Eucharistic Discipleship: Receiving healing, Part 4
Last week I began to write about the healing we need through the forgiveness of sins in order to become the eucharistic disciples we are meant to be. We need to be healed of the wound of sin to share in the Holy Eucharist; the more we are healed of this wound, the more we are capable of sharing in the gift. Jesus’ Cross has become the new tree of life and the Holy Eucharist is the fruit of this tree, but the forgiveness of sins is what opens the access to the tree of life that was closed to Adam and Eve when they were driven from the garden. That is why baptism must come before communion.
Baptism completely washes away all the guilt of sin original and actual and it also frees the soul from even the all the temporal punishment (the need make ‘satisfaction’, to make up for the wrongdoing here and now) due to sin. Nevertheless, it is quite evident that baptism does not remove the inclination to sin; Christian continue to commit sins, even mortal sins, after baptism. That is why Jesus Christ also gave his Church two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of penance and the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
The sacrament of penance is required for the forgiveness of mortal sins committed after baptism. Mortal sin (a knowing and deliberate offense against one of the commandments of God or precepts of the Church in a grave matter) is incompatible with the life of grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Wi 1:3-5)
The absolution given in the sacrament of penance wipes away the guilt of the sin and restores the soul to the life of grace, but it does not wipe away the temporal punishment due to the sin. The completion of the assigned penance helps towards making up for the sin (in accordance with the faith and devotion with which the penance is completed), but only partially. The penance also helps in some measure to rectify the disorder of the soul that leads to sin. A more complete healing, however, takes place the more we live a life of self-denial, completed by the continual practice of the works of mercy, corporal and spiritual. This is the meaning of the words of the Archangel Raphael to Tobit: Almsgiving saves from death, and expiates every sin. (Tobit 12:9)
Still the roots of sin lie very deep within us and are scarcely touched by the efforts of our own actions. That is why God makes use of another remedy, physical suffering (which always entails some form of mental suffering) and death itself, united to the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. We must suffer with Christ, the innocent Lamb, in order to be glorified with him. (cf. Rm 8:17) That leads us to groan within ourselves … as we await the redemption of our bodies. (Rm 8:23)
The medicinal character of suffering takes on a whole new character through the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. (cf. CCC 1520-1523) For our part we might ‘offer up’ our suffering seeking to unite it to the suffering of Christ, but through the sacrament of anointing, Jesus Christ himself, our High Priest, effectively, objectively, and publicly within his Church, lays hold of our suffering and unites it to his. In this way the sacrament of anointing not only communicates to us the actual forgiveness of sins, but works to purify our soul, reaching even the deep roots of sin within us.
This actually gives to our suffering a medicinal, expiatory value for the good of his whole Church. When we receive this sacrament we can confidently say with St. Paul, I rejoice in my sufferings … and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church. (Col 1:24)
How about the Eucharist itself as a sacrament of healing? There is an old saying that holy communion is not a prize for the just but a medicine for sinners. The saying, however, must be correctly understood because Jesus did not establish the sacrament first of all for the healing of sin, but for the nourishment of love. In order to receive that nourishment a person needs at least to be in a state of grace, free of mortal sin.
Then, as food could be called a ‘medicine’ for the weak, which makes them strong, so to the Eucharist is a medicine for the weak and imperfect, who want sincerely to draw near to Christ and do his will. The ‘medicine’ will have little effect on those who receive communion out of mere routine, with little in the way of faith and devotion, but the fervor of love that it kindles in the devout wipes away venial sins– that is the meaning of St. Peter’s words, Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Pe 4:8)
Further, the sacrament is capable also of bringing an even deeper healing to the soul precisely because it contains Jesus himself. Receiving Jesus in holy communion we should always invite him to bring his healing touch to the deep hidden recesses of our soul, beyond our knowledge and understanding.
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