The Triumph of Tragedy


This reflection addresses one of the most challenging issues any of us might encounter in our lives. It is the all too common experience of dealing with a significant disability or serious illness. If we or a loved one have had to go through this experience, we may wonder just how to reconcile this challenge with the reality of a loving God? Certainly this is something we all will deal with at some point in our lives.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency in our modern society to view all sickness and disability as something exclusively terrible and tragic. The medical profession has in some ways contributed to this perspective on sickness. When the human body is operating ineffectively, or not up to its full potential, (taking into consideration the effects of aging), the medical profession explains this as a disruption to the person’s homeostasis. Homeostasis is defined as the proper functioning of all the elements that go into maintaining health for the body. When homeostasis is disrupted, some form of imbalance has occurred within the body, mind or spirit.

The objective of the entire health care profession is to try and help the body reestablish homeostasis. In other words, the objective is to labor to get things back in their proper order. This language is accurate but does not necessarily tell the whole story of the impact of sickness and disability.

Indeed, some medical language seems to go further in contributing to this mindset of sickness and disability as an exclusively negative event for the human person. If we listen to much of the terminology around medicine today, we will hear an almost military-like theme in the way we talk about responding to sickness and disability. For example, we discuss needing to ‘fight’ infections or needing to ‘combat’ cancer or ‘mounting a campaign’ against heart disease. Or we hear about having a particular condition ‘on the run.’ We even use the term ‘eradicate’ to refer to certain childhood diseases. From this perspective, all sickness and disability are bad, and they therefore need to be eliminated.

It is certainly true that our Savior Jesus Christ came to restore order to the human condition. His primary mission was to restore our relationship with the Father. But He also intended to heal bodies and restore right relationships between all the members of the family of God. So more than just the physical or psychological, Christ’s mission was to restore the ‘spiritual’ homeostasis of the human person. And He often used the very sicknesses and disabilities people suffered to help bring about this restoration. He does the same for us today.

Now no one would suggest we should not do all we can to address the negative consequences of poor health in our society. But, from a spiritual perspective, we may need to try to look for the larger meaning in the inevitable reality of sickness, disease and disability. These realities have been with us since the time of Christ, and they remain with us to this day. The same is true of the sick and disabled as what Christ said about the poor. For it is a fact that:

“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11)

The danger of looking at sickness and disability only as something to be eliminated or overcome, however, is that this limited perspective may cause us to miss the larger and more important benefit to our imbalanced homeostasis. To be quite direct about it, we might want to begin to view disability and sickness as something we can use for our benefit, something that the Lord has allowed for both our greater ‘healing,’ and for His greater Glory. (I told you it would be a challenging reflection.) Whether we can accept it or not, God never causes us to experience disability, sickness or disease, but He does allow it. He does this only so that a greater good can come from it.

If we continue to look at sickness, disease and disability only as a disruption and an enemy to the human person, and not something we may actually embrace and benefit from, then we will be giving the enemy of our souls far too much power over us. We will be allowing the fears and anxiety that so often accompany sickness to steal our joy and the abundance of our life.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

There is a very compelling story in scripture that offers us a glimpse of where we might begin to find a deeper meaning in those challenging situations where we or a loved one is suffering from sickness or a disability.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.’” (John 9:1-3)

Jesus would ultimately restore sight to this man, to provide all of us a larger lesson.

There are two important points here. First, Christ makes it clear that our unfortunate medical challenges are never some punishment inflicted because of sin. Certainly, if people choose to not take care of their health, they are going to experience negative consequences. But those very consequences are intended to ‘instruct’ the person about what he or she needs to do to return to a condition of homeostasis. But not all medical conditions are the result of individual choice.

The second key point here is that Christ intends to use our very illnesses, accidental or not, to display both God’s power and His Glory. To modify a phrase being used in political circles these days, Christ never lets a good tragedy go to waste.

It seems clear that Jesus intended to use this blind man’s condition for a far greater good. What is important about this event is where it occurs in scripture. Only moments before Jesus healed this blind man, Jesus had spoken very specific words to a crowd gathered in the Temple, including a number of Pharisees:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)

What followed this comment was a rather direct exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. And as a result of this never see death pronouncement by Jesus, the Pharisees took up stones with the intention of killing Him.

Now if we look beyond just the physical blindness of the man Jesus cured, we can see that Jesus is using this healing to communicate the larger message about sight that He had attempted to communicate to the Pharisees. We must be healed of our spiritual blindness if we wish to see the Lord. Jesus explained this to the blind man only a short time later.

When this formerly blind person was taken to the Pharisees to be questioned, after Jesus healed him, he offered his opinion that Jesus was from God. He was then cast out of the Temple by the Pharisees. Jesus then finds this man, whose blindness He healed, and Jesus explains to the man that with his new eyesight, he is indeed looking at the Son of God.

Jesus uses this entire episode to help us understand that there are two kinds of sight. There is the material and human ability to see, which Jesus is quite capable of restoring if He chooses. And there is also the spiritual vision, the one that has to do with things eternal. Jesus also demonstrates there are two types of blindness, one having to do with this absence of sight in this world, another having to do with a lack of faith and hardness of heart – spiritual blindness.

“Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’” (John 9:39)

Those who see but are actually blind are the very Pharisees Jesus encountered earlier.

We are all aware of those situations where events initially appear as a tragedy, especially when related to a disability or sickness. But later these same events can bring about a greater healing, either for the persons affected, or for those around them. We have all witnessed situations where the most trying of circumstances can bring about the growth of courage, patience, charity and even the healing of broken relationships. We cannot limit our view of the experience of sickness or disability as something that is always negative. We need to consider embracing it for a greater Glory. This is not easy. It requires that we provide our own honest answer to the question Jesus Himself asked of the blind man after he was healed him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35)

Jesus does indeed intend to heal. There is not a single instance in scripture where Jesus was asked for a healing and did not provide it. The challenge for us is to seethat Jesus Christ’s real mission is to restore spiritual homeostasis, or the proper functioning of the whole person and the relationships of that person. Sometimes this means He will administer a physical healing. But at other times, He may allow the challenge of a particular condition to serve as the means for healing the soul, the spirit, or the relationships within the Body of Christ. It is these healings that have eternal implications. Jesus Christ is operating in the eternal order, not the temporal.

We might pray that all the members of the Body of Christ might would have the visionwe need to see what the Lord is trying to work in our lives, even in our most challenging medical situations.  And when we don’t or can’t see, let us at least pray for the grace to believe that God really does have our greater good in His heart in all our circumstances, especially the most trying ones.


Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis


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About the Author

Mark Danis

Mark Danis, OCDS, is co-host of the weekly radio program, Carmelite Conversations, which aired internationally for six years on the Radio Maria network. The program focuses on the method and blessings of contemplative prayer practiced in the in our busy day to day lives. Episodes can be streamed at http://www.carmeliteconversations.com.

Mark's primary ministry is providing teaching and spiritual direction in contemplative prayer and removing the obstacles to prayer. He is grounded primarily in the teachings of the Carmelites, most especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Mark is a popular speaker and often gives large-group presentations and retreats on Prayer and Carmelite spirituality. He also writes a weekly reflection on prayer for a large nation-wide prayer community, and he leads a weekly prayer group focused on the Teresian Method of Prayer. Mark's most recent appearance was at the 2018 OCDS Congress where he delivered a powerful message to more than 400 Secular Carmelites.

Mark attended St. Michael’s college in Winooski, Vermont, where he received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. He later received a masters degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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