THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

Her Doctrine and Morals

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

21 January 2018

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Dear Friends,

Jesus heals both the body and the soul. The leper and the Centurion's servant in today's Gospel illustrate the healing of the flesh, yet draw our attention to the healing of our souls. Saint John Chrysostom would like us to understand that: "God has greater concern for the salvation of the soul than the body. First, because the soul is of a higher dignity than the body. For the soul can live without the body, but the body without the soul cannot survive. Second, in every sin it is the soul that first sins, then the body sins. Unless the soul be first overcome, the flesh could never sin. The flesh can first be moved with desire for that which is evil, but cannot sin unless the soul shall first consent; for the flesh is subject to the power of the soul, not the soul to the flesh. So it was necessary that the soul, which first had fallen, should first be raised; the soul then freed from the power of the devil would free its own flesh from sin. The flesh that is healed from infirmity cannot free the soul from its sin, but rather inclines it yet further from what is right; for the well-being of the flesh wars against the discipline of righteousness."

The leper shows forth his faith when he says: "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." He is not directly asking for the cleansing of his physical disease. He is humbly admitting his own ignorance of the Will of God and what is of true benefit for his own soul. We, very often, do not know what is for our own good. God sometimes allows suffering in the body so that our souls may be healed. The pain of physical suffering is a grace or blessing for our souls if we only catch a glimpse of Divine Providence. Diseases of the soul are often ignored or hidden away so that men live for many years spiritually dead. As long as the body is in relative health, there is little concern for our souls. When the body suffers our thoughts turn inward and we begin to consider our souls. If we could only heal our souls, then the body might be healed; or if our souls are healed we will find the grace to bear the burdens of the suffering in our bodies. The leper does not ask for physical health, but rather seeks the Will of God — "If Thou wilt."

We see the same prayer more perfectly, when Jesus prays in the Garden the night before He died on the Cross. "… not My Will, but Thine be done." There is no sin in seeking the relief of bodily suffering, but we should always qualify our requests with: "If it is God's Will." God knows what is best for our souls. All that we receive in this life, both the joys and the sorrows — the pleasures and the pains — are given to us for the good of our souls. If the sufferings of our bodies are necessary for the health or life of our souls, we should patiently (if not eagerly) bear them in humble gratitude to God for them. We should ask to be relieved of them, only if it is God's Will — not our own wills.

We find in the Centurion a similar lesson of faith and trust in God. He has presented to Jesus the situation of his servant at home. He has not directly asked for his cure, but it is rather implied. It is Jesus Who offers to go and cure him. This, the Centurion's humble faith declares, is not necessary. First, because he is not worthy to have God enter into his home; and second, because God only needs to say the word and it will be done. God's Will is supreme and all powerful. God often sets aside His Will to give us freedom of choice, but in doing so He always Wills that even greater good may come from our neglect or refusal of Him. In allowing us to sin and harm ourselves, He prepares an even greater grace to cleanse our souls and lift us up again, often to even greater heights than before. To the degree that we humble ourselves, He will exalt us. He sends us physical trials to direct us to greater humility, so that He may lift us to greater virtue.

Catholic Faith teaches us that the ills of our souls are cured by the Word of God in the Sacrament of Penance. We do not need visible physical manifestations of the cure. We believe that when the priest pronounces the words of absolution, he is speaking in the Name of Jesus. It is Jesus Who says to us: "Thy sins are forgiven thee" or "Thy faith has made thee whole." The pains of sin or of the body often remain, but we know that we are forgiven. With the grace of God we ask that our suffering be lifted, only if it is God's Will. If it is His Will that we suffer these things, we must humbly embrace these sufferings in imitation of Him and for the love of Him. This is the lesson that God gave to Saint Paul when He said: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9)

May we overcome all fear of physical pain or suffering and willingly embrace it as coming from the Loving Hand of Our Father in Heaven. Sin, that wounds or even kills our souls, is what we must truly fear and dread. Let us come to Jesus for relief of our spiritual ills first and then declare ourselves conformable to whatever He Wills is good for our souls and His Glory.

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