The Health of the Mystical Body

If we think again of the health of the human body in order to find illustrations of what can happen in the Mystical Body, we shall be struck with another point. It is possible for a body to be free from disease, and yet to lack strength. Suppose a man has had an operation because of some disease: let us suppose further that the operation is perfectly successful so that, after it, he is free from the disease. Nevertheless he will need convalescence before his health is again perfect. For his disease has left an effect of weakness which natural forces will eliminate.

It is similar in the Mystical Body. Even after a diseased member is cured of sin by the sacrament of penance there remain some after-effects. There is what is called the “disposition to sin”; also there may well be a debt of punishment due after the guilt of the sin has been removed. The soul is not a perfect soul, even though it be free from the disease of sin and in possession of the life of grace. There is still weakness.

And just as the natural weakness of the body, after the actual cure of disease, needs to be eliminated by natural means such as rest, careful nursing, good food, plentiful sleep — so also supernatural weakness of the soul, after the cure from the guilt of sin, needs to be eliminated by the action of supernatural means before that soul can be considered a perfect soul.

– Clifford Howell, S.J. Of Sacraments and Sacrifice (1952)

Nothing a Coat of Paint Won’t Fix

Every year in late winter my mother spends a weekend at our house helping me to paint a room. This little tradition started the first year after we moved into our house and so far we’ve completed the living room, the boys’ room, our daughter’s room, and now the hallways. It’s a lot of work — especially taping off all the windows and woodwork in an old ┬áhouse ┬álike ours — but it’s worth the effort for the clean, pristine walls afterward.

(Not that they stay that way with ten little hands in the house, but that’s another story.)

This year as I was rolling a fresh coat over scratches and smudge marks, I thought about how painting a wall is a lot like the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. A wall, when it is first constructed, is a plain thing, not quite white, until it receives the first coat of paint; then it is clean and unblemished. But over time the wall accumulates hand prints and dirt, gouges and pencil marks. Some are due to carelessness, some are deliberate. But in the end the wall is less attractive and in need of some care. So we break out a gallon and with a fresh coat of paint the wall is healed and made new. This process can repeat itself many times over the lifetime of a house; it takes patient care and effort to ensure that the walls are kept fresh over the years.

The wall is like our souls. The first coat of paint is our baptism, through which the stain of original sin is washed away. But we fail to take care of the wall and, through sin, it is marked and beaten. But through the sacrament we can wash away the smudges of sin and heal our souls. This process repeats itself many times over a lifetime through dedication and a deliberate intention to confess our sins and receive absolution.

So this Lent, make sure you get yourself a fresh coat of paint by revisiting the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

Episode 014 – Penitential

penance-Fr.-Lawrence-Lew-OP-flickrCCHappy Ash Wednesday! To kick off the Lenten season I spoke with Lisa Mladinich — speaker, catechist, and founder of AmazingCatechists.com — about the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance. We covered children’s examination of conscience, whether parents project their own insecurities about the sacrament onto their children, and Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s new resource, Bring Lent Home with Mother Theresa; Lisa has written a free downloadable lesson plan resource to accompany the book.

As always, leave a comment to let us know what you think about the podcast or to suggest topics for future shows!

Click to Play – 014 – Penitential

Original photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/flickrCC

The Forgotten Power of Suffering

221. Which are the chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin?
The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life.

– Rev. Thomas J. O’Brien, Advanced Catechism of Catholic Faith and Practice (1902)

The other day I wrote about the propensity in our modern society to avoid anything that might limit or impede our ability to “have it all.” While there are many causes for this shift, at least some blame can be attributed to our diminished sense of the value of suffering.

Traditionally, suffering was seen as a means of encountering Christ because Christ, in his humanity, endured the same physical and psychological pains we experience. Through his Incarnation Jesus joined himself to the human condition and raised it to perfection, including all of our pains and toils. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Jesus’ suffering “showed how his humanity was the free and perfect instrument of that divine love which desires the salvation of all people.” (119) Jesus became one of us and suffered for us out of love.

This shared experience unites us with Christ, especially by reminding us of his Passion and death. This is why our suffering can become a sacrifice to God — Christ’s suffering sanctifies our suffering and makes it holy. Take a moment to think about that: Christ has given us a powerful spiritual weapon in our own human suffering, a weapon the Church has long recognized! It has the power to release souls from Purgatory (no small thing!), serve as satisfaction for our sins and unite us more closely with Christ and the saints!

If only we would remember the power of suffering we might not be so eager to avoid it in our day-to-day lives. We might embrace Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, the tiny indignities we face every day all the demands they place on us — demands of humility, hunger, treasure and time. (And for today’s busy person, what is more precious than time?!) We might even cease to look at corporal mortification as a weird medieval relic. Certainly we would recognize the Prosperity Gospel as the heresy it is.

So, the next time you find yourself stuck in traffic or asked to do something extra at work or in the parish, do what your grandparents did: offer it up to the poor souls in Purgatory. They, and you, will be better off for it.