Post-COVID, we all know way more about the threat of disease and possible cures than we ever care to know. However, when I was a little girl, things seemed more… cloudy. When illness struck, my siblings and I visited our working-class neighborhood family physician. To this day we laugh about the unorthodox medical treatment we received. He must have been the only M.D. for miles by the looks of the jam-packed waiting room. If you made it through that narrow hallway of horrors, seats filled with slumped figures hacking and puking, good ol’ Doctor “M” would greet you in the exam room—a lit cigar securely propped on his bottom lip. The well-tanned, grizzled doc would give you a quick once-over while puffing smoke in your face. I remember struggling to hold in my coughs while frantically mulling over the only two possibilities ever to come from that “thorough” examination: drop your drawers for a penicillin shot, or if you were lucky enough to clear that frightening hurdle, then—the preferred magic pink pills. Oh, how I longed for those pills over that painful needle in my rump. More than half the time, to my great relief, he would dash off a prescription and hand it to my mom or dad. No matter what ailment we suffered, we went home with those same fuchsia tablets in a tiny paper envelope. To this day, I have no idea what the prescription actually was. But it must have been darn good if it treated so many problems! Like a magic bullet, a dose of those pink pills promised complete healing, which must have happened pretty quickly based on the evidence of leftover pills that accumulated in our medicine cabinet over the years.
If only we had a prescription miracle remedy to fix our fallen natures. I can almost picture the infomercial now, “Suffering from this soul-crushing sickness? Have we got the cure for you! Take our Vita-Glow Halo capsules and you’ll be amazed by the incredible instant results. In just days, you’ll be made absolutely new!” The sacraments are undoubtedly a kind of powerful medicine for our ailing souls. A good confession followed by reception of the Eucharist has to be the best one-two punch cure out there. Those graces send us happily on our way… until we engage with yet another nasty virus or bacteria that is sin. And as we all know, we will interface with more. So, how can we strive for spiritual health in our day-to-day lives as we journey through Lent?
This is a season to do a thorough examination of our hearts. To do that, we must acknowledge that we are in fact sick. Contrary to my own prideful ego, I am not actually perfect—ask my kids. Lenten devotions and practices aren’t designed to make us build on our perceived perfection, but to revive us from the brink of spiritual death. I’ve encountered a tendency in some devout communities to look outside to the big bad world and see nothing but hideous leprosy, while their own reflections apparently mirror pristine wellness— “Yes sir-eee, we’re just polishing our haloes over here.” By the way, this is a pattern of sin I fall into repeatedly.
Mark 2, 17
Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
While there is a lot of sickness out there, Christ, the divine physician, came for all humanity. That means me and you. We are all packed into that waiting room, filled with the sounds of sneezes and groans, needing serious help. We can’t do the healing on our own.
There is certainly no wonder Rx, that I’m aware of, which will render us perfectly healthy overnight… but there is the cross. We are to carry our crosses along with Christ that we might eventually reach a place where there is no more sickness or death. Rather than a charlatan with a magic potion, He offers us strength-training or a regimen for sustained good health which leads to an eventual complete cure and relief from all ills. But we are required to cooperate with Him by bravely facing our own brokenness. My dad lived with a slow-growing metastatic cancer for nearly a decade. He lived those years filled with a lot of health struggles and setbacks—in and out of the hospital with countless maladies. But there was a lot of laughter and plenty of good days too. We knew it was unlikely he’d ever kick the Big C, but when he persevered and followed the doctor’s counsel, he kept it at bay. When I look back, he made it seem easy. But it wasn’t one major decision, definitive act, or foolproof prescription that motivated him, rather a daily commitment to just keep at it. This is what God wants for us.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”Matthew 11, 28
Together, let’s adhere to the Lenten regimen for good health lovingly laid out by Mater et Magistra: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Over the next 40 days of Lent, may we pick up our crosses with Christ and make a daily commitment to get well and grow stronger. If you look ahead, complete healing is just beyond the smoky exam room. But we must first endure the waiting room with brave resolve. It’s high time to pitch the pink pills. They never really worked anyway.