There are many Fathers of the Church who teach about the Church being a ‘hospital’ for the healing of those wounded by sin. This is a very helpful and hopeful image, and one that we should all take seriously.
The problem is that too many people confuse ‘hospital’ with ‘asylum.’ What do I mean? Well, back before all the wonderful progress we now benefit from in the field of medicine, psychiatric patients and others who could not be treated went to an ‘asylum.’ Asylums were warehouses for the untreatable.
The assumption was that your case was ‘incorrigible’ and could not improve. The asylum was a refuge from the demands of the world in which you could not function.
Too often, people confuse the metaphor of ‘hospital’ with ‘asylum.’ They know they are wounded and in need, but also think that there is no use in trying to change. They find the tolerance and patience of the clergy and people very comforting, because these others seem to be willing to accommodate and number inappropriate outbursts and abandonment of personal responsibility. After all, the ‘hospital’ is for th sick, right? Don’t sick people behave poorly?
Yes, they do. But, they behave poorly in large part because of the rigors of the healing process rather than the refusal of treatment. They come to the hospital with the desire and commitment to be healed, not to avoid healing.
If you don’t want to be healed, then you go to the asylum. The Church is not an asylum, storing up the purposefully infirm. We are not supposed to be a storage lot for madness. You enter on the condition that you are willing to follow Christ anywhere, even to the point of surrendering yourself in any way.
Madness is to hold onto one’s self. The denizen of the asylum is utterly self-possessed, since he cannot be treated or wants know help. Therefore, his illness leaves him utterly alone.
When we come to the hospital that is the Church, we place ourselves under the care of the ‘doctors’ (read clergy and monks) and ‘nurses’ (laypeople) who help us return to health. To do what? Why, to join the ‘staff’ and become a healer.
Hospitals heal so that the healed become healers. Asylums do nothing but shelve our problems… and ourselves.