Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Corpore Sano in Ecclesia Sana

Many of you will remember Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston from his two decades as rector of "Mary's House," Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

In late 2004, the Philadelphia native was dispatched to West Virginia and the helm of the state's lone diocese, with its two see cities almost 200 miles apart. Ordained the following February, it wasn't until last week that Bransfield issued his first pastoral letter, one surely worth the wait. For a church whose policy engagement doesn't always lend itself to adjectives like "savvy" or "substantive," it's quite the step forward.

Then again, leave it to Bransfield to raise the bar.

Saying that "principles run the risk of being platitudes unless we specify actions to breathe life into them," the 14-page pastoral, A Church That Heals, grew from the bishop's finding that, in his travels across the diocese, "we are far from the place called health."

Issued on the feast of the patron of physicians -- St Luke the Evangelist -- Bransfield cites the state's place behind the national curve when it comes to the well-being of its residents. With its points and plans derived from consultations around the diocese, he says he's compelled to ask "how our living faith may be an instrument of healing not only of symptoms but of the root causes of the social conditions that affect the well-being of our communities."

A snip:
Jesus, from the first, expresses his mission in terms of healing. He affirms God’s particular concern for the poor and leads us to be in solidarity with all who find themselves involved at the front line in a struggle for liberation from the forces of oppression.

It is most appropriate on the Feast of St. Luke, Physician and Evangelist, to reflect upon the health and well-being of our communities. Luke relates evangelization and healing in Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve. He summoned the disciples and sent them on mission to engage in ministries that would restore health and well-being to individuals, families and communities. Jesus also sent the seventy-two, our predecessors:

Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”

For Jesus, healing is never just the healing of the body but also mind, heart and spirit. It is not just about making people physically better, but it is about hearts made whole, sins forgiven and a world healed. The very proclamation of the word is meant to heal and cannot be separated from care of neighbor. As we share meals with the stranger, as the seventy-two did, we naturally build relationships which will lead us to a deeper concern for their health and well-being. As we let go of our self-interest and focus on the healing needs of others we will restore God’s covenant with those who have been denied the opportunity for health.

Healing has always been a significant concern and an ongoing activity of the Church. The relationship of reconciliation, healing and salvation are recurring themes in Luke. Jesus called his followers to repentance and to a transformation of their old attitudes and way of living into a radically new set of relationships and attitudes. The Sacraments of Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation are concerned with the healing of body, mind, heart and spirit and restoration to the community. Both our prayerful concern and human efforts at healing are necessary acts of faith, hope and love.
The diocese is putting its money where its mouth is, having announced a $400,000 grant to serve as a booster for better local health initiatives. And when it's said that "If the Church’s call to healthy living is to be at all credible, it must testify to healthy living by example," it's a charge that goes far beyond Wheeling. Far, far beyond Wheeling.

Money quote: "You called us to be a Church that heals.... To address the irony, if not the hoax, of public policies that give with one hand and take with the other."

For the church's long-desired emergence as a true, constructive policy-player, it's a new day. And it's about time.

Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston