Healing Hearts, Soothing Souls

In today’s world, there is plenty of pain to go around; plenty for rich and poor alike. The question is, what to do about it? Healing seems to be in short supply these days, though the need is great. Many do not seem even to know how to begin. Some wonder why healing takes so long, others may just give up and blame God for the misery.
Part of the problem, at least in America today, is that we have inappropriate expectations. So many seem to believe that relief ought to be fast, effortless, and served up by a friendly, smiling server in a crisp, clean uniform. But it doesn’t work that way, it never has, and it never will. When our physical body is injured, healing takes time, and often we are incapacitated until the process is complete. Also, healing is painful, causing us to lose productivity, sleep, comfort, and quality of life. Finally, even when the healing process is complete, a scar remains. The same is true of wounds of the soul.

Another part of the problem is that for many wounds, medicine is required for any sort of real recovery. One of the biggest problems with wounds is that they keep getting infected (over and over). You always have to keep applying and reapplying medicine, because germs will return. So it is with wounds of the soul. The enemy knows all about that weak spot, and he will try to exploit it. You must apply medicine frequently if you want the wound to heal.

Here in America, the healing of hearts and souls is made especially difficult by two problems that combine and reinforce each other: our expectation that we will receive instant gratification, and a shallow, protestant view of the effects of sin. When we ask God for forgiveness, He grants our request, and washes our sin away. This is gloriously true, but it is not the whole truth. While the sin is forgiven, the wound that it inflicted on the soul remains, and if left untreated, it may fester. Our expectation that we will receive instant gratification will too often step in here, and leave us wondering why, if the sin is indeed forgiven (and it is), it still hurts. The shallow (protestant) view of sin argues that we must not think that a forgiven sin still has an effect, because that would detract from the work of Christ. The practical effects of this I have seen in most every protestant church I have attended – plenty of talk about forgiveness (not that this is bad in and of itself), no talk at all about healing or medicine.

And the wound festers…

What then are we to do? First, we recognize reality. We must see that though our sins are forgiven, yet wounds remain. Next, we adjust our expectations. Wounds take much time to heal, and the process is painful. We must expect that healing will inhibit our comfort and quality of life (just as a physical wound would). Finally we must apply medicine to the wound.

That medicine is penance. Penance, when applied to a sin that has already been forgiven, will both encourage healing and will protect the wound from the attacks of the evil one. Penance is a self-sacrificial act, by which we deny ourselves in some way, to show our hatred for the sin, to deny the sin that which feeds it, and to reverse our course. Some examples of penances might be:

  • If the sin is related to pride, then lots of prayer would be great penance. This is because prayer is humbling ourselves before God.
  • If the sin is related to the losing of control of physical desires (lust/food), then fasting would be a great penance. This is because in fasting we are denying our body, which, in this case, was the starting point of our sin.
  • If the sin is related to greed, then alms-giving would be a great penance. This is because by giving to the poor, we deny (and in fact undo) our covetousness.

The best place to learn the penance best suited to you and your situation is the confessional. Go to confession, pray to God, seek His forgiveness, turn, and be healed.

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