Part 5: Modern Medicine, Healing Prayer Can Work Together
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 2, 2014)
The following is the last in a five-part weekly series:
The last form of healing in the name of Jesus that we want to explore in this series is the healing that God providentially provides for us through effective medical care. This is by far the most common way that our Lord reaches out to us in His compassion to heal us of our afflictions — although, as I suggested last week, that may be more by default than by design, because of the widespread ignorance and neglect of the various forms of healing prayer. Nevertheless, the Bible and the Catholic Tradition see no contradiction at all between natural and supernatural ways of healing. God is the Creator of all of nature, with all its curative resources, and of the human rational mind, with its mastery of the physicians art — and God is also the giver of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and healing. The Holy Spirit and modern medicine, therefore, are meant to work together in harmony for the full benefit of His people.
We see this reflected in Holy scripture. One of the gospel writers, St. Luke, was a physician himself, and there is no indication that he gave up the practice of medicine in order to be a Christian. At one point in his epistles, St. Paul advises Timothy to take a little wine on occasion for his health — one of nature's oldest stomach remedies ( I Tim 5:23 )! The Bible praises the vocation of physicians in the Old Testament book of Sirach, one of the last of the Old Testament books to be written (ca, 160 b.c.) in chapter 38, verses 1-15:
Give the doctors the honor they deserve, for the Lord gave them their work to do. Their skill comes from the Most High, and kings reward them for it. Their knowledge gives them a position of importance, and powerful people hold them in high regard.
The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible person will not hesitate to use them. Didn't a tree once make bitter water fit to drink, so that the Lord's power might be known? He gave medical knowledge to human beings, so that we would praise him for the miracles he performs. The druggist mixes these medicines, and the doctor will use them to cure diseases and ease pain. There is no end to the activities of the Lord, who gives health to the people of the world.
My child, when you get sick, don't ignore it. Pray to the Lord, and he will make you well. Confess all your sins and determine that in the future you will live a righteous life. Offer incense and a grain offering, as fine as you can afford. Then call the doctor—for the Lord created him—and keep him at your side; you need him. There are times when you have to depend on his skill. The doctor's prayer is that the Lord will make him able to ease his patients' pain, and make them well again....
According to this passage from the Bible, when we are sick we should pray to the Lord AND call the doctor, for in many cases it may be that the Lord will use the physician as the primary source of healing. The key is to let our Lord be in charge, and not dictate to Him the ways in which you want Him to help you. Let Him use all the means at His disposal—we are just to trustfully surrender to His care: "Cast all your care on the Lord, for He cares for you" ( I Peter 5:7).
Both healing prayer and medical care, in the end, all come down to that little prayer at the bottom of the Image of the Divine Mercy: 'Jesus, I trust in You." In other words, "Jesus, I completely entrust myself to You. I hand over my whole condition to You (body, mind, and spirit) for strength and guidance, and for being made whole again according to Your will, because I trust completely in Your merciful love for me, which always greater than I can ask, or even imagine."
Let me close this series by sharing with you an example of what happened in my own family some years ago, when we did just that.
My wife Katherine has a rare and chronic condition in which her liver makes stones. Usually it is a person's kidneys or gall-bladder that does this, but liver stones are even more serious. Occasionally, these stones get stuck in the liver duct, causing the liver to be blocked, and one's entire bloodstream rapidly becomes poisoned as a result. Death follows within a few weeks if the physicians cannot intervene by means of "endoscopic surgery" (which basically means sending a little camera and a little basket down into the liver in order to scoop the stones out).
Back in 2001 my wife had just such a life-threatening liver-stone attack. But the only physician in British Columbia qualified to do the surgery was on a long holiday in Australia, and so Katherine just had to try to hang on until he came back. Unable to eat much of anything, she lost 20 pounds in three weeks, and finally became bed-ridden with pain, on doses of morphine, waiting in desperation for the doctor to come home. All we could do was pray — and entrust her into our Lord's care. We had masses said for her at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, the Divine Mercy Prayer line helping, and constant prayers for the intercession of St. Faustina from all of us. My 6-year-old daughter was distraught, watching her mom waste away do rapidly before her eyes: "I only have one Mom!" she cried.
Then one morning I woke up and found that Katherine was not in bed. I went downstairs to the kitchen and there she was, cooking breakfast for everyone: "I am feeling much better today," she said. She went to the doctor the next day and he ran some tests. The results were astounding. As her doctor later told me: "it is not just that the stone is gone from her liver—despite all the swelling and infection, there is always a one-in-a-million chance that the stone could somehow works its way out—it's that her blood readings are almost completely normal, within 48 hours. That's medically inexplicable. Given the state her whole system was in, it should have taken a month for her blood-work readings to return to normal. It just takes time for such a massive infection to clear!"
Katherine still has that chronic liver condition, but by a miracle of healing prayer, she was restored to us that day. Now the doctor prescribes for her a relatively new "miracle drug" to take called "Ursodiol," which has almost no side effects, and simply corrects the chemical imbalance in her liver that causes stones to form — all this because God put into nature the chemicals needed to create such a drug, and enabled dedicated medical research scientists, through the brains he gave them, to discover such a medicine.
Thanks be to God, who pours out His compassionate love for us, both through modern medicine and through the healing power of the Holy Spirit!
Read the series in full:
• Part 1: Is It for Real?
• Part 2: Yesterday and Today
• Part 3: Nope, It's Not 'Faith Healing'!
• Part 4: At the Heart of Healing Prayer
• Part 5: Modern Medicine, Healing Prayer Can Work Together
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.