True Health

Naaman the leper washed in the Jordan, and his flesh became like the flesh of a little child. Lord Jesus told the ten lepers who begged for His pity to “go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going, they were healed.

Rod of AsclepiusChrist came to heal. He wills our health. He wills our true health, the health that consists in soundness of soul, as well as soundness of body.

I think we need to seek a solid foundation for our idea of “health.” Our technocratic culture, which ostensibly offers so many helps to good health, does not really have a clear idea of what health is. Pope St. John Paul II put it like this: “If we consider life as a mere consumer good, we reach a sort of cult of the body and a hedonistic quest for physical fitness.” (World Day of the Sick, 2/11/2000)

We human beings strive, with all our intelligence and scientific skill, to combat sickness and the suffering that goes with it. Many people dedicate their lives to healthcare. I daresay quite a few of you, dear readers, have given your lives to the work of healthcare. The Church’s mission to the world includes caring for the sick. And you don’t have to be a Christian to perceive that sickness is bad and healing is good.

But Jesus Christ offers the human race the true and deep vision of what health really is. He Himself is the source of life. His Body and Blood are the greatest and most important of all medicines; the Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the medicine of immortality.

jp_iiLet’s study Christ’s health. It begins with His interior communion with the will of the Father. Jesus is the source of all life, yes. But He said that His life comes from the Father. So our health begins with this fundamental fact of our existence: We receive ourselves as a gift from God. Almighty God gives us our life. If we imagine that health = total control of myself, my body, my powers, according to my will, then we have actually begun to understand health in a very unhealthy way.

Now, Lord Jesus lived a wholesome life, exercised temperance and self-control, worked steadily, kept His mind elevated, cultivated good friendships, knew how to relax. He never “went to the gym.” The ancient Greeks invented gyms, so the ancient Jews hated them. But our Lord did the strenuous exercise we associate with a ‘fitness regimen.’ We can reasonably estimate that He walked an average of 20-25 miles per week through the course of His pilgrim life.

So: Jesus ‘stayed fit’—He ate right and had a ‘healthy lifestyle’ for most of His time on earth. But the crucial thing we have to keep in mind is this: the God and source of all life also freely embraced human pain, suffering, and death. In fact, He became man to suffer and die.

When we base our concept of health on Christ, a new horizon opens up for us. We perceive that bodily suffering is not the absolute evil. And bodily suffering is not meaningless, a waste of life. Again, Pope St. John Paul II:

In celebrating the Eucharist, Christians proclaim and share in the sacrifice of Christ, for ‘by His wounds, we have been healed.’ Christians, uniting themselves with Christ, preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s redemption, and can share that treasure with others. Imitating Jesus has led saints and simple believers to turn their illnesses and pain into a source of purification and salvation.

Modern medical science has benefited the human race enormously. But science cannot by itself give us a true concept of health, because science cannot explain the fundamental reason why sickness exists. Yes, science succeeds in curing illnesses by accurately diagnosing them. But if the question is: Why do we human beings get sick? “Germs” is not the whole answer.

adam eve expelledWe get sick, and we die, because, in the beginning, we fell away from God. That doesn’t mean that any particular illness of any particular person comes as a punishment for particular sins. What it means is: In the beginning, God offered us, the human race, paradise and immortality. But we disobeyed His simple law.

We disobeyed because Satan tempted us to pride, and we gave in. But God knows better than Satan. The sickness and suffering that we experience because of Original Sin can involve agonizing deprivations. But, on the cross, the Lord turned agonizing deprivation into the doorway back to paradise.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Lord Jesus said those words to the sinner who acknowledged the justice of his punishment, but who begged for Christ’s mercy anyway–even as they both suffered together on their crosses. “You will be with me in paradise.” These are the words the suffering Christ speaks to the suffering sinner.

We cannot base our idea of health on anything other than our hope for that paradise that Jesus promised us at that moment. The paradise of true and complete communion with our Creator, the Lord and Giver of Life. The paradise of an everlasting Eden. Our idea of health must be wide and deep enough to embrace the cross of the Christ Who suffered. Because His Cross is the only way that leads to paradise.

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