Month: October 2020

The Beloved Physician

St Luke, Reredos @ St John the Baptist  Parish Church, Epping
Designed by Cecil Hare, associate of George Frederick Bodley, architect of the Church
photo | GC

Today (October 18th) we keep the feast of St Luke, author of the Gospel which bears his name, and of the Acts of the Apostles which continues on from the Gospel. By tradition he is the patron saint of doctors because he was one. St Paul calls him, three times, the ‘beloved physician’. As a doctor he was filled with compassion for those whose lives had met with adversity and who came to him in their need. Not surprisingly, therefore, his Gospel account is regarded as the most compassionate of all four and his interest is in human beings who find in Jesus wholeness and healing. As the commentator of the Jerome Bible commentary says:

In his compassionate mission to all and by his selection of the Twelve, Jesus laid the foundation for reconstituted Israel. Jesus’ mission is an inclusive one as he seeks out the lost and sinners and restores them to union with God.”

This compassion and inclusivity is something that is passionate to Luke. The human encounters he records between Jesus and the needy are shot through with a deep concern for their well-being. Not surprisingly therefore, Luke has been an inspiration for many in the caring professions and is associated with the Church’s ministry of healing. Healing is much more than helping people to get better from particular illnesses and ailments. It is about becoming ‘whole’ in body, mind and spirit. The spiritual side of healing must never be neglected because, often, it is the key to other forms of healing. I speak as someone who has had three spells in hospital this year. Spiritual well-being is a major part of my healing journey.

Part of that healing is connected with prayer which is why we set so much store by our intercessions for the sick, and why the Church is so attentive to its Healing Ministry. It is a ministry of all the Christian community but especially through hospital and hospice chaplains; spiritual directors and soul-friends who offer the ministry of laying-on-of hands and anointing to bring God’s strength and love to the sick.
Healing is concerned with the wholeness of the soul. This is the ministry of spiritual guidance, which sometimes involves dealing specifically with our sins—the things that cause guilt within us and restlessness in our hearts. The Church’s ministry of reconciliation and penance (what used to be called ‘Confession’ but which didn’t describe the half of it) is also part of healing.

One immediate area of healing is our present situation.
One of the problems arising out of Covid-19 Pandemic is that isolation can lead to mental and spiritual deprivation and anxiety. The prevalence of news being concentrated on the Virus; the world situation because of it; and the political machinations which are accompanying the responses by Governments and others; create uncertainty, fearfulness and in some, depression.
In the face of this, the healing that is expressed in the Gospel, and the healing nature of St. Luke’s version, present us with Jesus who is, ultimately, the real Healer. What better place to discover this healing than the  Gospel of St Luke, the ‘beloved physician’ of the soul.
In his version of telling the story of God’s love in Jesus, St. Luke opens to us the ‘wholesome medicine of the Gospel’.

Almighty God, who inspired Luke the physician
to proclaim the love and healing power of your Son,
give your Church, by the grace of the Spirit
and the medicine of the gospel,
the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

God is very near – Teresa of Avila

Today, October 15th, the Church keeps the feast-day of one of my favourite saints – Teresa of Avila.  She was often referred to as God’s Gadbout because she spent a lot of her energy in founding convents of nuns throughout Spain in the 16th century.  She was forever on the move and yet she is remembered best for her teaching about Prayer and particularly about Contemplative prayer which requires stillness.  No matter how busy she was – and she was very busy – she made sure her heart was constantly fixed on God, whom she referred to as Your Majesty.  God for her was very near.  Indeed she coined a famous phrase – ‘God walks among the pots and pans’  We find God in the ordinariness of life, and if we train ourselves to recognize that, we shall meet Him in the everyday events of our lives and in the people we meet.  This is about finding Heaven in Ordinary.

Teresa believed that God was within us as well as beside us, and here she took up our Lord’s own teaching that the Kingdom of God is within us.  We encounter Him in the silent depths of our hearts.

You know that God is everywhere, she says, which is a great truth; wherever God dwells there is heaven, and you may feel sure that all which is glorious is near His Majesty.

Then she refers to St Augustine who sought God in many places and at last found the Almighty within himself.  We don’t need to go to heaven to find God, she says, We are not forced to take wings to find Him, but have only to seek solitude and to look within ourselves.

She calls this seeking God in solitude within ourselves the prayer of Recollection – or Contemplation.  In her work, Interior Castle, she develops this using the imagery of a King in his Palace.

Let us realize that we have within us a most splendid palace built entirely of gold and precious stones – in short, one that is fit for such a Lord – and that we are partly responsible for the condition of this building, because there is no structure so beautiful as the soul full of pure virtues, and the more perfect these virtues are, the more brilliantly do the jewels shine

What we find in this Palace is the mighty King who, she says,  has deigned to become your Father and Who is seated on a throne of precious value, by which I mean your heart.

Realizing this took her quite a while.

Had I understood always, as I do now, that so great a King resided in my soul I should not have left Him alone so often, but should have stayed with Him sometimes and not kept His dwelling place in such disorder.

For Teresa, then, it is when we enter into silence and spend a little time with God in our hearts that the soul makes progress in the prayer.  God becomes the centre of our being, always to be found when we still the voices of the world that claim so much of our attention.

Teresa says that it is only through silence that we can encounter the love of God and receive it into our hearts.  God is very near.  We should seek him within.

A Prayer of St Teresa
(often known as Teresa’s bookmark.
It was found in her prayer book after her death)

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.

Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.