Even in a field hospital, some life threatening conditions can only be diagnosed, managed, and a cure attempted, by a surgeon, a person skilled in the parting and closing of flesh. Their deep knowledge of anatomy and pathology, and their excellent skills at incision, excision, suturing and bleeding control can save the patient’s life.
However, before the discovery of anaesthesia, most patients perished under the knife because surgery was so traumatic, painful and bloody. Alternatively, some patients would prefer to die untreated rather than face the proffered horror.
Nowadays, thanks to the triad of anaesthesia, sleep, pain relief and muscle relaxation, there is no surgical intervention that cannot be attempted. The anaesthetic can even be continued postoperatively for those who are too sick and frail to wake up immediately, while awaiting their sometimes prolonged recovery.
Surgeons and anaesthetists devote the time of their lives to care of the sick, and yet both are completely useless without the other.
The soul surgery that the Church offers to the sinner must be dealt with using a similar division of labour. A moral theologian/canon lawyer is needed to dissect right down to the marrow to root out the last vestiges of sepsis and cancer within the soul. However, a pastor must also be present to prevent the soul from literally giving up the ghost. Some priests may possess both skillsets but many will need training.
Christ during His ministry on Earth was the perfect physician who possessed perfect competence and power over sin, illness, disability and even death. He combined it with an attractive authority never seen before, and a deep empathic kindness that drew crowds of suffering and lost sinners to Him.
He reserved his righteous ire for the bloodthirsty and cruel pharisees, and for the soft-hearted and wrong-headed Peter (“Get thee behind me Satan!”). He actually became physically violent when he found his beloved Temple, his operating theatre if you like, full of useless money-men and their filth.
The Church, in continuing its Master’s work, must combine His competence, power, authority, and His kindness, all at the same time, in the eternal task of saving every sinner who comes to it for help.