Since registering with the doctor a few weeks ago the NHS has become my most faithful correspondent. I received one letter offering me a flu jab; another providing me with a self-test kit for bowel screening, (anyone who has taken this test will know that’s enough information), and a third inviting me to Stobhill Hospital for an AAA scan which can detect a condition called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. All of this because I recently turned 65. So, it would seem that once a man turns 65, the NHS thinks he has one foot in the grave. To be fair though, I must agree with the underlying principle that prevention is better than cure.
Until recently I have been blessed with fairly good health. After having my appendix removed in Yorkhill at age 4, I was never in hospital again until I was aged 34; That was after I gave a retreat to an order of contemplative nuns which happened to coincide with them clearing out two huts, each containing 10,000 battery hens, from which they made a living selling the eggs, much to the disapproval of animal rights protestors which eventually led to them abandoning this means of self -support. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, I caught an infection which resulted in a plague of carbuncles that would appear on various parts of my body from time to time, and this in turn resulted in minor surgery in the Royal Infirmary, before which I was blessed by the Royal’s legendary chaplain, Father Ambrose, a member of the St. Mungo’s community at the time. On leaving hospital the rector of St. Mungo’s kindly provided me with a television in my room while I recuperated, and I remember well lying in bed watching Denis Taylor beating Steve Davis in that famous epic snooker final at the Crucible that was won on a re-spotted black ball in the very last frame of best of 35.
And that was about it until I reached 64. In the past couple of years, however, I have had two MRI scans for back trouble; and three ultra-sounds for a thyroid problem that resulted in a thyroidectomy on 4th July this year, so I think the NHS is right to keep an eye on us men who have reached a certain age, and I hope the women are being equally well looked after.
I suppose the spiritual equivalent of prevention being better than cure is to avoid occasions of sin; but, personally, I feel that the best way to ensure good spiritual health is to avoid people who vex the spirit. You may be familiar with this line from Desiderata: Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. The priest-writer Father Ronald Rolheiser has a great phrase where he talks about people who are so negative, cynical and sarcastic that they “suck the oxygen right out of the room”. The older I get the more I realise I don’t need people like that anywhere near me if I can avoid it. Especially in the life of faith, I think we need to associate ourselves with people who are positive, encouraging and uplifting. Jesus once asked of Simon Peter, once he would recover from his denial, that he would be the kind of person who would uplift and strengthen the others; and isn’t Pope Francis, the successor of Simon Peter, a great example of that as well! And I’ve always loved that wise phrase of St. Theresa of Avila’s: “From sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us”.
Mother Theresa drew on these words to combat negative people:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.