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Thursday, December 04, 2008


Several years ago, I was going through EMT training and had to do clinicals at a local trauma hospital. This was a part of my firefighter training program, so that very same night one of my classmates was doing his required ambulance ride-along. They brought in a man whom they believed was suffering from gangrene.

My classmate described to us the smell in the home. They were a family of immigrants, and he simply could not understand why this man wasn't taken in to the doctor sooner...the scent of putrefaction was overpowering. How did they live with it?

But they couldn't get answers to these questions...the man and most of his family spoke Spanish only. So for the time being, he was alone, waiting for a nurse. So we, the EMT students, were called into action. And as I was the lone Spanish-speaker, I was sent into the examining room to the very sweaty, very feverish-looking-putrid-smelling man.

My classmates waited at the door as I introduced myself to the man and asked permission to take his vitals.

When I addressed him in Spanish, immediately his eyes lit up, and he smiled through his obvious misery. It didn't matter to him that I was only an EMT student and that my Spanish wasn't up to par. He was happy to speak to me.

I'll admit it was hard to be in that tiny room with him and not wrinkle my nose or show obvious distress over the smell emanating from his suppurating wound. He allowed us all to see it, and, upon the prompting of our preceptor, I asked him how that had happened.

I'm not sure of the age of the man; maybe in his 50's or 60's. He wasn't a large person, was quite wiry-looking, but clearly weakened in his state. He'd spent much of his life in the sun of Mexico, working in fields, and his skin told that tale very clearly. But it wasn't obvious why, high up on his upper thigh, he had a wound such as something I'd never seen, surrounded by green and darkened flesh.

He explained that in Mexico, he worked in the fields, and overhead, planes would fly over to cover the fields in pesticides. The man had a truck he used to drive all over the farm, and the spray from the plane would be all over the seat. At one point, he had gotten a wound on his leg; nothing major, nothing to worry about. Just a sore that came from constant contact with the poison. But it got infected since it was in perpetual exposure to the pesticides. He tried to keep it clean and dry, but through his everyday work, it just continued getting worse. Somewhere in there he moved to the United States to join his family, but by then the infection was already spreading. It was growing worse and worse by the day. His family tried to care for him, but they, and he, finally had to admit that it was too much. Even being away from the source of his infection wasn't enough.

Gangrene is nasty; it's an infection beyond infection. It never starts at putrefaction; gangrene takes time to set in. It always begins from something small, but once it gets that bad, there's no turning back; intervention is needed to save that person's life, or they will go into septic shock.

That's where my patient was that night; experiencing septic shock. He would have died had he not been brought into the trauma center, and as it was, his life was in danger.

And there was no doubt that he was going to lose his entire leg, maybe part of his hip, in order to save his life.

Amazing how our physical condition mirrors the interior life.

Mortal sin is nothing different than spiritual gangrene. Mortal sin is death, it is complete separation from God. Violent separation from God.

We never just "fall" into mortal sin; it starts somewhere. Maybe with something seemingly small. Some little sin. But that little sin, even if recognized but not properly attended, can get worse, especially if we don't remove ourselves from the occasion that inspired it.

And then, even as all those little sins are progressing, we rationalize them away, and suggest that they are fine, it'll get better, we can just spray a little Bactine and in a few days there won't even be a mark.

But the Bactine doesn't work, because we're still walking around in poison, and ignoring the obvious infection. And even as it's getting worse and starting to smell, and red lines are running away from the wound, and bacteria is being carried around and spread elsewhere, we still delay, thinking that really, we're fine. This will heal on its own, with our measly apathetic "efforts."


And by then, it's so bad that we're ashamed of ourselves, we can't hide the wound, although we try and we even try to fool ourselves into thinking that no one will notice. So instead of going in and admitting we need a bandaid, now we've got this huge, gaping, pus-filled wound and we're so terrified that we can't even bring ourselves to show it to the Divine Physician. Even though He knows all about it.

We sometimes have to hit the ground, dying from septic shock, before we will drag ourselves in to Confession and ask for help.

Everyone around us knows about it. But sometimes even they ignore it, because they are afraid to hurt our feelings if they tell us how badly our wounds smell, and they're even willing to clean up the mess made by the oozing pus. We're all dying from the well-intentioned political-correctness of our neighbors.

That isn't love.

That's our souls, people, when we commit mortal sin. It goes from being maybe a little stained, to a little more stained, to complete degradation, gangrenous, oozing pus-filled decomposition.

For those who have seen gangrene...imagine that. If you've committed mortal sin, that's what your soul looks like. That's what you smell like.

But there's a difference between the medical treatment for gangrene and the spiritual treatment: in the medical world, it involves major surgery, maybe amputation of a limb that has been lost. The physical being of the person will never be the same. They will lose something they always took for granted.

The spiritual treatment is God's Mercy. He knows all of our suppurating, festering wounds, and when we go to Confession and reveal that wound willingly, He separates us from it even MORE cleanly than does a surgeon, but with an even bigger difference: we lose nothing, and gain everything.

We do not lose limbs by going to Christ with our gangrenous souls: instead, He restores our lives and makes us better than we were before. He gives us grace, He heals us, He welcomes us back into His Own Body.

If we only have the courage to go to Jesus in the Sacrament of Confession, uncover the wound He knows is there, and ask for forgiveness. It's quick, it's painless, and it leads to eternal life.

What are we waiting for?

What are YOU waiting for? Jesus awaits.
From Vespers:


You desired, Lord, to keep from us your indignation and so did not spare Jesus Christ, who was wounded for our sins. We are your prodigal children, but confessing our sins we come back to you. Embrace us that we may rejoice in your mercy together with Christ your beloved Son.



Anonymous said...

Great analogy -
From God's perspective, looking down upon us, it must be a most greusome site.

Mark said...

Small beginnings: I think it was Thomas who said that it is the work of all the little worms that finally sinks the mighty ship.

Christine said...

excellent analogy.
That is exactly what sin does to us.