Saturday of Week 1 in Ordinary Time
When Jesus heard this he said to them: “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.“
If I remember correctly, one of the first things Pope Francis said in the early days of his papacy was that the Church is like a field hospital for the sick (or something to that effect). When I read today’s Gospel, I thought about those words, and then I also thought about those turbulent pandemic days when hospitals and clinics around the world were overwhelmed, so much so that not everybody who needed help could be helped, and many ended up dying, from COVID or from something else.
Pope Francis is correct to describe the Church as a hospital. And hospitals have triage centers. Contrary to what some people may think, ALL of us are spiritually ill. It is just that some of us are spiritually hurting more severely than others, and therefore need the most immediate help. This certainly does not mean the rest who are not so sick will be neglected. It just means they can likely be sustained by regular sermons and Sacraments, just as the physically healthy are advised to maintain healthy diets and lifestyles to keep illness at bay.
For a relatively healthy person, keeping illness at bay is not that difficult but, of course, we slip up sometimes. The festivities of the last couple of months probably did not help us much. So it is with our spiritual health. If we are able to stay on the narrow path that God has made for us, we just need to maintain the strength needed to keep going. Regular mass, prayer, faith communities, and receiving the Sacraments all go a long way to keep us walking on. Now and then, we go for retreats if we feel like we need to step back, to reassess our spiritual health to see if we had in fact been straying, or losing our focus on God. It’s just like going for a health screening, isn’t it?
When we are hit with an acute sickness, we head to the doctor. I personally stay home to recuperate but when it comes to my children, I panic. Whether it is a cough, a fever, or an injury (and boy are my children injury prone), I will want to rush down to the doctor, and I will always remember the hours-long wait time at the children’s Accident & Emergency. So it is with our spiritual lives. The fruits of the Holy Spirit that we should be living out, are like immunity. We think we have it strong, until we are felled because we really didn’t have much of a defense. When we meet with setbacks, when something unexpected troubles us, when tragedy strikes, we now turn to God in desperation begging for help, but that desperation can easily turn to despair and rage against a God that seemingly does not care enough to answer our prayers.
This is when we need the medics and the healers who can help us. This is what the priests, ministers and even the church community need to turn their attention on. Just like those without severe illnesses were asked not to tie up medical resources during the pandemic, so too, those without severe spiritual illness could wait a while. There are those who require a lot of attention to their needs. The others could practice some patience, and lovingly pray for them, and help in any way they can. They could wait until that crisis passes, then it will be their turn. They will not be passed over nor ignored.
Then there are those with chronic illnesses. A lot of time and resources have to be spent on these patients. It can be a real strain on infrastructure, and it is also a strain on the patients themselves. They are already ill, and also have to bear financial burdens, and the pain of wondering if they will ever get better even by just a bit. It is easy to lose hope. Spiritually speaking, these are the ones who have lost their way. Chronic sin and stubbornness keeps them away. But this is not to say they are not suffering by distancing themselves from God. Some may feel like there is no point returning because they can never be forgiven, some feel ostracised and judged, some may decide the pain of remorse is too much to bear.
But these are the ones that need a constant and persistent love in order to take the first step towards healing. The lost sheep needed to be found. It is easy for them to lose hope. It is easy to lose hope in them too. But if we have that everlasting love that God has for us, we will persist, gently and softly, to bring them back to the fold so they can start their healing. This will not be easy as anyone with a chronic illness can attest to. Lots of barriers to overcome — mental and emotional and spiritual. But a good doctor, and likewise a good shepherd, is patient and caring enough to help.
The church is a field hospital. There are those suffering from chronic illness, those needing emergency care, outpatients, and the more or less healthy ones who can get by with regular check ups. There is no hierarchy here, only a priority list. And these words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees made it clear that some people need to be ministered to more urgently than others. It also seemed to me that Jesus could have implied that everyone, including Pharisees, are “the sick” in varying degrees, especially if he had ever dined with them.
We should be thankful if we are healthy or merely outpatients, but we must never be complacent. If we need emergency or long term care, rest assured that our priests and ministers, and community, will also be there to help us. Father David Moses from Texas had an 18-hour session to hear confessions from people just before Christmas, and he is unlikely the only priest to do this. God loves us with an everlasting love, and His love heals. No matter our situation, we can rest assured that Jesus will dine with us. The band Flyleaf has a song titled “Sorrow” which contains this line:“Sitting closer than my pain, He knew each tear before it came”. It is when we feel furthest away from God that He is, in fact, closest to us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)
Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for the courage to turn back to You when we have strayed. We pray for those who despair, that they may find hope in You. We pray for those in healing ministries, that they be sustained with your strength.
Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, we thank You for Your unending love and patience for us, even when we fall so many times.