His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s remarks to the 2005 Northern California Ladies Retreat
November 12, 2005
Reverend Fathers and Sisters in Christ:
I would like to begin by thanking our guest speaker for this retreat, Mother Gabriela, for being with us for this very special retreat. As one raised in monasticism, I know how difficult it is for a monk or nun to leave the monastery and be in the world. And so, I thank her for the sacrifice she is making to serve us here.
When we speak of illness, we often think of symptoms: a cough, a pain, a discoloration. Yet, these are only signs that an illness has already taken hold of our bodies. An illness runs deeper than the symptoms, and it is only through careful examination that a physician can discover an illness before the symptoms develop.
This is true of both the body and the soul. Our souls and minds can become infected with very real and very deadly diseases, which result in a variety of symptoms. St. Paul refers to them as works of the flesh. In Galatians, he wrote:
"Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Gal 5:19-21)
The Holy Apostle warns us that symptoms indicate that the disease of sin is so great that we cannot enter the Heavenly Kingdom. Just as an unhealthy body prevents us from going places, so an unhealthy soul prevents us from going into spiritual places, foremost of which is the Kingdom of God.
Let us also remember our Lord’s words recorded in the Gospel:
“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, take up your bed and go home.” (Mt 9:5-6)
Sin is a greater affliction to man. Though physical sickness may cause us great suffering, sin keeps us removed from God’s presence and sets in a place of eternal suffering. Physical wellness is of no value to a suffering soul, wracked with a guilty conscience and angry unforgiveness. Our Lord offers us forgiveness first, that might be healed of soul, so that we can join in the Mystical Union of Christ and the Church.
If we are to enter into the Bridal Chamber, we must be healthy. The diseases that afflict us must be cured. From the example of the saints, we know that physical diseases afflicted people close to God. Yet, we also know that many diseases are brought about by what we now call ‘lifestyle decisions.’ The alcoholic suffers from the disease of cirrhosis brought about by his drinking, and the coal miner suffers from black lung because he worked too long in the mines.
Therefore, to live a peaceful and joyous life, we must be mindful of how we live. We must have a ‘healthy lifestyle.’ We listen to the advice of doctors in caring for our bodies, and we should listen to the teachings of the Church if we desire to have a healthy soul.
However, I know that many of you are coming here to this retreat with much suffering. You are in pain and seeking healing. I promise that what you hear this weekend can be, for all of you, a new beginning on the road to healing. What I hope all of you will find here is hope, a hope and faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, which will give you the strength to change. For the solution to all illness is found in our willingness to take the cure. The sick person who refuses the medicine will not receive its benefits, and those who reject the teachings of the Church also reject the cure of the soul which the Church offers.
For some of you, this will be a long road. My hope is that the friendships you build here will become a means of support as you journey along the way. It may be difficult to return from here to places we know are sick. Perhaps we do not think that our homes or parishes are healthy places. Never forget that the medicine is always stronger than the disease, and that your own healing will heal all those around you. You do not need to rely on the spiritual health of others to be healthy yourselves. Our Holy Faith has survived centuries in the hearts of people surrounded by those who hated them. We must strengthen ourselves by truly realizing that the God of the Universe is the God who dwells within us. When we begin to enter into our interior universe, we will find how close we are to our healing. God has given us all things, we need only remove from our inner selves what is not of God.
I hope that all of you find in this retreat a renewed confidence in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Never forget the inseparable bond we have in the Church, and let us aid one another in this marvelous journey in the Kingdom of Heaven.