Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

21 March 2012

Well, well, well

Each time John 5:1-16 comes up in the Lectionary, as it did yesterday, I am struck by Our Lord's question to a paralyzed man: Do you want to be well?

It seems like a strange question.  Who, after all, wouldn't want to "be well"--to enjoy physical health?  Often when I'm making hospital visits, people tell me, "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything."  Thus far I haven't ever been hospitalized, so perhaps I have little basis for saying this--I wouldn't agree with their statement.  I don't think they are implicitly denying the life of the resurrection or of sanctifying grace, but it seems necessary in any dis-eased state (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.) to reaffirm those realities.

Health is what moral theologian Germain Grisez would call a "basic human good," something worth pursuing for its own sake, something worth attaining and maintaining by reasonable means.  In its absence we tend to appreciate it more; that much is roundly affirmed by the aged and infirm among us.  But we cannot lose sight of our greatest human good--indeed something unattainable by purely human means--the life of the resurrection, which we experience here and now when we are "in the state of grace," that is, when unconfessed serious sin is not present in us and virtue is intentionally pursued through our good choices.  These two conditions sound like a whole lot of human effort--and they are, to be sure.  Jesus will never make me feel better without my consent.  But even our repentance and converted lifestyle are at root a living response to God's primary action in the soul.

Once again, what kind of question is "Do you want to be well?"  Based on the disposition of the paralyzed man in John 5, one might wonder whether he wanted to be well, or whether he even knew what wellness might look, sound, or feel like.  Thirty-eight years is a long time to be unwell.  Sufferers of chronic pain, congenital or terminal conditions approach things from a perspective much different than someone who has caught a cold or broken a bone.

Yet this man's perspective seemed very much clouded by self-pity and victimhood.  He didn't even answer Jesus' question!  He didn't seem to be listening, so caught up was he in his troubles.  "Nobody helps me get into the pool; everybody else gets there before me!"  Later on, the Jewish authorities call him out for violating the Sabbath labor law by carrying his mat.  (For Pete's sake, he just got cured of decades of affliction!  Let him leap around; would it be too much work for him to carry a tune if he wants?)  The man blames Jesus for "making" him do what he probably would have done spontaneously!  Then, when Jesus admonished the man not to sin, he ratted Jesus out and turned the authorities against Him (5:16).

Do you want to be well?   Do you know what it means to be well?  If you really knew, would you really want it?  What deeper changes would wellness prompt you to make?

I have often wanted, prayed for, wellness according to my limited standards.  The Lord stretches us to reconsider His vision of optimal health and welfare.  That vision has everything to do with our recognition of the Source of Wellness, Jesus.  Only within the Positive Reality of Spiritual Wellness can one consider the privative "affliction" of sin--that by which "[some]thing worse may happen to you" (5:14).

Incidentally, you are well advised to consult this post by Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington for its usefulness in reflecting on what we have just considered.

No comments:

Post a Comment