As we enter the most Holy Week of the liturgical year, this seems to be the most appropriate time to share my thoughts on the words I heard one morning.
Surgery. Spiritual surgery. I had just finished listening to a song which I have attached herein. Shortly after, I heard these 2 words – “spiritual surgery” and I was perplexed because I was far from being a doctor. In short, I cannot stand the sight of blood as those close to me can testify. It was when I settled down to ponder upon these two words that I understood that it was a message I had to share. What I will be sharing today will be revolving around this anchor passage:
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So what exactly IS spiritual surgery? We know that spiritual means relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. So, that is simple but what is surgery and what does it entail?
DEFINITION OF SURGERY
I came across this definition of
surgery which was expository – A treatment
of injuries / disorders of the body by incision OR by manipulation
especially with instruments. As I delved deeper into what surgery meant, I discovered that its definition could be be broken down into 5 parts:
- A treatment: this entailed care given and was thus a positive action
- of injuries / disorders of the body: these disorders could be likened to our vices or the sins we commit which injure our bodies such as the 7 deadly sins
- by incision: – this entailed a sharp cut and rupture which leads to bleeding. It would involve a deep cleansing and uprooting and the image of a double-edged sword immediately came to mind
- OR by manipulation: manipulation of the body would involve the change of a behavior or perception or action through indirect, deceptive, or underhanded tactics and so this surgery could be deceptive
- especially with instruments: the use of scalpels and other surgical instruments came to mind and I was reminded again of the double-edged sword of the Holy Spirit. These instruments could also involve the use of people as agents to perform the surgery.
So I had an idea what surgery meant but who was to conduct this spiritual surgery? God Himself. And what did this surgery involve? I was to find out that it depended on the type of surgery one was undergoing – was it a minor surgery or a major surgery?
TYPES OF SURGERY
I recall some years back, I had developed a small pimple on my wrist which had darkened and had become hard and a doctor had told me that I needed to have surgery. I was aghast and told him that all was indeed well with me. However, he told me that it would be a minor procedure and it was more or less like cosmetic surgery. I agreed.
This minor surgery involves little or no risk to the life of the patient since it is normally an operation on the superficial structures of the body. It may also be a manipulative procedure that does not involve a serious risk. I realized that this type of surgery is not what we as Christians should seek to undergo. It leads to us being lukewarm and being spewed out of God’s mouth as Revelations 3:16 tells us. Indeed, God does not touch you small -He overhauls your world and totally transforms you in the encounter.
We need to be careful of such minor surgery which is cosmetic. It is not deep and often involves that manipulation which we find in the definition of surgery. This manipulative behavior involves all three factors: fear, obligation and guilt and its healing effect and treatment are short-lived at its best. Although some may say that guilt is the voice of God and is a good sign to cleanse oneself and that obligation leads to obedience, God does not instill fear within you. If you undergo treatment out of fear of the consequences of your injuries or disorders, it would be short-lived because we are to go beyond the letter of the law for healing and undergo surgery out of love.
When I was sharing this at fellowship, I was guided to consider that some people may start out undergoing minor surgery which would graduate to major surgery. This is true. However, as Christians our focus should be for God to conduct major surgery upon us.
Major surgery is the treatment and cleansing for which we must all strive. It involves a risk to the life of the patient and the invasion of a body cavity where organs are removed or normal anatomy is altered. It involves a risk to our life because we no longer have our former lives. As Saint Paul says in Philippians 3:8 – “For His sake, I have let everything fall away…” This spiritual surgery is different from major surgery as we know it because major spiritual surgery goes beyond a major risk to life – it requires death itself! The old life of sin must die to give rise to a healthy being, as seen in John 12:24 – “Truly I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and DIES, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
This surgery is performed to repair damage or arrest disease in a living body. It is to be a permanent cure and to restore what was lost. Spiritually, this means that we are made into a new creature, as we are restored into the glory lost in the Garden of Eden – total communion with God. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “…the one who is in Christ is a NEW creature…a new world has come.”
When we undergo this major surgery, we SURRENDER all to the Master Surgeon – God. As is customary with major surgery, the one who is being operated upon is under anesthetics and is completely submissive and at the mercy of the surgeon. This is how we are to be just like the clay is in the hands of the potter as Jeremiah 18: shows- “People of Israel, can I not do with you what this potter does? As clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hands.”
SURGICAL EXTRACTION OF 7 DEADLY SINS
Upon considering what the injuries or the disorders of the body would be, I was led to the vices and to ask God this lent to extract any of the seven deadly sins rearing its head in my life, I found out that I was in need of major surgery indeed.
- PRIDE OR SELF ABSORPTION: We all know that Lucifer’s downfall was pride and that as Proverbs 16:18 says,” pride goes before every destruction, an arrogant spirit before every fall.” However, how often do we cloak our pride by renaming it as being confident or by blaming it on a difference in our social status? I came across a prayer last year which I find difficult to pray each time, called the Litany of Humility. Now, if you think that you are not proud, examine yourself again and please try praying that prayer. I would love to hear feedback on how you fared.
2. AVARICE OR GREED: When I shared this vice, I found out that most of us did not know we had this vice since we live in a consumer society which constantly encourages us to amass things we want and not necessarily need. As we pray in the “Our Father,” we are to focus on DAILY bread and be grateful for what we have. Do you realize in Joshua 5:12, that as soon as the Israelites got to a place where food was available, the manna stopped? God is not a a god of excess.
3. LUST OR SEXUAL LONGING: This is a vice which is blatant in our society and for which all of us at one point or another have had to ask God to cleanse us. 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 tells us to flee from sexual immorality and we must do our own part not to entice others, lest we may be worse off than those who respond to the longing.
4. ENVY OR RESENTMENT. This vice tells God that you are not appreciative of the blessings with which he has already blessed you and can grow into something much worse if not uprooted. Was it not envy in Genesis 4:4 which led Cain to kill his brother Abel? Was it not envy which led the Pharisees to plot Jesus’ death as revealed by Pilate in Matthew 27:18 – “…for he knew that Jesus had been handed over to him out of envy.“
5 .APPETITE OR GLUTTONY: When discussing this vice with others, I realized that while most Christians might escape from the sin of greed, they might not from gluttony. This is because gluttony is hidden under the cloak of self-entitlement – “I can have as much as I want because it is mine.” However, just because you are not taking from someone out of greed, the fact that you are abusing or not sharing what God has given you is in itself a sin. You are a glutton. This includes you not sharing your time with another, the talent or gift God has given you or your possessions. It was a scary realization indeed.
6. ANGER OR WRATH: This is an obvious vice and is often described as rot from within because it leads to hatred and vengeance. Some people blame their outrage on others or their environment but deep down they know that it is something for which they are responsible and which they must uproot. Some even rename their anger by calling it zeal but this is not the anger which must be uprooted in spiritual surgery, since this is the type of anger against sin. Nor are we referring to the anger which we may be allowed to express as seen in Psalm 4:5 when it says”Be angry but don’t offend.” The anger which is a vice is that which St Augustine says “easily falls into hatred towards the person” as he considers that “hatred is nothing else than persevering anger – “Odium est ira diuturno tempore perseverans.” This is supported in Ecclesiasticus 30:26 and in Job 5:2 which says that “anger indeed killeth the foolish and envy slayeth the little one”
7. SLOTH OR LAZINESS: This is considered a sin because God calls all of us to use our gifts to serve others as seen in 1Peter 4:10 “Serve one another with the gifts each of you received” and he calls us to be fruitful. The question isn’t really whether we are lazy but how lazy are we, considering what God has invested in us. Take for instance, what you do on a Sunday. Due to the hectic week, I know I look forward to sleeping all day on Sunday and lazing around catching up on “me time.” After all, God rested on the 7th day, right? However, have you forgotten that Sunday is a day to be dedicated to God? What do you do that makes Sunday distinctly dedicated to God? The whole point is not only to refrain from things that would distract you from keeping Sunday holy, but also to do things that would actively make it holy. How do you do that?
HEALING AFTER SURGERY
As I pondered upon these two types of surgery, I started to wonder what would happen after the surgery was done. There is normally a recuperation time for those who undergo major surgery so what would happen after such spiritual surgery. How would one heal? Instantly? Indeed, when God performs the surgery, there is instant healing but the challenge is how do you maintain this healthy state of your soul and this restoration of communion? The guide to this can be found in the 7 instructions normally given to the patients who undergo major surgery.
- FOLLOW YOUR DOCTOR’S INSTRUCTIONS: This seems like an obvious instruction. If you want to get well, follow your doctor’s instruction, right? So why don’t we do the same when it comes to God who not only means everything that is good and more for us, but who knows what it takes to make every part of our being work at its best. He has given us instructions to follow in Exodus 20 – the 10 commandments and yet somehow we try to use our own logic to give ourselves our own set of instructions.
2. KEEP YOUR FOLLOW-UP APPOINTMENTS:He has also given us the Holy Bible to guide us as Joshua 1:8 shows – “Constantly read the book of this law and meditate on it day and night…so shall your plans be fulfilled and you shall succeed in everything.” We are to fan into flame the gift of this new life post surgery given to us by God as urged by Paul in 2Timothy 1:6 and we are not to foresake our fellowship together as warned in Hebrews 10:25– “Do not abandon the assemblies.”
This need to be in fellowship with one another is one which I have found to be ignored by many Christians. Once we have undergone spiritual surgery and been transformed, we lose focus on our healing process and listen to that voice which assures us that we can maintain this new healthy life on our own and all we need do is read the bible and attend the mandatory Sunday mass. We forget that “iron sharpeneth iron” and there is something about COMMUNAL worship which strengthens the individual and leads to revelations and growth.
3. PREVENT INFECTION:We are vulnerable when we have had major surgery due to the loss of blood and low immunity and complications may arise. The worst thing that can happen is for us to have an infection and this is similar to what happens to us if we do not keep focused on our post surgery health. Jesus warns of this in Matthew 12:43-45 when he describes what happens when an evil spirit goes out of a person – “Off it goes again to bring back with itself, this time, seven spirits, more evil than itself. They move in and settle there; so that this person is, finally, in a worse state at the end, that he was at the beginning.”
To maintain spiritual healthiness, we must avoid contamination first from within as said in Mark 7:15-18 “…It is what comes from within that makes a person unclean.” We are also to avoid CULTURAL CONTAMINATION by the world by renewing our mind and not being conformed as advised by Paul in Romans 12:2 and by “keeping oneself from the world’s corruption” as advised in James 2:27 and 2Corinthians 6:17 -“Come out from their midst and separate from them.”
4 .INSPECT YOUR INCISION: Inspecting your incision can be painful. It can even require you to remove a plaster which I always find uncomfortable. The thought of having to remove a plaster often makes me not want to put it on because of this discomfort which I would feel. However, inspection is necessary just like examination of conscience is necessary.
I remember when I was younger and my mom would urge me to examine my conscience before I went to bed. I would see it as a tedious task and would sleep off thinking of the day’s activities. Now, I know better. This Catholic tradition is priceless especially when you consider that each time you close your eyes, you might not awake. It is by the grace of God that you see another day and the least you can do is to check the status of your spiritual health post surgery.
This tradition is encouraged in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in CCC16, CCC1776 and CCC2368. Moreover, its scriptural roots are evident in the advice given by St Paul in Galatians 6:4 -“Let each of you examine his own conduct” and in 2Corinthians 12:5 “Examine yourselves: are you acting according to your faith? Test yourselves. Can you assert that Christ Jesus is in you?”
5. DRINK AND EAT PROPERLY: This is perhaps the most welcoming instruction given to heal after surgery, especially for those who love food and drink. It makes sense and we normally take the instruction well without much fuss but notice that we are to eat PROPERLY and not just simply add calories. As Christians we know that God always seeks a way to restore us as seen in Jeremiah 31:17 – ” ‘I will restore you to health and heal your wounds’ says Yahweh” and as echoed in 3 John 1-2 “may everything go well with you and may you enjoy health of body and soul.”.
So the fact that God wants our well-being is settled but we must do our own part and ensure that we eat and drink the right things and do so in the right way which is summarized in 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “Then, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.” If we are to heal after surgery, we must regulate what we ingest and if at all we are to drink, let us be drunk in the spirit as advised in Ephesians 5:18. We are to feast at the banquet of God in Holy Communion as we eat the body of Christ and drink the blood of Christ as explained in John 6:55-56 – “My flesh is really food and my blood is truly drink.” Personally, I have found this guide to healing after surgery to be a lifesaver and one which is indispensable to maintaining spiritual health.
6. KNOW WHEN TO GO TO ER: To know when you need to go to the emergency room after you are recovering from major surgery can be tricky. It involves constant alertness as stressed by Jesus in Luke 21:34 “Be on your guard” and in Mark 13:33 – “Be alert and watch..” 1Peter 5:8 also urges us to “be sober and alert” and in Colossians 4:2, we are told to be “steadfast in prayer and even spend the night praying and giving thanks.”
Going to the ER can also be likened to inspecting your incision. The sacrament of reconciliation may be likened to an emergency room into which you must go to ensure that your soul is still healthy after the major surgery. We are advised to flee from temptation in 2 Timothy 2:22 and as Joseph did over Pontiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:12-13. When we go to confession, we are responding to the advice given to us not to despair in Psalm 27:14 and in 2 Corinthians 4:8 which encourages us – “Trials of every sort come to us but we are not discouraged.” The confessional is our emergency room and we must know when to go to it in order for us to maintain the healing after the surgery.
7. GET MOVING: This advice from the surgeon is easier said than done. Imagine the pain being felt after the anesthetics have worn off and being told to get back in your groove or the discomfort in getting used to using a limb or part of your body which has been restored. Whatever it may be, we are told to get moving. This is also true after spiritual surgery. We are warned not to be lukewarm as in Revelations 3:16 , but fruitful and spiritually active as captured by St Paul who kept on pressing on in Philippians 4:12. As a Christian we are to grow in the spirit and avoid the fate of the branches which are cut off as seen in John 15:1-2 for not being fruitful.
God tells us to move on and wipes the slate clean as said in Isaiah 43:19 – “But do not dwell on the past or remember the things of old. Look I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth.” Paul stresses this in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he says that “the old things have passed away; a new world has come.” and in Philippians 3:16 – “Meanwhile, let us go forward from the point we have each attained.” To overcome the injuries of the past in our post surgery state is often difficult since we still remember, but we must cling to the assurance of God that as the Master Surgeon, He has made all things new and has set the path clear for your permanent healing in Him. I once saw a message which read that the next time Satan reminds you of your past, you should remind him of his future – eternal damnation.
SO WHAT DO I DO?
After thinking about what it takes to undergo spiritual surgery, what must be uprooted from me and how to heal after this extraction, I came up with practical steps on what I must do during this lent and beyond:
- Attend daily mass
- Do personal bible study
- Pray the rosary
- Conduct a daily examination of conscience
- Daily contemplate a bible verse/ passage
- Pray and work towards a virtue each day (to tackle each of the 7 deadly vices)
Psalm 95:7 spoke to me when I was preparing this message – “O that today, you would listen to my voice, harden not your hearts” and I thought of the layers of an onion. Have you noticed that the outermost layers may be so hard but it gets more and more tender, the closer you get to the inner layers? This tendering of the layers (and heart) is what God does to us. As we undergo spiritual surgery, He peels away the scales which are represented by sin and vices. God is the Great Physician and His surgery is always successful if we let God have His way with us.
So the real question is this – Will you allow God to use his scalpel and surgical instrument on you? Will you go under His anesthesia?
When we sin, we must go again to the Great Physician. The wonderful thing is that it is never too late if we admit our need to be healed as Joel 2:12 reminds us -“Yet even now, return to me with your whole heart…” This is the time to do so. This is the time to undergo this spiritual surgery and let God transform you and heal you in more ways than you can possibly imagine.