The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our New Church

A few weeks ago the construction of our new parish church was completed. It's been a long time coming.

The original church of St. Vincent de Paul  in Wildwood, Florida was built as a relatively small mission church, supporting St. Lawrence Parish in Bushnell, Florida. When I moved to Florida and was first assigned to the parish as a deacon almost 11 years ago the mission schedule included only three or four weekend Masses. The pastor celebrated daily Mass a few days each week. On the other days, Deacon Byron and I conducted Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion. But with the growth of The Villages, one of the nation's largest retirement communities, the Bishop of Orlando made St. Vincent de Paul a parish in its own right. That same growth, however, generated huge crowds each weekend. During the peak season our attendance surged to 5,000 people in a church that could comfortably seat perhaps 500, requiring us to schedule between 9 and 11 Masses every weekend. Since The Villages continues to grow, a larger church was necessary.

After a few years of fits and starts, we now have our new church that seats approximately 1,100 people, and it is wonderful! On the evening of August 27, Bishop John Noonan of the Diocese of Orlando will conduct the Mass of Dedication, an event the entire parish family looks forward to.

Here's a photo I took earlier today of the front of the new church. I will add photos of the interior in a few days.
St. Vincent de Paul Church, Wildwood, Florida

Monday, August 18, 2014

Persecution of Christians: Some Links

After posting my earlier comments on the rise of chaos in the world, I thought my readers might find a few related articles of interest. Here are the links:

US Enables Christian Persecution

Islamist - Nazi Connection

Christianity Finished in Iraq

Pope Francis: Trust in God Overcomes Worldly Fears

...all are interesting and relevant reads.

And here's a world map showing the nations in which the persecution of Christians is greatest:

For more information go to: Open Doors

God's peace.

Chaos Rising

Here I am, just a few weeks shy of my 70th birthday, and I can't recall a time in my life when both the nation and the world seemed to be moving so rapidly toward the brink of total chaos. One can only marvel at those in the affluent, self-absorbed West who bury their heads in the sand believing all is right in the world.

You'll quickly discover what I mean if you spend a morning or afternoon watching the business shows on CNBC or Fox Business Channel. The denizens of these networks, whether bulls, bears, or creatures in-between, distill everything down to economics. Money and high finance rule. Each apparently believes that, at its core, every problem is related to the economy. Party affiliation or political labels seem to matter little. Their solutions certainly vary, from the libertarian's "anything goes" approach that borders on anarchy to the don't-call-me-a-socialist's "turn it all over to the government" approach that leads only to Orwell's Big Brother. And as they talk, and predict, and cheer and jeer, the stock ticker runs across the bottom of the screen, a constant reminder of the current state of these tiny pieces of the economy. For those worried about the condition of their 401Ks, or who hope their penny stocks will soar into Apple territory, I suppose it's all very addictive. The viewer comes to believe that ultimately  the shape of the future will be determined by the Dow Jones Average.

In truth, the future of civilization will be determined by the battles being waged between ideology and religion, between the many brands of totalitarianism and freedom, between a horrific brand of Islam and civilization itself, between those who worship man as a god and those who worship a Man as God. If you were to ask an al-Qaeda leader or an ISIL follower (or ISIS or whatever these barbarians call themselves today) why they wage war against the West, I'm pretty sure the answer wouldn't focus on economics or NASDAQ futures. They know we are in the midst of a global war, a spiritual war that most people in Western Europe and the U.S. blithely ignore. 

Western elitists, the descendants of a Christendom that no longer exists, are apparently oblivious to the ramifications of what's taking place in the world's unenlightened corners. They don't take the idea of spiritual warfare seriously because they don't take the idea of God seriously. In their enlightened progressivism they believe that society, especially their society, is moving unrelentingly forward. And they believe this despite the global barbarism of the past hundred years. I suspect such thinking often arises from a subtle form of racism that views events in the so-called Third World and the Southern Hemisphere as unimportant or certainly far less important than what happens in the developed world. At best it's the product of a myopic parochialism that prevents one from seeing beyond its self-defined borders. And for some it stems from simple ignorance, abetted by the political correctness that controls much of what passes for education these days.

And yet the war rages and continues to expand. One thing is certain: unlike many in the developed West, the people of Africa and the Middle East know they are in a war zone. Although the Middle East will always be the primary battleground, Africa might eventually rival the Middle East because Christianity on that continent has experienced such remarkable growth. This growth is perceived as a real threat by those who would destroy Christianity. Based on the common, erroneous belief that Christianity, and more specifically Catholicism, is in decline, few Westerners, including Western Christians, are aware of the extent of this growth. For example, how many know that Catholics in sub-Sahara Africa increased from 2 million in 1900 to over 130 million in 2000? -- a remarkable growth rate of over 4% annually. Or that Gallup estimates the total number of African Catholics today at over 200 million? The fact that the growth of the Catholic Church in Africa has outpaced the growth of the continent's overall population is a sign of some very healthy evangelization. 

According to recent study by CESNUR (The Center for the Study of New Religions), among African countries, 31 have Christian majorities, 21 have Muslim majorities and 6 have populations which adhere mostly to traditional African religions. In 1900 Christians in Africa totalled ten million; in 2012 this number reached five hundred million. In 1900 only 2% of Christians in the world were African; today, this figure has risen to 20%. In ten years time Africa will be the largest continental bloc within Christianity, outdoing Europe and the Americas. “This data is still not widely known," stated sociologist Massimo Introvigne, CESNUR’s founder, "but they have a profound historical, cultural and political significance. There are now more practicing Christians in Africa than in Europe. In the long run, this will not only change Africa but Christianity as well, as John Paul II had intuited..."

“Of course, not everyone is happy about this development,” Introvigne added. The sociologist claimed that this growth in the number of Christians across the African continent is likely behind many of the attacks on Christians. “Some Islamic ultra-fundamentalists consider it scandalous that there are more Christians than Muslims in Africa and proceed to persecute and kill Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya. The way the ultra-fundamentalists see it, today the battle which will determine whether the world will be Muslim or Christian is being fought in Africa. And that Islam is losing. This is why they are responding with bombs.” In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood's primary target has been Christians and Christian churches. The same is true of Boko Haram in Nigeria. And the Islamists who carried the Nairobi mall massacre made a point of singling out Christians.

This desire to destroy Christianity isn't restricted to Africa. It's even more apparent in the Middle East. We've heard a lot of talk out of Iraq recently about the potential "genocide" of the Yazidi people by ISIL. And what is happening to that people is certainly horrendous. But how many Westerners realize what's happening to the larger Christian community in Iraq? Indeed, how many know what's been happening to Christians throughout the world, particularly in Muslim-majority countries? Christians in Pakistan and Iran are persecuted, imprisoned and murdered simply because of their beliefs. In Iraq the Islamist jihadists of ISIL are beheading young Christian children and displaying their severed heads on pikes. They are crucifying Christians and staging mass executions of anyone who resists converting to their vicious form of Islam. As a result Christians are fleeing the Middle East and their once-thriving communities have all but disappeared.

About all this our nation has done little, and said even less. Indeed, our selective concern seems almost arbitrary. In 2011, we joined the British and the French and bombed Libya's Gaddafi regime out of existence. Ironically, it's likely more Libyan civilians have died since Gaddafi's overthrow than before. And as the power of the Islamists has increased in that country, so too has the persecution and exodus of Libyan Christians.

Only a year later, when confronted by a far worse situation in Syria, we did virtually nothing, other than draw some imaginary red lines in the sand. The result has been the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians and the growth of ISIL into a formidable military force. And now, with half of Iraq in the hands of ISIL, we limit our response to humanitarian assistance and highly selective air strikes that have only driven ISIL underground where they will resort to classic insurgency tactics. I suspect ISIL, flush with cash and modern weaponry, will only grow stronger. And in the meantime the Christians of Syria and Iraq are being slaughtered by the jihadists. 

After Mass yesterday morning a parishioner asked me, "Are we in the end times? Do you think Jesus will come soon?" I told her I had no idea. Indeed, Our Lord made a point of reminding us that no one knows when the end will come. But He also told us not to ignore the signs. Read Matthew, Chapter 24, and pray for our world, for yourself, and for those you love. Pray that in the midst of the chaos, we will remain true to Jesus Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

I conclude with the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
"...from the beginning the Church lives in prayerful waiting for her Lord, scrutinizing the signs of the times and putting the faithful on guard against recurring messiahs, who from time to time announce the world's end is imminent. In reality, history must run its course, which brings with it also human dramas and natural calamities. In it a design of salvation is developed that Christ has already brought to fulfillment in his incarnation, death, and resurrection. The Church continues to proclaim this mystery and to announce and accomplish it with her preaching, celebration of the sacraments, and witness of charity." [The Joy of Knowing Christ, p. 115]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Homily: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

Almost fifty years ago, it what now seems to be another lifetime, I was a young naval officer, a flight student in Pensacola. Three of us, all happy bachelors, had rented a house – well, it was really a hovel, but it had three bedrooms and cost us only $85 a month, total. You can imagine what it was like.

One hot summer day, since I was scheduled to fly that night, I decided to take an afternoon nap. I was awakened by a near-deafening noise, like nothing I’d heard before. Not only had my little world turned noisy, it had also turned dark. I was sure I’d overslept and thought of all the trouble I’d be in if I missed my flight. But the roaring outside my window pushed those thoughts aside; I ran to the door and walked onto our front steps to see what was causing it.

It took only a second. A tornado, black and ominous, was just a hundred yards away. As it moved along the next street, it overturned cars and trucks, sent huge chunks of debris flying into the air, and sparked electrical fires. I stood on that step, frozen, my eyes locked on that funnel cloud only a block away.

At that moment I realized there was nothing I could do, nowhere I could go. Our little hovel offered no protection. I could not save myself. And so I did the only thing I could do. I just stood there, and asked God to keep me safe, to save me from the storm. In a minute it was gone – and in that sudden silence I thanked the Lord for His mercy. It was then, too, I realized I was soaked to the bone. I’d been standing on the front step and hadn’t even noticed the torrential rain. Fear can do that to you.

I know I experienced God’s voice in the silence that followed. God speaks to each of us, but to hear His voice in the storms and the quiet of our lives, we must listen, just as Elijah listened.

Fleeing Ahab and his wicked queen, Jezebel, and fearing for his life, Elijah, God’s prophet, was led by the Spirit to God’s holy place, Horeb, or Sinai. He entered a cave there, and in the darkness awaited God’s word. But God called him out of the cave and Elijah found himself in the midst of nature’s devastating power: a fierce tornado-like wind, then a destructive earthquake, and finally a fire.

But in none of these did Elijah hear the Lord; and so he waited. And in the silence he heard “a tiny whispering sound,” [1 Kg 19:12] the voice of God speaking to him. God, who controls the entirety of creation in all its majesty, revealed Himself in humility, in peace, in a gentle breeze revealing the whisper of His own heart.

And what did Elijah do? He “hid his face” [1 Kg 19:13] for he knew He was in the presence of God. He hid his face because in Elijah’s time God had not yet become man. The world would have to wait hundreds of years for that. Until then God, in His person, remained hidden.

And yet, Elijah’s encounter offered a foretaste of the Incarnation, the self-humbling of God, who chose to enter the world like a whisper in a stable in Bethlehem

…who, though sinless, allowed Himself to be baptized in the Jordan

…who offered Himself as victim to be tortured, crucified on the Cross by the very ones He created.

Yes, the more God humbles Himself, the more He reveals His love and who He is. And He does so most often in the silence of our lives. My father used to ask, “How much do you learn about the other person when you’re talking?” The answer, of course, is “not much.” This applies as well to our prayer.

Brothers and sisters, God wants to reveal Himself to us, but He doesn’t force it. He simply calls us. He calls us to a relationship through prayer. Prayer is simply a conversation, a dialog with God, in which God speaks and reveals, and we respond. We must listen in silence, listen to God’s Word, and recognize His voice, the “tiny whispering sound” that will penetrate our very souls, if only we let it.

We see this as well with Peter, who like Elijah also had a stormy encounter with God. Jesus had been on the mountain in communion with the Father; then in the darkness He came down to the sea, and walked upon it.

On that same stormy sea the apostles, tossed about in their boat, were afraid. When they saw Jesus waking toward them in the midst of the storm and gloom, their fear was magnified. It must be an apparition, a ghost. They saw, but did not recognize Jesus. Only when He spoke, only when they heard His voice, His Word, did recognition come.

And what did He say? “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” [Mt 14:27] The Greek phase, ego eimi, can be translated as “It is I”, but in the original Greek it means “I am.” And these two words take us back to God’s revelation of His name to Moses at the burning bush: “Tell the Israelites I AM has sent me to you.” [Ex 3:14] Jesus, then, revealed His divinity through His domination of creation by walking on the stormy sea, and through His Word: “I AM.”

But as usual the apostles doubted. Yes, their faith, like ours, was often weak. It’s a weakness that reaches its peak on Calvary when they hid, unwilling to recognize the Lord in that place of fear. Is it any wonder that, again and again, Jesus told them, as He tells us, “Be not afraid”?

On the water, Jesus spoke as He moved toward them, closing the gap, the huge gap that had always separated God from man. No longer must we hide our faces. No longer must we fear His presence for He calls each one of us into friendship, into a sacred, personal relationship. But that day, on the water, this was not yet evident.

What does Peter do? In his boldness, he challenged the Lord. How often you and I are like that, weak in faith we challenge God, looking for some quid pro quo: “Okay, God, prove yourself to me. Do this, Do that.” In effect Peter said, “If it’s really you, let me walk on the water too.”

Jesus uttered only one word, the word He says to all of us: “Come.” [Mt 14:28] Come. Come to me and I will ease all your burdens, remove all your fears.

Peter responds and in faith steps out of the boat. But then, as we so often do, he allows fear to dominate his faith. He turns from Jesus and sees instead the wind, the stormed-tossed sea, and in fear and doubt he begins to sink. Now, with a name like Peter – “The Rock” – I suspect he sank rather quickly. But Peter, the man of emotion, doesn’t hesitate and overcome by fear speaks the words we so often cry out in our own failures of faith: “Lord, save me!” Jesus, of course, responds at once. He reaches out a hand and grasps Peter, pulling him to safety.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is our Savior not because of our piety or because of anything we have done…and certainly not because of our weak faith. He is our Savior simply because, out of love, He saves us. Because He is first our Savior, we can enjoy the wonder of a personal relationship with God Himself.

Now, I didn’t encounter God in that Pensacola tornado; no I saw only a storm, nature unleashed thanks to original sin. But like Peter I called out to God, and like Elijah I encountered God in the silence.

But the next morning I wandered over to the scene of destruction on Jackson Street; and It was there I saw God. I saw Him in the hundreds of people who volunteered to help their neighbors whose homes and businesses had been hammered by that storm. They cleared debris, brought food and clothing, and ministered to the victims in every way imaginable. It was in this selfless work, in this manifestation of love for one’s neighbor, that God’s quiet voice could be heard that day in Pensacola.

God is always there, calling us – “Come…and I will reveal my will for you.” – We need only listen.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

In our nation's capital President Nothing seemingly ignores what is happening in northern Iraq. The vicious Islamists of ISIS have in recent months taken over a rather large portion of Iraq. This was a direct result of President Nothing's abandoning Iraq by removing all U.S. forces. And so today ISIS is murdering Christians -- men, women and children -- by the hundreds and probably by the thousands. They are destroying Christian churches and killing priests in an attempt to eliminate Christianity and create their caliphate of evil. And as Christians are slaughtered where they have thrived for 2,000 years, President Nothing jets around the country fundraising and thanking Muslims for "the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy."  I wonder if he can name a single Muslim who "built the fabric of our nation." And when it comes to strengthening democracy, Islam's record is non-existent.

At this point I'm going to write something that is radically politically goes. God is a God of love; God is not the Allah of hatred worshipped by ISIS and those who support them. These ISIS jihadists are certainly not doing the work of God, so let's stop pretending they are religiously motivated. They are motivated solely by hatred and bloodlust. And sadly it's apparent that a sizable number of Muslims living in the Islamic world support radical jihadists of one form or another. In many Muslim nations a majority call for the imposition of the brutalities of Shariah Law.  Indeed, polls taken throughout the Islamic world confirm this conclusion. And even more disturbing is the fact that this support seems to be growing.

And in the West, especially in Western Europe, we see the revival of a virulent anti-Semitism. Today's European (and far too many American) know-nothings support the terrorists of Hamas and condemn democratic Israel for doing less than what any other nation would justifiably do under similar circumstances. Israel is apparently the only nation in the world that is prohibited from defending itself when attacked by a hostile neighbor. Actually, when one hears the rants and reads the posters of the protestors, it's apparent they're not motivated by the polite, euphemistic anti-Semitism so common among today's European elites. No, they are motivated by nothing less than a visceral hatred of Jews, pure and simple.

Chaos is coming, folks, and it's name is Jihad. Perhaps it's time for another Crusade.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Flannery O'Connor - August 3, 1964

Flannery O'Connor died 50 years ago yesterday, on Auugst 3, 1964. Born in Savannah on March 25, 1925, she spent most of her life in Milledgeville, Georgia where she wrote two wonderful novels and some of the best short stories in the English language. She died far too young of complications from Lupus. She was only 39 years old.

I first read O'Connor in 1962, when my senior English teacher assigned one of her stories, "Good Country People." Even at 17 I had read a lot of good fiction, including many short stories, but I had never read anything quite like this odd tale. I ended up reading it at least four times in one evening, wondering why I was being asked to read about these strange, back woods Southerners who seemed so unlike any people I had ever known, certainly not at all like the people who lived in our suburban New York town. Believe me when I say that I had never encountered an evil, or even a good, door-to-door Bible salesman. No one like that ever came knocking in Larchmont. Neither had I ever come across an atheistic, one-legged woman with a PhD in philosophy who lived on her mother's farm. Gradually, though, as I re-read the story, I came to recognize bits and pieces of myself (and others) in each of the characters and began to understand that rural Georgia was merely the setting for a wonderful story about the reality of the human condition. I was hooked, and thus began my love affair with Flannery O'Connor and her work.

If you haven't read her, do so. She wrote 32 well-crafted short stories, each meant to be savored and slowly digested. Her two novels, too, are masterpieces. Here are some links:

The Complete Stories, by Flannery O'Connor

Wise Blood, a novel by Flannery O'Connor

The Violent Bear It Away, a novel by Flannary O'Connor

The Habit of Being, Letters of Flannery O'Connor

I've included the last, a collection of her letters, because it's by far the best and most interesting collection of letters I've ever read.

Dear Diane and I have made the pilgrimage to Andalusia, her home and family farm in Milledgeville, on several occasions and always enjoyed it. Here's a photo of the house in Milledgeville:
Andalusia, the O'Connor home in Milledgeville
...and another of her childhood home in Savannah:

O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah

Rest in Peace, Flannery.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Musing on Thunderstorms

I just came in from talking the dog for her evening walk, in this instance a stroll abbreviated by a fast-moving thunderstorm roaring in from the west. Fortunately little Maddie accomplished her mission before the rains and lightning arrived, so we hustled back home and avoided both a drenching and an electrocution. At the moment it's wet, windy and wild out there which makes one especially grateful for mankind's most advantageous invention: indoor plumbing.

Here in central Florida we're frequented by afternoon thunderstorms, especially during these summer months. This year we seem to be experiencing more than our usual share of these boomers. Indeed, Dear Diane was saying this just the other day, as we watched a seemingly endless succession of lightning bolts streak through the late afternoon sky. The wall-shaking crashes of thunder followed all too soon. It was quite a storm: lightning, thunder and torrents of rain. The only thing missing was hail. As it moved off to attack others, we agreed it was among the strongest storms we had experienced in our ten years here. 

When I was a child in suburban New York and there was the threat of a thunderstorm, I would often sit in one of the big wooden rocking chairs on our neighbor's front porch. Old Mr. Dolan, his grandson, Teddy, and I would rock away, listen to the rain pounding on the porch roof, smell the ozone, watch the lightning, and revel in the thunder crashing around us. It was all very exciting and I don't recall ever being afraid. Perhaps I should have been, but in those days, before instant TV news and YouTube and a thousand Internet sites reporting every odd event on the globe, we just didn't hear much about lightning strikes.

Then, one day, my mother told me of the time -- a few years before I was born -- a bolt of lightning zapped through the open kitchen window of our family's rural Connecticut home and melted the ceiling light fixture above her head. That sure made a believer out of her. What really changed my mind was going through Navy flight training in Pensacola, Florida. It was there that I experienced first-hand the power of these Florida thunderstorms that roll in off the Gulf. I quickly learned to avoid them when flying my trusty T-28 on those steamy summer afternoons. I also lost a friend and fellow flight student who was struck by lightning while walking along the  beach. 
A trusty Navy T-28 Trainer

Recalling that long-ago tragedy reminds me of the late great General Norman Schwarzkopf's comment:

"Unfortunately, if you've ever been in southern Georgia on the beaches in a lightning storm, if you're out there, you're in great, great danger, and you can be killed very, very quickly." 

It's pretty much the same in Florida, General. During our most recent big storm here in The Villages, one home, just a few short blocks away, suffered a lightning strike and the resultant fire caused considerable damage. Fortunately, no one was injured. 
Lightning on the Beach (not a good place to be)

And yet, despite the damage they can inflict, thunderstorms are possessed of a certain beauty. But to appreciate their beauty in its fullness, you must view them from afar. Head west into the wide, open spaces of the plains, or go to sea aboard a ship, and enjoy an unobstructed view all the way to the horizon. Watching these storms race across the landscape (or seascape) as they emit rapid-fire bolts of lightning is spellbinding, a truly amazing sight.

But to experience such storms, up close and personal, is more than humbling. They bring with them a sense of helplessness, a realization that, despite all the precautions one takes, these powerful storms are uncontrollable and largely unpredictable, striking their targets randomly. Before them, our science and technology can do little more than warn us and offer us some level of protective shelter. 
Heavenly Fireworks

From a theological perspective, thunderstorms, along with their far more destructive meteorological cousins, tornadoes and hurricanes, are simply another effect of original sin. With the fall of humanity the preternatural gifts that protected our first parents from illness and death were withdrawn and nature's laws were given free rein, leaving us open to their deadly consequences [Gen 3:16-19]. 

The present storm, raging here and now, is a reminder of our own frailty in the face of God's creation. Yes, we can send men to the moon -- well, okay, at one time we could -- but a well-placed bolt of lightning can destroy the rocket before it even lifts off the pad. God allows these spectacular displays of natural power to let us know that He remains in charge, that you and I are creatures, not the Creator. But like the pharaoh's heart in Exodus, the hearts of modern man are too often hardened by their own perceived power despite the obvious manifestation of God's omnipotence:

He gave them hail for rain, and lightning that flashed through their land [Ps 105:32]. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; thy arrows flashed on every side. The crash of thy thunder was in the whirlwind; thy lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook [Ps 77:17-18].

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Homily: Healing Mass - Saturday, 14th Week in Ordinary Time

Healing Mass

Year 2: Saturday, 14th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 6:1-8 • Psalm 93 • Gospel: Mt 10:24-33

A few weeks ago, as I was making my rounds as chaplain of the day at The Villages Hospital, I entered the room of a man who happened to be one of our parishioners. Normally my wife, Diane, and I minister together as hospital chaplains, but on this particular day Diane was ill and couldn’t join me. Of course, her absence means I’ll more likely say or do something amazingly stupid.

Anyway, I recognized the man, and we talked for a while about his illness. Then I prayed with him and gave him a blessing. I could tell he was both lonely and afraid. And he wasn’t all that comfortable as I prayed for healing. Right before I left, I asked if I could add him to the prayer list of those in our parish who are ill.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I don’t want people to know I’m sick. I’d like to keep it quiet.”

“Oh, okay,” I said and left his room.

After visiting several more patients, I entered a patient’s room to find it crowded with visitors. I apologized for interrupting and said I’d return later, but the patient, a woman in her eighties, just said, “Don’t go. Come on in and join the crowd.” And so I did.

She was a Southern Baptist and her visitors included her husband, a neighbor, several members of her church, and her pastor. The conversation that followed covered the waterfront. We talked about her family, her hometown in South Carolina, her illnesses. In her words, “I’ve got so many things wrong with me, they don’t know which ones to work on. But I really can’t complain; God let me live a lot longer than I expected.”

I asked if I could pray with her, and the whole crowd joined hands. I prayed for healing and peace, that God’s will be done in her life and the lives of all present.  We prayed for her doctors, her nurses, and her husband, and thanked God for the gift of friendship. We thanked God too for the gift of discipleship, for those who listen to the Lord when He says, “I was…ill and you cared for me…”

Before leaving, I remarked that she was blessed to have so many caring for her and praying for her. “Yes,” she said, “I am blessed. And their prayers mean so much. They let me know that I am loved, that I belong.”

Before leaving home that morning, I had asked Diane to pray that I would minister to God’s people worthily and well. She must have done so, because as soon as I left that room I headed back to the room of our parishioner. I sat down next to his bed and said:
“Your Baptism made you a member of the Church, a child of God, a member of a community of the faithful, a community called to love you. Let that community know you need their prayers, because, believe me, you do.

“The prayer of the community brings healing; it brings you to repentance and brings peace of mind and soul; it brings you the joy you seek in your life, the joy promised by the God who loves you. In your illness you are lonely and afraid. But God wants you to love and be loved. He wants you joyful, not fearful.

“Don’t let pride separate you from those who love you, from those who strive to be true disciples by doing God’s will in the world, work which includes loving and praying for you. By letting them pray for you and care for you, you further God’s plan for their salvation and that of the world.”
Those words certainly didn’t come from me. No, the Holy Spirit and Diane’s prayers brought them into being. Anyway, after my little homily, he agreed to be prayed for and as I left I asked him to pray for the Baptist woman down the hall. He gave me a questioning look and I just said: “Just pray for her. Her joy will bring you healing.”

It’s hard not to think of him as I stand before this community of the faithful gathered here today.

We’re gathered in communion. We’re gathered here as the Church, gathered here in Jesus’ holy name, gathered in Christ’s Eucharistic presence; and it’s through that communion that we are graced by healing today.

And that’s today’s first healing thought: it’s through communion, communion with Jesus, communion with each other, indeed, communion with God’s created order that brings healing into our lives.

And let’s not forget, as Jesus reminds us in today’s reading from Matthew: He is “Master of the House” [Mt 10:25]. As His disciples we are joined together in communion as members of God’s household. But we are not the Master. Our redemption and our healing take place on God’s terms, not ours.

As you work to come to terms with God’s terms, you may well find yourself confronting some other, corner of your life where the need for healing is even greater. For, as Jesus told Nicodemus…
“The Spirit blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” [Jn 3:8].
We are here in Jesus’ name, and in Word and Eucharist, so God is with us. Accept His presence.

And don’t resist the Spirit. Let Him move where He wills within you. Open your heart to Him today. Follow His lead. It is through the Spirit, through Him alone, that you will receive the healing God wants for you, that you will come to know God’s will for you.

This leads to our second healing thought: the realization that in our brokenness – and believe me we are all broken in so many ways – you and I are called to be both healed and healer.

How many of us, pushing aside our own perceived needs, respond to Jesus’ call to be healer? How many of you, here today for healing, are pleading with God to heal those sitting next to you? After all, if we have come together today as a communion of faith, if we have gathered here to do our part in bringing God’s healing to His Church, then we must respond to His call to be healers.

We all need healing, brothers and sisters, every one of us. But like my hospitalized parishioner we often don’t understand the depth and breadth of the healing God desires for us. How many, as they suffer from an illness or an injury, immediately become what can only be described as irrational?

“Oh, God, why did you do this to me? How could you give me this horrible illness?”

And then immediately change their tune and say:

“Oh, yeah, and while you’re at it, God, please cure me. Heal me of this illness you gave me.”

Yes, we assign to God that which is evil and that which is good. We give him both the blame and the credit. And yet, in doing so, we place ourselves, not God, as the focus of our complaint and our plea: “Why me, Lord, why me? Heal me, Lord.”

Too often we simply want the evil of illness removed. We don’t even think of asking God to turn that which is evil in our lives into something good. At the root of all this, there is only self-centeredness and fear. In the midst of our focus on self, you and I find nothing but loneliness and despair, just like the man I visited in the hospital.

Do you feel isolated and abandoned in your illness and pain? This never leads to healing but only to despair. Well, then, look around you. Reach out to another in need of healing. Set aside your own needs and minister to the other, to Jesus: “I was…ill and you cared for me” [Mt 25:36]. When we break free of our self-imposed loneliness our fears too disappear.

Understand that fear is natural. Indeed, in our humanity it would be unnatural for us not to fear when our lives are threatened by illness. But listen again to what Jesus says to the disciples:
“…do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” [Mt 10:28]
You see, Jesus is telling us that the Christian, the true disciple, need not accept such fears. And how does Jesus explain this command not to fear the world and the evils it can bring? Simply by letting us know that “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.”

In other words, we should never fear because He promised that, ultimately, the Truth will triumph. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is He who will triumph, and as His disciples, we will join in that victory. And so, Jesus, the Lord of History, assures us that He will overcome every threat to the body, every illness, every persecution.

You see, brothers and sisters, the true disciple – like the martyrs who willingly sacrificed their bodies for the Truth – knows he is more than his body.

This takes us to our third and final healing thought: God always heals the human spirit first.

In our sinfulness we need healing of the soul, for only that can bring us eternal life. Three times in this brief passage Jesus tells the Apostles, and He tells us, not to fear. By doing so He implies that we, like that army of martyrs, must instead rejoice.

Simone Weil
I think again of the eighty-something woman in the hospital, how she rejoiced in her illnesses, how she rejoiced in the gift of life, how she rejoiced in God’s love expressed through those who prayed for her. She knew that God had healed her many times during her long life, healed her body and her spirit. But she knew, too, that whatever healing God gave her this day was the healing He meant for her to have.

Simone Weil, the brilliant, young French philosopher who escaped the Nazis, once wrote:
“Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude.” [Essay on "Love"]
Yes, two very different people – Simone Weil, born Jewish but Catholic by conviction, who died in exile in 1943 at the age of 33; and my Southern Baptist patient in The Villages Hospital – and yet they both came to know this truth about the love of God.

Let me repeat: “Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude.”

We see this displayed again and again in the Gospel -- the love expressed by those who seek healing from the Lord, a love that arises out of their saving faith.

We see it in the faith of the woman who had suffered for 12 years with hemorrhages. [Mk 5:25-34] It is her faith that initiates her healing and salvation. She touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, and does so in complete faith; healing power flows from Jesus to her; the Lord grants her salvation through her faith; she goes in peace, healed spiritually and physically; she goes a disciple.

We see it in the faith of Bartimaeus [Mk 10:46-52], the blind beggar of Jericho, who overcomes the barriers placed between him and Jesus by the disciples. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he calls out to Jesus as Messiah: “Son of David, have pity on me.” Called by Jesus, he throws off his tunic, leaps to his feet and goes to the Lord.

What does he want? To see. To see what? To see the Way, to see the Truth, to see the Life. And the first one he sees is Jesus, Jesus who tells him “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” But Bartimaeus doesn’t go his way. No, he follows Jesus on The Way. He leaves a disciple.

Brothers and sisters, will all of us gathered here today accept the way of the disciple?

Will we join together in communion to do the work of Jesus Christ?

Will we unite our prayers to bring God’s healing power to the world?

Even in the midst of our own brokenness, will we accept our call to be healers, taking Jesus to those in need?

Is there enough wonder in us to accept that God, by healing our spirits, by creating in us new hearts – that by doing this He is doing something even greater than the creation of the universe?

Yes, we have a lot of work to do today. For we are all here not just to be healed, but also to carry God’s healing power to others.

Praised be Jesus Christ…Now and forever.