“God loved us first, and our wish is to respond to that love” (1 John 4: 10). John intimates that God is the initiator inviting our response. We didn’t earn that love nor deserve it. It was freely given just as Jesus’ giving of his life for us was freely given.
St. Camillus de Lellis, the founder of the Ministers of the Sick (Camillians), didn’t earn God’s love either. But he was made the object of God’s love and mercy. He experienced the depths of degradation with his gambling addiction but was rescued by God through Mary on the feast of her Purification (February 2, 1575). His spiritual conversion, his spiritual rebirth as he called it, was a profound experience of how God loved him first. Consequently, he became the instrument of mercy for others. The most unfortunate became his focus; sinners, the sick, and the dying, the most in need, the suffering. His only purpose was to serve the crucified Christ in the person of Christ Himself in His “most distressed disguise.” Camillus called them his “Lords and Masters.”
Camillus was moved by the unconditional mercy of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25 -37) and was inspired by the words Jesus expresses in Matthew 25: 36: “I was ill, and you cared for me.” He was humbled by the example of Christ’s love when He washed the feet of the disciples at the last supper. And all of this was contemplated by Camillus in the Crucifix whose image assured him in a mystical moment that it was Jesus Himself who initiated the founding of the Ministers of the Sick and not him. And since Camillus felt that the highest human image in matters of love and mercy is that of a mother, he proposed that we should “care for the sick as a mother cares for her only sick child.”
No doubt, he had his earthly mother in mind. Her unconditional merciful love for him, despite his delinquent behavior early in his life, caused much remorse in his heart for the rest of his adult life. He continued to apologize to her long after she died.
And at the foot of the crucified Christ, we find Mary, the Mother of Mercies, the Refuge of Sinners, for it was she who accompanied Camillus back to God. Consequently, the Camillians developed a particular love for the Mother of our Redeemer and declared her “Queen of the Ministers of the Sick.” She was faithful by saying ‘yes’ to the Incarnation, cooperating in the work of salvation, and a mother’s compassion for the suffering. She is the model of spiritual life and service and helps us with her maternal love. “Poor me, Camillus used to say with gratitude, “if there had not been so tender a Mother in heaven.”
The examples above lead us to conclude that Camillus’ response to God’s love was a “Spirituality of Mercy, that is, to bear witness to the infinite love of Christ for the sick.” A major lesson gleaned from this, as stated above, comes from the example of Camillus himself: that God’s mercy to us should move us to show mercy to others, especially the poor, those who are sick as well those who share our charism. Finally, let us be mindful of and guided by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 40: “Whatever you did for these least brethren of mine you did to me.”
-Brother Mario Crivello, M.I.