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The divine physician

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Have you ever thought about what it would be like without modern medicine, even primitive medicine? What if you had a gash on your leg that needed stitches, but there was no way to bridge the gap and allow for healing? These were things I wondered sitting in the emergency room, staring down at my leg that looked like a shark had taken a bite out of it — but there are no sharks on the side of the road in the mountains of Maryland.

I’d met a couple of friends for a bike ride near Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., to enjoy a beautiful day during the pandemic lockdown. We’d just made a turn, and I dropped to the back to grab a sip of water. I looked up and saw another curve ahead that would require two hands. I could not get the bottle back in its cage fast enough, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground with my hand covering a bloody gash on my leg.

Prior to seminary I was a backcountry guide, and I have had my fair share of emergency medicine training. One look at my leg told me I wasn’t getting right back on the bike and I needed stitches. Thankfully I was with good friends who called for an ambulance and took care of my bike while I headed to the ER. When the doctor opened the bandages and looked at the cut, I noticed fluid oozing out of my skin. The doctor explained the fluid was the body’s attempt to heal on its own, not realizing it was unable and that I needed stitches; something beyond my body’s own power was required to bind the wound.

Sitting in the ER it struck me, there comes a point when we are unable to heal our own wounds, physical and spiritual. Wounds of sin cause distancing between what ought to be together, disrupting our relationships with God, ourselves and others. We can wish sin away or try to white-knuckle our way out of bad habits, but what’s really required is for the divine physician to stitch us back together with his healing grace and mercy in the sacrament of confession. I always found it weird that a parish might transform an old ambulance into a mobile confessional, but the analogy is now the very same one I make: we need something outside of ourselves, God’s grace in confession, to be healed and restored to full spiritual health.

Thankfully my leg has healed, and I am back on the bike (albeit more cautiously). Building on this experience, I pray that the next time we need the divine physician, we have good friends around to help us into the ambulance, and enough training to recognize if our wounds require the sacrament of confession.

Renner, who is from Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, is in his third year of theology studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020