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The Divine Physician

The Divine Physician


Christ cured lepers and people with various diseases and medical conditions. These healings in John’s Gospel are seen as signs. Jesus himself saw what he was doing with sinners in terms of healing a spiritual sickness. When the Pharisees and scribes questioned why Jesus spent time eating with tax collectors, “Jesus said to them in reply, "Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Luke 5:31).


The ministry of Christ healing us from spiritual sickness continues today. Just like during the time of Jesus there were people who did not recognize their spiritual disease, so it is possible for us today to not recognize our sickness. Other risks for people back then and for us include falsely believing we can cure ourselves, or to not recognize that even when we are relatively healthy we are prone to getting sick and need preventive medicine. 


One of the ways to recognize spiritual disease is when we experience the weakness of our will. Some symptoms of spiritual illness could be desiring to do something good and being unable to do it, or not doing it consistently with a cheerful heart, or finding ourselves falling back into bad habits.


Augustine preached about this very realization of spiritual sickness: “You can hear the word of justice and truth and praise it; but it is much more laudable if you always practiced justice and truth. So why do you praise justice and truth when you fail to practice what you praise? Or are you going to tell me: "I want to, but I can't"? Why is it that you are not able? The answer is because you are not healthy. How did you lose your health? Because you offended the Creator with sin” (Sermon 153.10).


When we realize our will is sick, Augustine preached that we cannot cure ourselves: “you can no longer get rid of the disease as you were able to rush into it by your intemperance” (Sermon 156.2). We need instead Christ, the divine physician, who was sent to us by God the Father. God the Father who “did not want to leave the human race condemned by his just judgment in eternal perdition, sent the doctor, the Savior, to heal humanity free of charge (Sermon 156.2).


 Augustine goes on to say that the healing services are not only free, but that Christ provides an incentive for those who accept his healing: “Christ will not only grant healing free of charge, but even reward those who are healed… Christ heals the sick, he gives them a gift, and this gift is nothing other than himself. The Healer is at the same time a remedy for the sick and a reward for the healed” (Sermon 156.2).


Just like medical treatment sometimes is distasteful and even at times uncomfortable, so is the medication of self-denial that Christ prescribes. Augustine acknowledges the aversion for spiritual medicine, when he voices how a spiritually sick person may wonder, “what kind of life is a life of self-denial? We desire a sweet life!”  He acknowledges in the same sermon: “Sweet indeed is the pleasure of concupiscence; no one doubts this fact, in fact people would not follow it if sinful desires were not sweet” (Sermon 153.10).


Therefore, Augustine asked his congregation to recognize that virtue is distasteful for the one who is not yet virtuous, and therefore our sensibility needs to be transformed so that we may find justice, truth, and all virtues sweet.


Healing then occurs when we find more delight in God’s commandments than in the fulfillment of sinful desires. When we experience this change within us, Augustine invites us to recognize that such healing did not come from us but from the divine physician: “do not attribute that delight to yourself: It is the Lord who will provide sweetness” (Psalm 84:13) (Sermon 153.10).


Besides the humility to recognize that we cannot cure ourselves, some qualities of a good patient are obedience to the doctor’s orders, courage to endure painful treatment, and patience to wait for the effect of the treatment.  Sometimes while undergoing treatment the sweetness of sin may call us when the medicine is unsavory, and in such instances we need the determination and fortitude to “fight, resist, and not consent to illicit delights” (Sermon 155.9).


Regarding patience with the way in which the divine physician may seem to delay with us when we call for healing, Augustine says: “God is present even when he delays help. The delay is itself curative in increasing our desire for health, lest by satisfying a hasty desire, a complete healing is missed” (Sermon 163.7).


Lastly, it might be good to end this reflexion by mentioning preventive medicine: “The good doctor orders care also to those who are healthy, for he does not want such persons to fall ill” (Sermon 156.2). Augustine prescribes for all the need to remain humble by acknowledging that it is God who allows any spiritual wellness in our life: “the one who praises himself cannot praise God, but actually in so doing departs from God” (Sermon 170.11). Also, “the one who presumes of his or her own strength is already defeated even before the fight with sin begins” (Sermon 153.11). Besides humility, it is good for everyone, including those who are relatively healthy, to always remain on guard against temptation (Sermon 153.10), and to live prudently and prayerfully (Sermon 181. 8).


Fr. Carlos Medina, OSA

1 Comment

Feb 16

Thank you for this blog. Please keep them coming!

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