When I was a veterinarian, the cases I enjoyed treating, the cases that gave me a great deal of satisfaction were wounds. It didn’t matter if they were infected with lots of purulent discharge or if they had an odor, or if they even had a few fly larvae. I was always eager to treat a wound, to drain, to flush, to debride and to cut away the diseased and dead tissue. And when they healed there was always a great sense of satisfaction. Everything was back as it should it be, all was well. I was attracted to those wounds. I wanted to heal them.
The same can be said of our Lord, although He’s attracted to our spiritual wounds, he’s attracted to our hurt. He wants to heal. He’s the One who left the 99 in search of the lost one. Our Lord isn’t attracted to our gifts, our virtues, or our talents, but rather he’s attracted to our weakness, and to our brokenness, and to our sin. Not to leave us there but to heal. This is the very definition of Mercy. He’s like a doctor who’s attracted to a wound in need of healing. He is after all, the Divine Physician.
Sometimes we mistakenly think that the spiritual life is all about attracting the love of our Lord, we make it an effort to attract His infinite love. Astoundingly, we are already attractive to God. And even more mysteriously, like a doctor to pain, our Lord is attracted to our woundedness and sin. One of the great temptations is to think we have to be already perfect to be attractive to Him. No doctor demands we be healed before he attends to our wounds; so it is with our Lord.
I have a story about a severely wounded individual his name was Andreas Wouters he was a Dutchman living in 16th century Holland during the Protestant Reformation. Andreas was a priest, but from all outward appearances he didn’t seem to be a very good priest. In fact he caused a great deal of scandal. He was a drunkard and a prolific womanizer, fathering many children. Not a good role model. Needless to say the Bishop suspended him from actively serving as a priest. He lived in disgrace.
At that time, June of 1572, Andreas was living in a sea side town by the name of Gorkum. And during that month a band of Dutch pirates captured the town. They had no love for the Catholic Church and so they rounded up all the priests, they captured 18. The pirates had plans of torturing and killing them. The pirates ignored Andreas and given his history he should have run as far away as possible. But he didn’t, he responded to grace, he responded to the call of the Divine Physician. He went to his brother priests where they were being held and he volunteered to join them. The pirates were amazed; they took him in and put him with the other priests.
The 19 priests were tortured and subjected to every type of humiliation and mockery, especially Andreas who was constantly reminded of what a disgrace he was. At the very end all the priests were given a choice, they could save themselves if they would renounce their belief in Papal Supremacy and the Eucharistic Real Presence. All of them refused. So on July 9, 1572 all 19 priests were hanged. Andreas was saved for last and as the noose was being fastened around his neck, his captors kept mocking him. They mocked him to the very end. His last words before entering into eternity were, “Fornicator I always was, but heretic I never was!” The martyrs of Gorkum were canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1865. St. Andreas Wouters was healed and he gave great witness and glory to God.
Sometimes our Spiritual life appears to us to be very dark, dark because of weakness, brokenness and sin. But do not get discouraged. Recognize, without giving up, that some struggles are chronic. Realize, without despairing, that they may be with us till our dying day. Buts it’s also about realizing that this does not prevent us from becoming saints.
So, even if we have to go to Confession over and over for the same sins, we shouldn’t get discouraged. And we should listen to Pope Francis, who said, “The Lord never tires of forgiving, never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness.” Of course, we need to be sorry for our sins and make a firm purpose of amendment. But if we do that, if we keep trying, then there’s no end to the Lord’s mercy, and we can believe that he can and will satisfy our desire for holiness.
Knowing the darkness of our brokenness we keep trying and we trust. To keep trying to grow in holiness and doing little things with great love. To keep trusting that God will satisfy our desire for holiness even if we don’t yet fully understand how. Keep trying, Keep trusting.
St. Andreas knew the darkness of his sin but it did not end in despair, it ended in love and trust. He made an act of love by going to his brother priests. And he trusted that our Lord would take care of him. He did, and now he’s a saint.
As we sang in our Psalm, “The Lord is kind and Merciful, He takes our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west.” Don’t stay away from our Divine Physician. He wants to heal our wounds.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley