The great ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period, Publius Vergilius Maro (October 15, 70 BC – September 21, 19 BC), commonly known as Virgil, wrote: “The greatest wealth is health”.
Building on what Virgil said two millennia before, the World Health Organization, in 1948, did not hesitate to declare: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
Both ideas are stimulating regarding health. But, let us not disregard, not even for a second, the rather holistic idea of health, proposed to us by Lysa Terkeurst, president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. Concerning this crucial existential subject matter Terkeurst had this to say regarding health: “Getting healthy isn’t just about losing weight. It’s not limited to adjusting our diet and hoping for good physical results. It’s about recalibrating our souls so that we want to change – spiritually, physically, and mentally. And the battle really is in all three areas”. In her reflection, Terkeurst used a very wise term which needs our constant discerning eye to appreciate and interiorise: recalibrating our souls. Who of us does not need to straighten out, amend, fix, mend, reform, clean up, put right or repair one’s soul? But how is one to make right his and her own soul? How can one correct one’s spirit?
One way of correcting and keeping ourselves healthy, in our bodies, minds and spirits, is by returning to virtue. In fact, virtue is the sign of a healthy person. We are all created on God’s image. But not all of us are in God’s likeness. Only those who lead a virtuous life are truly said to have God’s likeness in them. In other words becoming like God. That is why St. Basil the Great reminds us of our task or rolling our sleeves and, with God’s grace, collaborate with Him to restore our health:
“‘Let Us make man in Our image and likeness’: we possess one by creation, we acquire the other by will. In the first structure, it is given to us as to be born in the image of God; being in the likeliness of God is formed in us by the will. Our nature possesses potentially what belongs to the will, but we procure this for ourselves through action. If in creating us, the Lord had not taken precaution in advance to say, ‘let US make’ and ‘in the likeness’, if He had not bestowed up us the potential to become the likeness, we would not have acquired the likeness of God by your own might. But behold, He created us potentially able to be like God. In giving us the potential to be like God, He has persuaded us to be the artisans of God’s likeness, to the end that we received the due recompense of our labour, that we not be as inert objects out of the artist’s hand, and that the result of our likeness not turn to the praise of another. Indeed, when you see a portrait that conforms to the model exactly, you do not praise the portrait, but rather you admire the painter. And thus, so that I might be the object of admiration and not another, He has left it to my care to become God’s likeness. Verily, I possess rational being by means of the image, and I become the likeness by becoming a Christian”.
When one lives a virtuous life one is returning to his and her real self and nature. Evagrius Ponticus, also called Evagrius the Solitary, in his Great Letter to Melania the Elder, wrote: “However many be the virtues which we put into practice, we put them into practice in accordance with nature”. Furthermore, St. John of Damascus, in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, states: “Where we abide in nature, there we are in virtue”. On his turn, St. Dorotheus of Gaza, in his tenth instruction, shows that virtues “allow us to pull ourselves together and come back to the natural state by practicing Christ’s holy commandments”.
Yet, for these great Fathers of the Church, there is a virtue that excels the others and, thanks to it, the human person is made capable of the knowledge/spiritual contemplation and his and her other faculties, employ themselves in accordance with their nature’s goal. This virtue is compassion. The Lukan Gospel openly demonstrates this fact when Jesus himself says: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). No wonder why that, in the Diary of St. Faustina Jesus himself tells her: “Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All the works of My hands are crowned with mercy” (no. 301). After all God saved us through his mercy, as shown in His Son’s crucifixion for us. The first Letter to the Corinthians says: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24).
Only the merciful are really healthy people. It is only in them that God’s very life is to be found. May I strive, by God’s mercy, to grow in His mercy. Especially when I am badly treated.