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Healthy for the Holidays

The immune system remembers, but God forgives.

Every time I learn something new about the human body, I am in awe. It is so complex and it does so many things. Just recently a scientific study came out that looked at how sleep affected brain activity. This research found that, during sleep, our body basically power washes our brain! What happens is that it rhythmically flows cerebrospinal fluid (red) in and out of the brain, washing out harmful proteins, including those implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease.

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That is amazing! Our body has so many things that help us to survive and thrive. One aspect of our body that I’ve known about for a while, but always been amazed by, is our immune system. It is such a complex army of different cells and signals that protect us from all kinds of different attacks.

When you cut your toe on a sharp rock, your body almost immediately sends a flood of red blood cells to clot and stop the bleeding. These platelets then send out chemicals called cytokines to alert more cells to come start healing the region and to alert the immune system that it needs to come and scan the area for any type of invading infection. Because all of these different types of cells and chemicals are being sent to the injured place is part of why it starts to swell and we see inflammation.

If there WAS any bacteria that got into the body, the immune system is poised to attack! Right on the surface, basically guarding the gates are 2 types of white blood cells, neutrophils and macrophages. Neutrophils are the most numerous, ~60-70% of all white blood cells. Neutrophils go on the attack with a number of different weapons. They can either eat the bacteria, spit chemicals at it, or set up a web to catch them in. While these neutrophils have many talents, their partner in the defense, macrophages, are much more smash and grab-esque. They just swim around the area of the infection and eat anything that shouldn’t be there. This includes those pesky bacteria, but it also includes any damaged cells that were lost in the battle.

As super cool as all of this is, this is not what I am most impressed by when it comes to the immune system. What I’m fascinated by is our immune system’s ability to have a memory. Any time one of those bacteria or viruses come into the human body, the immune system takes note of it. It recognizes how they fought off the bacteria and learn how to fight it off better in the future. Through a completely natural process, your body keeps track of all of the horrible things that have come into your body.

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Your soul is kind of like that with one slight but important difference.

As we go about our lives, our sins damage our souls. People use the analogy of it being sparkly white at baptism, then every sin we commit is like throwing dirt on it. But that dirt stains. It stains our souls and it will remain dirty forever. There is no earthly way to clean it. There is no natural process to get rid of that stain.

There is, though, a SUPERnatural way to get rid of it. It is the sacrament of reconciliation. Our God created this world and everything in it. He gave us free will to do whatever we want, even turn against Him. But He is an all-loving God and He wants to be united with us in heaven one day. So He gives us this sacrament to start over, to try again.

Our soul remembers every bad thing, just like the immune system, but through a supernatural process, our soul can be cleaned. It’s like if someone was to hit a restart button on your immune system. Unfortunately, many times our very human brain is not washed clean from the memory as easily. It, like the immune system, holds on to every bad thing you’ve ever done. It makes you feel guilty for years after you have confessed something and were forgiven. This is not what God wants. He tells us that we are forgiven and He means it. He is not like some catty friend who says they have forgiven you, but bring it back up any time you have an argument. Just like the immune system, that friend is an earthly example of healing. God perfectly forgives us, as if the sin was never there in the first place.

I’ve heard all too often that this guilt, this knowing that you keep committing the same sins over and over again that you had confessed previously, holds people back from going to confession. They see every time they’ve committed this sin, just like the immune system remembers every time that infection was present. But that’s not how God sees us. He only sees the sins since our last confession, the rest are history. They are gone.

This is where we have to act like the immune system. When an invader appears, the immune system learns from its mistake and fights back even harder, working to rid that badness from the body. We must not feel guilt that we have let this sin back into our soul as we have before, we must have hope knowing that our God is greater than any sin. Then we must fight back harder and better, going to confession as often as we can.

It is truly up-lifting to experience God’s love and mercy, to feel that weight taken off of you. When you get sick from a bacteria or virus, we don’t just sit in it waiting for it to get worse. We take action, and our body takes action. It feels so much better when our body has rid us of the infection and we are healthy.

Don’t you want your soul to feel that way too?

Canon law lists the “precepts of life” as a faithful Catholic (the requirements for being a Catholic in good standing with the Church) as:

  • honoring the Lord’s Day and holy days of obligation 
  • participating in the sacrament of reconciliation at least once every year
  • receiving the Eucharist during the Easter season 
  • fasting on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday 
  • supporting the material needs of the church

Many Catholics do not know these and do not follow these. They have forgotten, or they were never taught. In the coming weeks, many people will begin to prepare for the Christmas season and for cold season. This involves cleaning and decorating your house for guests to come over, but what if we prepared our souls for the Christmas liturgical season. I invite all of you to join me in participating in the sacrament of reconciliation. Even though the requirement is once a year, Catholics are encouraged to attend once every Lent and once every Advent as we prepare for the great holy days of Easter and Christmas. So as you prepare for these holy days, don’t just think of sanitizing any surface your kids touch so that there aren’t any germs for your big holiday party, but cleanse your soul too.

You can easily find reconciliation times near you by going to, or many churches offer a penance service specifically for the Advent season so that a large number of people can come and be healed. I encourage you to look into this, and I hope you stay healthy during this wonderful time of the year.