Thursday, October 18, 2018

St. Luke, Evangelist of the True Physician

As we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, the Collect used for this day adroitly combines two things we know about him from the sacred scripture into one prayer:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

By emphasizing these two things together, the prayer reminds us of the spiritual truth that the Gospel, when truly preached and truly received, always leads to the healing of the human person, a deepening of proper love for God, neighbor, and self, and the right praise of God.

As a pastor of souls, one of the ongoing facets of spiritual care I experience and try to share is the unified reality of True Teaching and True Healing. When the Gospel is received from God in loving humility and lived with that same form of humility, it results in the healing of the soul. Old wounds are seen for what they are, exposed to God’s mercy and truth, and gradually what was either an open sore or painful scar tissue is made into a place of sacred encounter, registering the reality of suffering but also the unique powerof divine love to overcome, renew, and reveal.

When I was a child my family took a vacation in North Carolina. This afforded a person who had grown up with the cold Pacific ocean in Oregon the opportunity to swim in warm sea waters. It was delightful in the extreme. While doing so, I managed to gash one of my toes quite deeply on an unseen object, severing a nerve and bringing an idyllic experience to a sudden end. We didn’t seek any medical care, letting nature take its course. After the wound healed I had an uncomfortable scar and some nerve damage. Afterwards, each time I walked barefoot I was reminded of what had happened. It took years for me to stop feeling pain from it.

When we receive spiritual or emotional trauma, we often develop a psychic form of scar tissue that is both inflexible and painful. Such pain can become habitual, unnoticed…but it remains real and finds its way out into the world through our thoughts, words, choices, and motives in all our relationships and activities. The way this pain comes through to others may remain opaque to us for many years—or even for the remainder of our life. It may even distort or cut off our communion with God. This is one of the saddest truths I know.

The Gospel is not simply a book or words: it is a reality of encounter with God and thus with the divine, loving purpose for us. Christ Jesus embodied the Gospel. 

St. Luke’s Gospel account begins with his assurance that “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you…so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4)as a way of saying that what he is delivering is not merely words about Jesus, but the power of the Gospel to heal and transform. It is this power we desire so much, yet that seems so lacking in the “institutional” forms of Christianity today.

On St. Luke’s Day we do more than celebrate a particular saint. The Church itself receives a challenge today: to live not as an organization externalto the healing Gospel as if we somehow owned or regulated it, but to embodyit through a profound interior communion made visible in and through its observable life. This is authentic sacramentality.

This requires a great humility, a deep acceptance of the Church’s compromised history and its utter incompleteness without a total dependence on Christ, as opposed to the earthly systems of power, retribution, and control we see all around us today (or, that have come to be “acceptable” within the Church itself).

The Gospel according to Luke is full of parables and stories of such total dependence on God’s mercy in Christ—we need only look at Zacchaeus and the Prodigal Child. This type of dependence is essential for true healing, the healing of the soul and heart that leads to eternal life. That type of healing does not accept painful scar tissue as normal; neither does it vent unhealed hurt on others in the name of moral perfection, legal conformity, or ideological adherence. Rather, such dependence offers the totality of our need, the totality of our damage, to Christ in mystical communion for his unique, softening, cleansing, and total renewal.

It is this sort of healing, this type of Church and form of living in the Gospel of Jesus Christ we celebrate today.