Healing – A Theory

All of us live with some wounds, bad habits, addictions, and temperamental flaws that are so deeply engrained and long-standing that it seems like they are part of our genetic make-up. And so we tend to give into a certain quiet despair in terms of ever being healed of them.

Experience teaches us this. There’s the realization at some point in our lives that the wounds and flaws which pull us down cannot be simply be turned off like a water-tap. Willpower and good resolutions alone are not up to the task. What good is it to make a resolution never to be angry again? Our anger will invariably return. What good is it to make a resolution to give up some addictive habit, however small or big? We will soon enough again be overcome by its lure. And what good does it do to try to change some temperamental flaw we’ve inherited in our genes or inhaled in the air of our childhood? All the good resolutions and positive thinking in the world normally don’t change our make-up.

So what do we do? Just live with our wounds and flaws and the unhappiness and pettiness that this brings into our lives? Or, can we heal? How do we weed-out our weaknesses?

There are many approaches to healing: Psychology tells us that good counselling and therapy can help cure us of our wounds, flaws, and addictions. Therapy and counselling can bring us to a better self-understanding and that can help us change our behavior. But psychology also admits that this has its limitations. Knowing why we do something doesn’t always empower us to change our behavior. Sociology too has insights to contribute: There is, as Parker Palmer puts it, the therapy of a public life. Healthy interaction with family, friends, community, and church can be a wonderfully steadying thing in our lives and help take us beyond our lonely wounds and our congenital missteps.

Various Recovery (12-Step) programs also contribute something valuable: These programs are predicated on the premise that self-understanding and willpower by themselves are often powerless to actually change our behavior.  A higher power is needed, and that higher power is found in ritual, communal support, radical honesty, admittance of our helplessness, and a turning over of ourselves to a Someone or Something beyond us that can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Recovery programs are invaluable, but they too aren’t the answer to all of our problems.

Finally, not least, there are various theories and practices of healing that ground themselves in spirituality. These range from emphasizing church-going itself as a healing, to emphasizing the sacrament of reconciliation, to recommending prayer and meditation, to counseling various ascetical practices, to sending people off to holy sites, to letting oneself be prayed-over by some group or faith-healer, to undergoing long periods of spiritual guidance under a trained director.

There’s value in all of these and perhaps the full healing of a temperamental flaw, a bad habit, an addiction, or a deep wound depends upon drawing water from each of these wells. However, beyond this simple listing, I would like to offer an insight from the great mystic, John of the Cross vis-à-vis coming to psychological, moral, and spiritual healing.

In his last book, The Living Flame of Love, John proposes a theory of, and a process for, healing. In essence, it runs this way: For John, we heal of our wounds, moral flaws, addictions, and bad habits by growing our virtues to the point where we become mature enough in our humanity so that there’s no more room left in our lives for the old behaviors that used to drag us down. In short, we get rid of the coldness, bitterness, and pettiness in our hearts by lighting inside our hearts enough warm fires to burn out the coldness and bitterness. The algebra works this way: The more we grow in maturity, generativity, and generosity, the more our old wounds, bad habits, temperamental flaws, and addictions will disappear because our deeper maturity will no longer leave room for them in our lives. Positive growth of our hearts, like a vigorous plant, eventually chokes-out the weeds. If you went to John of the Cross and asked him to help you deal with a certain bad habit in your life, his focus wouldn’t be on how to weed-out that habit. Instead the focus would be on growing your virtues: What are you doing well? What are your best qualities? What goodness in you needs to be fanned fan into fuller flame?

By growing what’s positive in us, we eventually become big-hearted enough so that there’s no room left for our former bad habits. The path to healing is to water our virtues so that these virtues themselves will be the fire that burns out the festering wounds, addictions, bad habits, and temperamental flaws that have, for far too long, plagued our lives and kept us wallowing in weakness and pettiness rather than walking in maturity, generosity, and generativity.

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Servant of God Romano Guardini

Servant of God Romano Guardini (1885-1968), Italian born German Catholic priest, author, and academic, authored The Lord, a spiritual classic. He is considered one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century. Father Guardini was born in 1885 in Verona. His conventional Catholic upbringing left him unprepared for the virulent atheism he encountered as a student at the University of Munich. The ensuing spiritual crisis was resolved when he one day read and saw with new eyes Matthew 10:39: Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. Bishop Robert Barron points out that if we want to understand Guardini, we would do well to start with one of his earlier books. Letters from Lake Como. On his first visits to the lake region around Milan as a young man, the bishop observes, Guardini was enchanted by “the manner in which human beings, through their architecture and craftsmanship, interacted non-invasively and respectfully with nature”. Already by the 1920s, however, he had noticed a change towards a more aggressive type of architecture, one not in tune with nature but fuelled by an urge to master and dominate. That line of thought found its way almost a century later into a press conference given by Pope Francis in conjunction with his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, when he observed:“God always forgives; human beings sometimes forgive; but when nature is mistreated, she never forgives.”Over the course of his career, Father Guardini taught at various German universities, wrote seventy-five books, and influenced such noted fellow theologians as Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar. His thought is widely credited as an influence on the Second Vatican Council. But The Lord (1954) remains the work by which he is perhaps best known. I bought my own copy over twenty years ago, when I was just coming into the Church. In it, Father Guardini brought the person of Christ alive through the Gospels -and that brought him alive for me. “Really,” one passage ran, “life has something impossible about it! It is forced to desire what it can never have. It is as though from the very start some fundamental mistake had been made as evinced by everything we do.”To follow Christ, he seemed to be saying, is to take an existential stance, a stance towards reality. Yes! I thought. That is just what my anguished heart longs for!In calling for both a deepenin of our relationship with Christ, and a renewed devotion to the traditions, doctrine, and litergical forms of the Church, he has become an ongoing, and vital bridge between the old and the new.
Resigning his pontificate, Benedict XVI observed: “The Church is…a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming herself, like any living being, yet by her nature remains the same. At her heart is Christ.”He was quoting one of his most cherished mentors: Servant of GodRomano Guardini 

Heather King is a contemplative laywoman and author of several books. She blogs at www.heather-king.com

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Saint Bede the Venerable

Feast: 25 May 

Bede lived from his seventh year in a monastry in Northumbria under the charge of the Benedict Biscop. In his Ecclesiastical History of the

English Peoples, Bede tells us that he had spent entire life in this monastery, “devoted entirely to the study of the Scriptures…. My chief delight has always been in study, teaching, and writing.”

Bede’s scholarly pursuits were exemplary: lucid Latin translations of the Fathers, Scriptural commentaries, and, above all, the History. His writings show his pastoral style. Though the monks lived the rhythms of ordered prayer, the surrounding peoples were illiterate and coarse. Bede wanted the faithful to learn to pray and sing the Creed and the Our Father by heart; and he wanted scholars to make sure that the Latin prayers were rendered for them in their own tongue. Bede thought lay-persons  were capable of great devotion. 

Bede’s disciple Cuthbert reverently recounted his last days. Bede took ill before Easter in 735, but he continued his daily work from his bed: a translation of Saint John’s 

Gospel into English for his students and excerpts from Saint Isidore’s Book of Cydes. This went on until 25th May. That day, he asked to be helped to sit on the floor’of his cell. After praying the “Glory Be”, he passed on, as he had said, “to see Christ the King in all his beauty”.

Merciful Father through the intercession of St Bede the Venerable, help me to put my hand to the task every day. When work is unpleasant and I am tired remind me who it is that I serve.

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