Easter Pastoral Instruction on Stewardship of Health

TODAY the Church returns to the tomb and sees it empty. The tomb without the body inside leads us to an act of faith “He is risen!” The resurrected Jesus had a body but quite different from the way the disciples experienced Jesus before the Passover. The body of Jesus was both resurrected and changed.

As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let us also renew our faith in the resurrection of the body. This body as we have it is a gift from God. This body as we have it will be resurrected and will be changed. Taking care of this body is not always an exercise of vanity. Taking care of the body is a spiritual duty as good stewards of health.

Saint John Paul II tirelessly reminded us during his papal ministry that we are created in the likeness of God. The human body is sacred because the human body is a gift from God. We must act and live like God because we were created like Him.

The passage of the Reproductive Health Law also prompts us to lay down these teachings about the Christian understanding of health. While we respect and recognize the duty and right of the State to pass laws, we deem it our duty as pastors to teach you about the Christian understanding of health which the present RH law seems to misunderstand.

Stewardship of health 

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4.10)
God has bestowed on us the great gift of life. As Christians we promote and defend a consistent life ethic symbolized by the “seamless garment”. Human life ought to be promoted and defended from the moment of conception to natural death. Our life is in our hands as stewards of the gift of life. And our stewardship of life calls us to be responsible stewards of health. While health may not be the greatest value and good of the person, health is a gift and a task for all of us.

The American bishops define a steward in the following way: a steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love for others and returns them with increase to the Lord. (USCCB. Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, 1993)

What is health? The World Health Organization in 1948 defines health as follows: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Later, the WHO added a significant reality to health that includes the spiritual aspect of human life. At its best, health is drawing our capacity to “fullness of life”. Health entails the harmony of the person with himself or herself, with others in the community of people and the whole created order.

The Church teaches us that our bodies are not simply material vessels for our souls. They are integral and essential aspects of who we are as persons created in the image and likeness of God. Vatican II reminds us that we are obliged to regard the human body “as good and honourable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” (Gaudium et Spes 14, par. 1). The human person is a unity of body and soul. Just as we are called to care for the spiritual health of our souls, we are also called to be responsible stewards of the health of our bodies (CCC 364). Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.” (CCC 2288) Taking care of one’s health is not a selfish activity but rather it is a necessary and important task related to the building of God’s Kingdom. A person with good health will have more time and energy to participate in the life of the Spirit and the saving mission of Christ.

Our contemporary times present various challenges to living a healthy life. Drawing from the richness of the Christian tradition, particularly the practice of Christian virtues, this pastoral letter seeks to offer guidance to those who strive to be responsible stewards of bodily health.

Called to a virtuous life 

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life (CCC 1804). Virtues can be learned by education, developed by habitual and deliberate practice, and sustained by God’s grace. Through God’s help, our efforts at living out Christian virtues will enable us to grow more perfectly in our following of Christ

There are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Prudence enables us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means to achieve it (CCC 1806). Justice moves us to give what is due to God and to our neighbour (CCC1807). Temperance moderates our attraction to pleasures and provides a balance in the use of created goods (CCC1809). Fortitude enables us to be firm in the face of challenges and to persevere in our pursuit of good (CCC 1808). Each of these virtues comes into play as we strive to care for our bodies and our health.

Food and Drink: Called to live in Moderation

Some of the leading causes of mortality for Filipinos, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, are either caused or aggravated by inordinate consumption of food and drink. Being responsible with one’s diet is one way of being a good steward of one’s health. The virtue of temperance can help us deal with our appetites for certain types of food and drink that can cause harm to our health. Temperance teaches us self-control and discipline with regard to our appetites in pursuit of the goal of good health. The virtue of prudence guides our practice of temperance by reminding us not to consume too much or too little; one needs to discern the right type and quantity of food and drink that is appropriate to maintain one’s health.

Exercise: “Mens sana in corpora sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body)

Along with a correct diet, exercise is also an important element in maintaining good health. Exercise enables us to control our weight and reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases. While many persons have a positive attitude toward regular exercise, some persons need more encouragement and motivation to start a habit of exercise. The virtue of fortitude can help a person to persevere in physical exercise and not be discouraged when progress is slow or difficult. Fortitude enables a person to work toward the goal of good health while bearing with the challenge of being faithful to regular exercise. Prudence accompanies fortitude in this case when careful discernment is needed in choosing the appropriate type and amount of exercise for the person’s condition. Prudence will tell a person not to exercise too much in a manner that would cause injury and not to exercise too little in a way that has negligible effect. All experts agree: no exercise is bad, too much exercise is bad, some exercise is good.

Rest

Maintaining proper health also requires sufficient rest to allow the body to renew its energy and repair itself. Catholic social teaching remind us that rest from work is a right (Laborem Exercens #19). Human life has a rhythm of work and rest (CCC 2184). Everyone should take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure (CCC 2187). The virtue of justice requires that employers, despite economic constraints, should make sure that employees have adequate time for rest (CCC 2187).  Prudence will remind us that too much rest can lead to slothfulness while too little rest can cause grave harm to the body and spirit.

Harmful Substances and Activities

The natural law urges every person to do good and avoid evil. While we should pursue what is good for our health (e.g., proper nutrition, adequate exercise, and sufficient rest) we should also avoid what is harmful to our wellbeing.

The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air (CCC2290). The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.  (CCC2291). Prudence would remind us that there are substances and activities that should be avoided if we desire to maintain our physical well-being for the present and the future.

Unhealthy Perspectives on the Human Body

While it is quite clear that doing little to take care of our health is wrong, doing too much to achieve physical perfection can also be unhealthy and harmful.  Morality rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports (CCC 2289). Vanity, idealized body images, and excessive competitiveness can lead people to manipulate their bodies in ways that do not respect the human body’s health, integrity, dignity, and intrinsic value. Examples of such harmful manipulation of bodies include excessive use of cosmetic surgery, unhealthy forms of dieting, and the use of banned substances in sports.

What gives meaning to health

Love and life! As Christians, we believe in the priority of these values over health. We live healthy lives because we are willing to nurture and to care for the gift of life. And we are willing to care for others in love and concern for them. We are reminded of this: there may not always be cure in the many illnesses that people face every day, but there must always be care and love for those who are ill among us. And it is love that enables life to grow and even to improve.

We live in a stressful world. So many demands and many deadlines keep us on our toes. There are two kinds of stress: eu – stress (good stress) and dis – stress (bad stress). Work is stressful and thus good when it brings out the best in us – when it challenges us to excel and be the best for people around us, especially the poor and marginalized. Work is distressful when it diminishes our humanity – when it manipulates and exploits others and the whole created order.

Agents of healthy living 

The Family 

The sanctuary of life, and thus of health is the family. Healthy living is exemplified in the dynamics of a family life that nurtures the values of love and temperance, respect and responsibility.  A healthy balanced lifestyle promotes family “bonding” of parents and children. One must take into serious consideration the responsibility of the family to instil a healthy sense of self in relation to others. On the one hand, the commandment’s “to honour” means showing proper gratitude, affection, respect, obedience and care to parents. (CCC 2214f) On the other hand, the church teaches that parents have the duty to provide so far as they can for their children’s needs, guiding them in faith and morals and creating for them an environment for personal growth (CCC 2221 – 31). We must admit, however, that the continuous migration of our people, especially parents have created “unhealthy family situations”. There is still no substitute to a parent’s love and concern, supervision and guidance. We therefore exhort the extraordinary work performed by guardians. You have an obligation to help in the strengthening of character building among the children and the young. Treat these children and young people as if they were your own. Love them as best as you can.

The School

Healthy living is exemplified and strengthened in the school. The whole school curriculum is directed to the integral formation of the person. A specific school discipline is Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health known as MAPEH. Educators point to the “multiple intelligences” that must be developed in each child and young person. Learning after all is not simply an intellectual pursuit. It is the wholesome and holistic program to bring out the best in the person. In Catholic Education, the formation in the school has one objective—“to make saints of our students!”

Catholic Hospitals and Community – based Health Care Workers

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines points to institutions of health care as agents of renewal. Physicians, nurses, midwives, physical therapists, medical technologists have been gifted by God with the graces to heal and make people whole again. They should be reminded that there may not always be cure but there must always be care. In the end, it is the compassionate love of Jesus expressed by health care workers that makes a difference in the lives of the sick among us.

Conclusion

St. Paul tells us that our body is temple of the Holy Spirit which we have received from God. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6: 19-20). Taking good care of our health is a fitting response of gratitude for God’s graciousness in creating us in his image and likeness.  Like the good steward in Scripture, may we also be responsible stewards of the gift of health that God has granted us as we make our earthly pilgrimage to our heavenly home, where the fullness of life awaits us.

The healthiest person on earth is the saint. Through self-denial and asceticism, mortification and prayer, the saint is one who seeks God in all his/her endeavours. Our health, after all, should be at the service of our primary vocation—to seek the Kingdom of God.

Let us renew our faith in the resurrection of the body, an important part of what we believe in as Christians. We beg our Lady who gave her body to Jesus as His dwelling place for nine months to make us ready and willing to give our bodies to Jesus too so that we receive the promised fullness of life.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
CBCP President

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