||This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
I don’t know if it’s been your experience, but, of late, I’ve noticed a marked increase in the number of people who are very obvious for their display of unhappiness. I’ve been taken aback on a number of occasions by total strangers who, by way of their rude behavior, and shortness with others, indicate a real lack of joy in their lives.
There are a number of factors which may figure into a general unhappiness around us, and there are certainly a number of ways that we can react to this trend. One of the most important things that we can do, immediately, is to pray. We need to pray for our neighbors, and especially for those who allow their unhappiness to be made manifest and inflicted upon us. We need to pray for an increase especially in those three Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love — both in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
But we also need to act. We need to be visible witnesses to faith, to hope, and to charity in our own lives. By living as beautiful witnesses to our faith, to the hope that we have, and to Christian charity, we cannot but live more joy-filled lives and, in so doing, provide for people an alternative to the sadness that they now experience, a way to true and lasting happiness and joy, a life in Jesus Christ.
Mission of healthcare workers
Last week, on the Feast of St. Luke, “the physician,” I was blessed to be able to gather with a number of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and many interested in supporting their noble work, to pray the Mass and to spend time with one another. I spoke to those gathered about a few ways that healthcare workers can live out the Year of Faith, but my reflection has relevance to all of us, and speaks, I think to some of the reasons for the general unhappiness I’ve been noticing in people.
During this Year of Faith, this time when we are called back to the very moorings, to the core of our faith, that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, what mission might we say that healthcare workers have specifically? In the first place I think that we need to address our notion of care of the body, in order to expand it. For many people today, care of the body, in a very base way, means simply doing what I can to have the most attractive body possible. Obviously, a deep desire for six-pack abs means very little to me, but some get into that. On the other hand, some others think that to “take care” of the body, is simply to gratify the senses, to do whatever the body seems to be urging you to do, and to get as much pleasure as you can get. If somebody really lives this second way, in every respect, the result will certainly be illness.
In both of the above ways of “care for the body,” that is, rabid health-consciousness or a desire for pleasuring the body, the person limits the meaning of the body and limits the meaning of their entire existence. People care for their bodies in ways that are not at all caring for their bodies, nor indeed for their souls — but they don’t know it. Such people are left without any real, lasting happiness, and are usually left yearning for more, the next achievement of fleeting happiness.
Faith-filled view of the body
In order to reorient ourselves to a faith-filled view of the body, we must remember that the body does not end at death. This mortal body, this physical body, ends at death, but God still has use for it. This body is destined for immortality. This body is destined to be glorified. We should treat our body in this world, in light of the fact that it’s meant to be glorified. Our example in this regard, of course, is Mary — the only human being right now present to Jesus Christ, with a glorified body. (Jesus, of course, is a divine person with a glorified body.) In the Assumption of Mary we see the fullness of all that we could ever be, of all that we are called to be, in her glorious Assumption. This body is not just for time, this body is for eternity. It is the role of a Catholic healthcare worker to move the consciousness of the patient in that direction.
Why would I say that? Virtually no one is in a better situation to remind people of that than their physician. So many people now are not close even to their parish priest; so many have turned away from God and have focused only on what they do with their bodies in the here and now; it’s just the way the world is today. But when they wind up sick or in the hospital, in virtually every case, the doctor and the nurses, those who help, will gain the highest trust of the patient. And in their sickness people are really in need of hope, and of love, and, yes, of faith. In those situations of recognizing their vulnerability, people are both in need of and particularly open to hear a word that says, “how things go in this world is not the end of the matter. This world is not the end of you, nor could it ever be, nor could anything that happens in this world ever be the end of you. You are destined for eternity. You are destined for glory, body and soul.”
It’s that kind of reverence for the body, as something for which God has use beyond the grave (that’s why we reverently lay the body to rest — it’s not a throw-away) that moves people. When people are reminded of that kind of destiny of the body, they’re filled with hope in the face of death. And if they recover, they probably will be quite a bit more reverent toward their body, rather than being content just to build up their abs, or content just to satisfy the desires of the body.
Health care workers can perform an incredible service to our society by moving people away from that relationship to the body as simply a source of pleasure, or an end in itself, to the sense that this body is made for the Lord, as St. Paul said, so beautifully in several ways, “you are not your own. You have been purchased — and at what a great price. You belong to God; so glorify God in your body, as He will glorify your body at the end of history.” That’s the first Year of Faith task that engages particularly our healthcare workers and all of us.
Expanding the idea of care for all
A second Year of Faith task that falls to the hands of healthcare workers in a particular way is connected and flows from the reality that in their daily work the healthcare professional has the opportunity to interact with men and women from all walks of life. In this way, they have the opportunity to remind people — all of us — how expansive and broad the term, “the poor,” is.
St. Luke was “the physician,” and his Gospel was a Gospel for the poor — Good News for the poor! And by the poor he meant those who are really down and out, in terms of material possessions. But, if you read carefully, you see at the same time that he told people, “if you happen to fall into riches, get rid of them.” Luke doesn’t have any nuances about the danger of an excess of material possessions. He told the people that if you fall into a situation of receiving great material wealth, get rid of it, because he knew that those who are wealthy in terms of material possessions could easily forget God. And those who forget God are the poorest of all.
And so, when physicians and healthcare workers care for the wealthy, the wealthy are just as vulnerable as anybody else who is sick in the hospital. And a time of infirmity is a time for them to be reminded that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but “blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Those with wealth typically feel very much in control of their lives, and thus are typically very tempted to control their religion. And thus, some of the poorest in this world are the “cafeteria Catholics,” who are impoverished by the faith that they construct for themselves. They’re poor because of that. But when they get sick, which happens, they have an opportunity to encounter their poverty, and their ultimate lack of control. Those who are actually materially poor, who are down and out, who are homeless, who see themselves as washed-up in life, don’t have to be reminded how poor they are — that’s why they’re especially close to Jesus and especially blessed by God, because they are set up in the best possible way, to receive the salvation of Jesus Christ. They’ve never known themselves as “in control.” They’ve only known themselves as needy. That’s why they were so dear to Jesus, because they were perfectly positioned to “get it” when he preached.
Whereas those who have a lot of wealth, those who are cafeteria Catholics, think they’re just fine and so, they can be the poorest of all — just like the rich young man who wants to follow Jesus, but goes away from Him very sad after hearing Jesus tell him to give away all he has. These rich and cafeteria types don’t need our condemnation; they need the mercy and the love of Jesus Christ. They need to be reminded that they are poor, and that the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs, just as all of us need to be shaken out of our “lukewarmness,” from time to time.
Witness in the Year of Faith
I think this Year of Faith mission, this two-fold mission, can obviously be expanded by each one of you, but this is just to give you an idea of how you can, and especially how our health care workers by their witness can enter into the Year of Faith and lead other people to the foundation of faith. And what is this foundation? That no matter how much money they have or don’t have, no matter how bright they are or not, no matter how much they are or are not in control of their lives; in the eyes of God, they are poor and they need to see that, to know it, and to rejoice in it, because in their poverty they are the most blest by our Father.
So let’s, all of us, be agents of faith, hope, and love, and therefore heralds of joy! Let us pray and let us witness during this Year of Faith!
Thank you for taking the time to read this! Praised be Jesus Christ!