The Parable of Heart Ablation
By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 13, 2023
Most of us entering the fourth quarter of our lives suffer from medical difficulties. There is a correlation between behavior-related disease and behavior-related spiritual pathologies.
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Consider heart disease.
Hypertension and the buildup of cholesterol silently threaten our health, with few obvious symptoms. Our inherited genes may predispose us to heart disease. But we commonly accelerate predisposed heart conditions through unhealthy practices.
Similarly, our tendencies as sinners are rooted in our spiritual genetic makeup of Original Sin and our sinful patterns. Although Baptism washes away the stain of Original Sin, the effects continue, just as genetic predispositions continue. Our inclination to commit sins persists, often with few noticeable consequences.
Excessive smoking and poor eating habits may lead to hypertension. Hypertension may cause atrial fibrillation (AFib)—a heart beating disproportionately with an abnormally high pulse rate and crippling weariness. We often respond with a spirit of denial. As a new and strange experience, many refuse to admit sickness.
As with heart disease, “the silent killer,” we frequently have little awareness of the consequences of our evil behavior. Although sins immediately besmirch our souls, sinful behavior may take years to ruin marriages or families. Whether we are aware or not, the effects of our sins are often confusing and unexpected.
The overused word “insensitive” is another way of saying we do not have the self-reflection necessary to recognize our sins that are evident to others. We may be completely unaware of the damage we cause to ourselves, our families, and our workplaces. Obdurate with sinful pride, we tend to reject honest criticism. We explain away the symptoms of our sins. We’re “down on our luck.” We are victims of the malice of family members and coworkers.
Untreated hypertension, AFib, and a racing heart get worse. We suffer extreme weariness. We find it difficult to breathe. We gasp. Congestive heart failure poses an immediate threat to life.
The effects of sin traverse a similar path. We, or those around us, suffer the consequences of unjust anger, drunkenness, drug abuse, the reclusiveness that comes with pornography, and so on. We may fail to link our suffering to evil behavior (although, for those around us, it may be plain to see). We become spiritually sluggish.
A failing heart motivates us to turn to medical authorities for help because we realize we are in danger of long-term disability or death. The realization is a gift because it brings us to our senses and redirects us to a healthier life.
We have two choices in matters of a failing spiritual life overcome by sin. If the conscience—our spiritual immune system—is in working order, we recognize how our sins have harmed our life of God’s grace and inflicted pain on others, and we repent. But we often grow to resent our commitments, such as: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” So, we commonly walk away from our responsibilities and cause further pain.
A healthy response to AFib and congestive heart failure is a docile resolve. We begin to pay attention to the expert advice of our doctors. We dutifully take the prescribed medication on schedule. We gratefully undergo the now-routine shock treatment that stuns our hearts into regularity.
Sinners who allow self-inflicted suffering to bring them to their senses take a similar path. They seek a doctor of souls—a priest, flawed in his own way—equipped with Holy Orders to grant absolution to their repentant hearts. Just as doctors—who also may not follow their own advice—begin to stabilize the broken health of a heart patient, a priest in the name of Jesus forgives sins and begins to stabilize a spiritual life with God’s grace.
Many times, the effects of medical treatment and pharmaceuticals are instantaneous. But a good patient realizes he must also resolve to correct the errors that led to the heart problems.
Similarly, Confession and sacramental forgiveness removes the guilt of sin but does not remove all of the effects (except for eternal damnation). Just as a successful heart procedure forestalls death, a good Confession restores the penitent to sanctifying grace and life in Jesus. However, many of the consequences of heart disease—and sin, remain for thoughtful resolution.
A heart patient needs to reduce his calories, improve his diet, avoid excessive salt, and consume healthy food and drink. A penitent recovering from mortal sin must also resist sinful patterns that paved the way to life-threatening grievous sins. Obey the Ten Commandments and resolve to live a life of Christian virtue.
The five steps necessary for recovery from an emergent heart condition are:
- Identify unhealthy behavior.
- Regret the unhealthy behavior.
- Resolve to modify health practices.
- Admit to unhealthy behavior.
- Follow doctor’s orders, take the drugs on schedule, maintain good nutrition, and exercise.
The five steps necessary to make a good Confession are:
- Examine conscience.
- Express sorrow for sins.
- Make a firm purpose of amendment and avoid the near occasions of sin.
- Confess all mortal sins to a priest (maybe a few venial sins for good measure).
- Do the assigned penance.
Cardiac ablation uses heat to create tiny scars in the heart to block irregular electrical signals and restore a normal heartbeat. Purgatory is like cardiac ablation, cauterizing our sins and healing their detrimental effects. But hell isn’t a one-time cauterization to heal an errant soul. Hell burns without end, like the cremation oven at your local mortuary.
Physical and spiritual health are interrelated. Our resolve to avoid sin should be greater than our resolve to remain healthy. One day each of us will be a checkmark on the list of the Grim Reaper. Then we enter eternity which has no end. Investing in our spiritual health pays eternal dividends.
After all, some of us finished the fourth quarter and are in overtime.
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