or blistered, or the like, he had but one answer to give: “Do with the patient what you please, God has put me at the disposal of the doctors.” Nothing could be more simple or obedient than his behaviour, for he honoured God in the physicians, and in their remedies, as He Himself has commanded us all to do.
He always told the doctors and attendants exactly what was the matter with him, neither exaggerating his malady by undue complaints, nor making his suffering appear less than it really was by a forced and unnatural composure. The first he said was cowardice, the second dissimulation. Even although the inferior and sensible part of his soul might be under the pressure of intense pain, there always flashed out from his face, and especially from his eyes, rays of that calm light which illumined the superior and reasonable part of his nature, shining through the dark clouds of bodily affliction. Hence the weaker his body, the stronger became his spirit, enabling him to say with the Apostle: Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, That the power of Christ may dwell in me. [2 Cor. xii. 9.]