Thought for the Day – 14 July – The Memorial of St Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614) “The Giant of Charity”
Every day in the wards of hospitals or in the streets, wherever Camillus was in contact with the sick, he encountered Christ on the crucifix who became for him a daily partner. Not only did he think about Him and pray to Him but he also housed Him, fed Him, gave Him water to drink and clothed Him. He gave himself and in his self-giving he felt that he was the beneficiary. ‘This crucified Christ’, he exclaimed, ‘has helped me and comforted me a great deal and certainly, I do not merit all the graces, He has done me’. He attributed to Him the merit of founding the Institute: ‘In the foundation of this little plant a lion heart could have lost himself, as well as a miserable man such as I am, if the crucified Christ had not helped and comforted me’. The signs of the cross were also impressed on his afflicted body: – his leg with its sore, the corns on his feet, his kidney stones, the hernia in his groin and the tumour in his stomach. In his testament he declared his self-abandonment to the crucified Christ, to whom he commended himself like the prodigal son who went back to his father and the good thief who called for mercy.
The crucified Christ entered his life and was never to leave him. Camillus wanted to have on his habit the Sign of the Cross in order ‘to demonstrate that this is a religion of the Cross…so that those who want to follow our way of life will get ready…to follow Jesus Christ unto death’. He wanted it to be dark red ‘because more like the true wood of the most holy Cross on which the Redeemer of the World died and was appended’.
In the exercise of this very demanding and radical service to the sick, Camillus was guided by the Holy Spirit along the two fundamental lines of evangelical love: 1) recognising that we are serving Christ in the person of the sick and 2) being an expression of the merciful Christ who is serving the sick. Camillus really identified the suffering Christ in the sick to the point of calling them ‘my Lords and Masters’. Camillus brought about the complete service to the sick by concentrating on their spiritual and corporeal needs.
For the Order of the Ministers of the Infirm, the Fourth Vow, that is the vow along with the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, to serve the sick with total commitment at the risk of one’s life, represents the special feature of their particular style of consecrated religious life. For Camillians serving the sick is the ‘locus theologicus’ where it fulfils and expresses its identity as a community of men, consecrated to God and entrusted with mission of establishing the Kingdom as a means of salvation for all the sick.