“You’re dying.” It took a moment for those words to sink in. Dying. This thing will kill me. “How could I be dying? How could it be this serious? I mean, how long have I had it?” “Actually,” the doctor replied, “you’ve had it all your life. It’s congenital. You were born with this heart condition.” “What do I do?” “Well, with a heart transplant, the initial problem will be solved. But you’ll need to make some other changes as well in order to make a full recovery. Your heart condition has put you at increased risk for lots of other problems, which could themselves become life threatening if left untreated.” “I’m willing to do whatever it takes, Doc. What kind of changes do I need to make?” “Well,” he answered, “for one thing, you’ll have to change your diet. And for another, you’ll have to get regular exercise. It won’t always be easy, but there’s a new life waiting for you if you’re willing to accept it.”
The above fictional (don’t freak out, Mom!) account, is rather like the human situation in which each of us finds himself or herself. We have been born with the heart condition of original sin. And if left untreated, it can be spiritually fatal. Our Divine Physician, however, is also the donor for a heart transplant for each one of us. In baptism, he gives us his own heart to replace our sick, broken, and dying hearts. But being healed from original sin is not enough to keep us healthy in the long run. If we don’t change our way of life with the help of our Divine Physician and his medical team (the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the other saints and angels), then over time sin and sinful habits will creep back into our lives through our damaged free will and will again become life threatening or even fatal. We also have to change our lives. We, like the imaginary patient, will need to change our eating habits. Jesus, in today’s Gospel, says, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person.” We could say, however, that what enters a man from outside can sanctify him.
Specifically, we need to start a regular diet of the Bread of Life. It is this food that will nourish our souls. As the Church prays in a prayer written by St. Thomas Aquinas, the Eucharist is a food “containing every blessing.” We might almost say that it contains all the spiritual nutrients that we need. Of course, all of the other sacraments have their roles to play around these central two. (For instance, we can think of regular Confession as an important part of good spiritual hygiene.)
But the grace which we receive in the sacraments must also be put into practice. This is the exercise that the doctor insists on. Spiritual fitness can take many forms, whether it is corporal or spiritual works of mercy, or acts of penance (prayer, fasting, or almsgiving). But if we aren’t getting some form of exercise, then there’s a good chance that we aren’t cooperating with grace and putting all of our blessings to good use. And just like with our physical health, there’s no time like the present to start taking our spiritual health seriously, take stock of where we are, and make some commitments for improvement. After all, although we were born with a debilitating and fatal illness, with the help of God’s grace, there’s no limit to how “fit” we can become!
Photo by Martin Brosy