March 8, 2019


Lent is a time for healing, hope

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:31-32).

We go to the doctor because we are troubled by symptoms. Based on the symptoms, and perhaps with some further observations and tests, the doctor diagnoses the underlying cause of our illness. Based on the underlying cause, the doctor prescribes a course of treatment—not just to eliminate the symptoms but to eliminate the root cause of the illness. If someone has a case of pneumonia and they only treat the symptoms (fever and a cough), the underlying cause of illness (an infection in the lungs) could kill them.

The same is true of our spiritual health. If we really want to get back to good health, we have to get at what’s underneath the symptoms. Therefore, in order to be spiritually healthy we have to examine: 1) the symptoms of sin—our overt sinful actions; 2) the underlying causes of sin—the attitudes and habits of our heart, from which our actions spring; 3) the healing offered by Jesus; and 4) how the healing mission of Jesus is made available to us in the Church through the sacraments.

The Church today shows grave symptoms of ill health. Clergy sexual abuse, clericalism, declining membership and Mass attendance, and the general malaise or discomfort experienced by many faithful Catholics are all signs that something is seriously wrong. What’s causing these symptoms? What are the root causes of this illness of mind, heart and soul?

Lent is the time of year when the Church encourages us to do a thorough examination of our spiritual health, and then to take whatever steps are necessary to let the healing power of Jesus make us whole again. The six and a half weeks of Lent provide a structure for diagnosing the symptoms and the root causes of our sinfulness.

During this special time of year, the Church encourages us to take advantage of the healing power of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance, to admit our selfishness and sin (confession), to experience a change of heart (conversion), to deny ourselves (penance) and to change the way we live (healing).

The sacrament of penance is our greatest diagnostic tool. Through this great sacrament, we allow Jesus to enter into our hearts and cleanse us of all the impurities—large and small—that have built up over time. We present ourselves to him for the healing of both our symptoms and their root causes.

Jesus Christ is the Divine Physician of body and soul. In his incarnation, Jesus reached out, by word and deed, to heal those with illnesses of the body and sicknesses of the soul. In his passion, death and resurrection, he conquered sin and death, and became the source of ultimate healing for all.

Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave the Apostles a share in his very life, so that the healing power of his words and deeds might continue to be present to the world through them. And through the sacraments, Jesus himself continues to be present in every time and place, healing us and drawing us into the communion that he shares with the Father and the Spirit.

What’s true for individual Catholics during the season of Lent is also true for the Church as a whole. Now more than ever, the whole body of Christ needs to do a thorough examination of its attitudes, behaviors and their consequences. This certainly includes our pope, bishops and pastoral leaders, but it cannot be limited to the ordained, to Church officials. It must involve the entire people of God whoever we are and wherever we find ourselves. All of us need to allow the Holy Spirit to work within our communities of faith to purify, cleanse and heal us. And we need to open our hearts and minds to substantive change, to the kind of radical conversion that alone brings healing and hope.

During this Lent, the Divine Physician invites us to a healing that brings reconciliation and communion—with God, with each other, and with ourselves in our inmost being. Our response—as individuals and as the whole Church—must be to once again say “Yes!” to him: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter my roof. Say but the word, and my soul will be healed.”

Jesus himself told us that “those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Lk 5:31; Mk 2:17). Lord, help us to acknowledge our illnesses of mind and heart and body. Teach us to turn to you and to humbly seek your healing power. We need it now, Lord, more than ever.

—Daniel Conway

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