Christian Idea of Health

Naaman the Syrian leper came looking for healing, for some kind of Fountain of Youth, to cleanse his corrupted flesh. The prophet Elisha healed him.  And the Lord Jesus healed the ten lepers who begged for His pity. They, too, had sought the “Fountain of Youth,” a way back to the perfect health of the Garden of Eden. [Spanish]

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

We modern Americans obsess about our health. We, too, seek the Fountain of Youth. We chase it desperately, frantically. We live in abject fear of old age, pain, and death.

jp_iiBut do we really even understand what the word “health” means? 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.”

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 people reading this have given their lives to the work of healthcare.

But Jesus Christ alone teaches us what health really is. Jesus Christ is Himself the source of life and the Healer of the human race. His Body and Blood are the greatest and most important of all medicines. The Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the medicine of immortality.

Let’s consider Jesus Christ’s “health.” It begins with His interior communion with the will of the Father. Jesus declared that His life comes from the Father.  So: true health begins with this fundamental fact of our existence. We receive ourselves as a gift. From God. Almighty God gives us our life. If I imagine that health = total control of myself, my body, my powers, according to my will—well, then I 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. Like all His Jewish contemporaries, Jesus never “went to the gym.” For good reason. The ancient Greeks invented gyms, so the ancient Jews hated them. But our Lord nonetheless 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 there’s more: the God-man ultimately embraced human pain, suffering, and death. In fact, He became man for that precise reason: to suffer and die.

Rod of AsclepiusWhen we base our concept of health on Jesus Christ, a whole new horizon opens up for us.  We perceive that bodily suffering is not the absolute evil. And bodily suffering is not meaningless or a waste. 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 explain the fundamental reason why sickness exists. Medicine can succeed in curing particular illnesses by accurately diagnosing them.  But if the question is: Why do we human beings get sick at all? “Germs” is not the whole answer.

We get sick, and we die, because of the Fall. In the beginning, we fell away from God and lost His grace, which is our true health. We walked away from the Fountain of Youth. Doesn’t mean that any particular individual illness of any particular individual person comes as a punishment for particular sins. No. What it means is: In the beginning, God offered us, the human race, paradise and immortality. But we refused the gift, out of pride.

We disobeyed because Satan tempted us. 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 all those agonizing deprivations into the doorway back to paradise.

Ghent Altarpiece Adoration of the Lamb

“Amen, amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Lord Jesus said those words to the sinner who begged for Christ’s mercy–even as they both suffered together on their crosses. “You will be with me in paradise.” The suffering Christ speaks these words 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 God. The paradise of an everlasting Eden. Our idea of health must embrace the cross of the Christ Who suffered. Because His Cross is the only way that truly leads to the Fountain of Youth.

3 thoughts on “Christian Idea of Health

  1. No one gets out alive. By including our inevitable suffering in the fullness of life – because God in the flesh did – we make sense of our suffering. That’s the understanding of the consequence of sin. Your explanation of the transformation of that suffering breaks through to its holy purpose: to help save souls. We offer our pain and decrepitude to the Father in union with the torture and death of His Son for the same end: saving souls. In this light, we can see why many of the saints rejoiced in their suffering.

  2. I agree with both comments posted earlier. Have read this now several times and heard it preached at Mass… fresh insights each time. Some notes written down at a recent retreat came to mind, “Pain and suffering are not the same. To choose suffering is to embrace the cross.” [Fr. Marc Foley, OCD]
    A cross is not always physical suffering, but may be the suffering of a soul reaching out to God in a time of spiritual crisis and praying for the strength to “suffer well.” Everything has a price. God is there to bring us through. As Fr. Mark wrote, “The Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the medicine of immortality.” Amen.

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