Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Sin and sickness.
 Is there a connection?

Father John J. Lombardi

This is one of the most controversial-and avoided-- topics of our times: sin and sickness. Is there a connection?

I asked a friend if there was and the response was: "Possibly". Good answer. In this Sunday's Gospel Jesus heals the Pope's-St. Peter's--mother-in-law, and also performs an exorcism. So let's deal with this up front: Does sickness come from sin? Long story short: The Original Sin of Adam and Eve led to death in the world ("the wages of sin is death"=Rm 6:23); and also, generally speaking, their sin led to sickness in the world: i.e., things fall apart, people get sick and die; there is evil and darkness around us.

Further, if you think about it: The Jews were exiled because of their sins: "Israel came to the wilderness of sin" (Ex. 16; 1), and our Lord, when He heals people often forgave their sins first: "Man, thy sins are forgiven thee" (Lk 5:20) referring to a healing.

As Bible believers and Catholics-Christians, we need to avoid the error-extremes in this issue sin and sickness, which include: The Blame game--your past sins made you sick in such-and-such a way, you are irredeemable and, by the way, see ya' later. Oppositely, Ignorance is bliss: if you 3 smoke packs of cigarettes a day and get sick or cancer and ignore any connections between these you can have bliss. This brings up another set of extremes: in the past Christians maybe made a too-fast connection of sin-and-sickness; today, we tend to ignore or even deny it.

As is often the case in life, the Truth may lie in the middle. For instance: we cannot always exactly say that sin x, y or z caused a person's cold or cancer-making a concrete connection-nor should we. We need to pastorally reach out to people in their sickness, not condemn them and get scrupulous. However, if a person thinks bad thoughts a lot or watches a lotta violent videos or pornography, they are likely to get angry and sin, to become lustful and act in rage against others- these repeated sinful personal actions lead to grave harm.

Whenever we make a connection within ourselves between sin and sickness it may be a reminder of what Jesus said: "You reap what you sew". And most importantly it will hopefully bring us to conversion-not disastrous doubts

Read now, the following excellent and enlightening observations of Germaine Grisez, Professor of Christian Ethics, Mount Saint Mary's University observes: Are Sin and Sickness Linked?

"There are some connections between sin and sickness. But the connections are not tight. Sickness is neither the bodily side of sinfulness nor vice versa. Genesis and St. Paul make it clear that original sin is somehow the principle of all the evils from which we suffer and all the disorder in the whole created universe.

In the heavenly kingdom, there will be no evil whatsoever. Both sin and death will be overcome. The Blessed will live in perfect love with God and one another, and each of them will live a perfect, bodily life in union with the risen Lord Jesus. While Jesus preached and taught, he was announcing the heavenly Kingdom and urging people to follow him into it. To show them what it would be like, he performed many miracles-as it were, giving free samples of the Kingdom. For that reason, he forgave people's sins and cured them of their sicknesses. On some occasions he did both of these, but sometimes he did only one.

But there is no close link between human beings' personal sins and their sicknesses. Sickness does not compel anyone to commit sins. But physical and psychological illnesses do make some people more vulnerable than they would otherwise be to various temptations.

Plainly, good and holy people often suffer depression, cancer, or other psychological and physical illnesses. The book of Job completely rejects the view that sickness and other afflictions indicate that sufferers have sinned. Still, we know as a matter of experience that many of our sins do have bad effects on our health. Wrongful sexual behavior results in transmitting a whole slew of diseases. Self-indulgent overeating and abuse of drugs damages people's health. Wrongful attitudes toward one another lead people to kill, wound, and injure one another."

When thinking about sin and suffering, if you think about it, Catholics and Bible believers have something in common with environmentalists, new agers and naturalists: when you surround yourself with violence, toxic drugs, pollution outside or toxic foods inside the body, all these negativities, can harm you-we're only waking up to the many connections. However, the opposite is true 2: when you surround yourself with cheerful-spiritual friends and healthy living quarters, natural foods vs. processed, and you make good choices for love and not hatred or darkness-then you are likely to be healthier. However: there are always exceptions.

Next, in re. To healing and medicine we have extremes: there's the Seventh Day Adventists who deny most medicines as not part of God's Will (recently a child died because the Adventist mother denied medical help for the child). On the other extreme is some of our culture which prescribes any medicine for any disorder without constraint, as narrated in the provocative book "Medication Madness," by Peter Breggin, M.D.). Some people can over rely on medicines too much. Obviously, once again, we need a balance. When we recognize our own or others suffering we may partake of the sacrament of anointing (sacrament of the sick), usually a confession is made within this Rite. Why? To clear the way and remove any blockages of sin in the person's life and to allow Jesus-the-Healer to redeem you. So, ask for healing in our body, mind and soul. Jesus is Our Medicine of Eternal Life! If you don't receive a physical healing then be open to healing in our soul -heightened oneness with Christ; expanded ability to undergo hardship; serenity that comes with resignation; consciousness of God's Presence and the passingness of this world. And, one time a priest asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta how to handle suffering and, physically she demonstrated and saying-"Receive, accept; offer up " pulling in form the outside world toward her body, and then motioning up to God.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi