Visiting the sick is not an option for us. It is a necessity which was mandated by Jesus Christ Himself. He said visiting the sick was an essential element in our own salvation. He equated visiting the sick to serving Him personally. Even stronger, He said that “if you did not do it” then they “will go off into eternal punishment”. (Mat 25.43-46) These are very strong words indeed.

As important as this is, it is also one of the most difficult tasks for any person. Normally we stick to visiting our friends and family. This is fine. Priests, religious and other professionals have wider obligations. We would do well to visit those we know and love. We cannot visit everybody and no one expects us to.

There are do’s and don’ts when visiting the sick. One really must learn how to best perform our sacred duty of visiting the sick because we can in fact do more harm than good if we do not do it right.

There are so many things to consider. You have to, for instance, learn about the illness a person has, what can the patient do or not do, how does the illness affect the person? One should consider what one can say or not say! Does the person actually want to see you?

When you go the hospital, there are also a number of rules one must follow. Visiting hours are important to protect the patient. Food and reading material are good gifts but they should be appropriate for each patient. You have to remember that you are not the doctor nor the nurse nor the hospital administration. One should never question a doctor’s treatment of the patient nor the medicine he prescribes. Doctors and hospital should never be criticised. All hospital staff must be treated with respect as well as all the other patients in the hospital. Large, noisy groups put pressure on all in the hospital!

Many people cannot help themselves. They come to visit the sick and then constantly talk about themselves, their present and past illnesses, and all the horrible things that have happened to those who have died because they have had the same illness as the patient. Visiting the sick is meant to comfort and support them. One never talks about himself in front of the sick not to burden and oppress them. You come to help the sick. Therefore it is important to listen to the patient. Sometimes it is best to say nothing and quietly pray. If the patient’s family is present, do not take away their right to visit their own family members. Visits should not be long. Patients get emotional and irritable. Visitors should never dump their own emotional baggage on the sick.

Being in the hospital can be boring for the sick. They may be losing hope if they are very seriously ill. A good visitor, who is conscious of the patient’s needs not his own, can help support a sick person. Praying with someone, turning their attention to God, and bringing them to an inner peace is actually one of the main purposes of going to visit the sick.

We can ask ourselves, why was Jesus Christ so strong when he spoke to us about the obligation of visiting the sick?