Poor Health—The New Vice, or Sin, or Crime?

A guest post by John Mark McMonagle, D.Min. '11


globe sitting in stethoscopeThere is a politic of health and healthcare. It is a politic of money and regulation. It is made up of concerns over cost and liability, business and professional competence, employment and yes, illness. It’s a growth industry, too. There is no shortage of sick people and the future bodes well for business.

We, in America, are on the verge of being taxed to health instead of to death. So, it is a personal, growing concern that poor health will be the new vice, or sin, or crime. Vice, because of negligence in keeping oneself from being healthy. Sin, because health may be discussed on moral grounds, perhaps as no other time. Crime, because tax dollars may be seen to be abused by the chronically ill.                 

As Christians, who are in the healthcare field, I believe it is relevant to remember that illness is not sin, it is not a crime and it is not a vice. It is a manifestation of corruption natural to this world. Certainly we are called to address it and alleviate it as much as possible; but, it is needful to assert that healthcare is a ministry driven by grace and compassion. Otherwise, it is no more than a job or business.

Maybe it would be helpful to know that healthcare in the Church is founded on some worthy examples.

The first Christian physicians, after Luke, were the two sisters, Zenaida and Philonella, who flourished around 100 A.D. Their claim to novelty was their practice of accepting little to no pay … intentionally. This opened up care for the poor and indigent or any who were normally neglected. Others, like Zenaida and Philonella, were Saints Cosmas and Damian, who also challenged the prevailing practice of medicine. However, they took a strict vow that disallowed any payment for their services. Along with them were St. Panteleimon, St. Sampson the Hospitable, and many others, who are in the class of saints called anargaroi, the penniless, making them Unmercenary Physicians.

Perhaps these saints can inspire us moderns in new ways to help those in need of medical care. Grace can surely guide us here.

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