Holistic and integrative medicine mostly talk about how practitioners approach their patient’s care—considering all of the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions. But what about from the patient’s perspective? Is there something behind all the evil and trouble we face besides genetic errors, bad upbringing, and a faulty social structure? As a Catholic, I believe there IS a more fundamental cause, and that is sin.
Man, created in a state of original grace, used his free will to reject God and His reign over us. The result—the loss of original grace—is a condition the Church calls original sin. As a result, we are separated from God, our harmony with creation is broken, we’ve lost control of the soul over the body, and everyone eventually dies.
“Okay,” you might say, “but what does this have to do with the practice of medicine?”
If sin and breaking with God’s best for us is the ultimate cause of the disintegration of our body, mind, spirit, and social structures, then reestablishing a relationship with God and re-orienting toward His original design must figure into the solution. This translates into tangible differences in how we manage our health.
7 Principles of Catholic Integrative Medicine
Here are seven principles we can follow.
1) Restore your relationship with God.
If we recognize the positive effects of having healthy human relationships, then how much more is it true that we need to restore our relationship with our loving Creator.
We receive forgiveness of sin and become spiritually clean through faith in Jesus Christ and Baptism. But it doesn’t stop there. We are still broken people and can fall into destructive patterns. God gives us the means, by His grace and through the Holy Spirit, to overcome the effects of sin and move toward restoration and healing. Once we experience conversion to Christ, we don’t just sit back and wait for God to pick us up. We continue to receive grace through the Sacraments, follow Jesus as His disciples, and work toward wholeness and holiness (i.e., sanctification).
2) Maximize your health by becoming and acting in harmony with God’s design.
Some people think of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17, Deut. 5:6-21) and the twofold commandment of love (Matt. 22:37) as a nice set of guidelines for behavior. Others see them as an elaborate rule system designed to control our behavior. The Commandments describe God’s best for us. In effect, they tell us: “This is how I designed you. Follow these things and you’ll find health. Oppose them, and you’ll experience consequences and spiritual death, not imposed from above, but because you chose what was destructive.”
3) Maximize the fitness of both your body and soul.
God made us body and soul, and both are valued and form one unit. We should seek both spiritual and physical health. It is a heresy to consider the body evil or separate from the soul so that one feels free to sin with their body and think their soul unharmed.
4) Don’t sacrifice your soul for the sake of the body and temporary goods.
We can fall into the error of giving so much attention to our body—seeking strength, fitness, pleasure, or improving our appearance—that we fail to care for our soul.
5) Health and healing have a supernatural origin.
God created everything. Our health and natural mechanisms for healing are all part of God’s design. Because they’re part of our common experience, we can take them for granted. Then, when we experience the consequences of living in a broken world, we complain about the raw deal we received. We look at what’s missing instead of what we do have. Rather, we should consider our health as a gift and live life with gratitude and celebration.
6) We’re not omnipotent.
Some people believe that we are like gods and we can do anything if we get in the right frame of mind or we tap into some cosmic energy force. We are not. We are broken and nearly powerless. Healing does not come by restoring distorted energy fields. The right response, instead, is to recognize our powerlessness and turn to God for help.
7) Use both natural and supernatural at the same time, as both are meant for our good.
We don’t stop natural treatments because we pray, and we don’t discard prayer because we use “natural” means. The only time you should stop using a beneficial treatment is when you no longer need it. Ending medical treatment because you think it displays a weakness of faith shows disdain for the natural healing methods God placed at our disposal. At the same time, expecting God to heal us mechanically treats prayer for healing as though we are waiting for the candy bar to drop out of the God-machine after we deposit our prayer quarter. If that were true, it would be us, and not God, in control.