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!


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Healing Mass Homily

Yesterday at noon our parish, St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wildwood, Florida, celebrated a healing Mass that brought in over 500 people. Here's a link to an article that appeared in our local newspaper, The Villages Daily Sun, on Friday, the day prior to the Mass.

Several weeks ago, when I was asked to preach at the Mass, I was told that the participants would expect a long homily, up to 30 minutes. My initial response was, "Aren't they Catholic?" But then it was explained to me that the Mass was sponsored by our local charismatic prayer group, and that they had invited folks from neighboring parishes and even some nearby Protestant churches. So I compromised and prepared a 20-minute homily, hoping the non-charismatic Catholics wouldn't get too antsy and the charismatics wouldn't feel cheated. My homily follows...

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I’m going to begin by sharing a couple of truths with you.

First of all, everyone needs healing. That’s right…everyone. Some of us might have a need for physical healing, but all of us, every single one of us, has a need for spiritual healing. We’re not all physically ill, but we are all sinners.

And I suppose, if you think about it, this very fact means that this church should be overflowing with people today. It should be standing room only at St. Vincent de Paul. And surprise, surprise…it is. Praise God!

And this brings up the second truth I’d like to share with you. Each of us, at one time or another, experiences fear.

Now fear can come in many different guises. Fear will even keep some folks from a healing Mass. Like the apostle Thomas, they will allow doubts and a lack of faith to separate themselves from the Church at a time when they most need the prayers of the Church. They want reassurances and proof that they aren’t being foolish by believing something that by its very nature can’t be proven.

Of course it’s normal to struggle with doubt and with the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, fears that accompany it. That’s right, doubt and fear are normal. And Thomas wasn’t the only Apostle to experience them.

While Thomas doubted, the rest of the Apostles feared. Their fear was so great after Jesus’ death, their faith so weak, that they locked themselves in the upper room. Fear like that can sometimes be paralyzing. It can drive us away from others, from those who presence we often need the most.

Back in 2001 I was asked by a parishioner to bless their home. The date was September 11 and I planned to stop by that evening. When I arrived, Ed and his extended family, his children and grandchildren, were all sitting in the family room watching TV, trying to understand what had happened in NY and Washington on that horrible day.

I asked Ed if he’d rather I return some other day, but he said, “No. I think a blessing might be just what we need.” He turned off the TV and asked me to join him and his family in prayer for our nation. And so we did.

Everyone joined in prayer except Peg, his wife. Later, as I was blessing their home, I entered the kitchen and saw her sitting alone at the table. She was shaking, shaking so much she was unable to pick up the cup of tea in front of her.

The events of that day had so terrified her that she refused even to speak to me. Ed later told me it was nearly two weeks before she would even step outside her home...so great was her fear. And once again I thought of Thomas.

Following Jesus’ death, Thomas, for some reason separated himself from the Apostles. The others had managed to stay together, loyal but fearful. And it was to them that Jesus appeared.

We, too, can make that mistake. When sorrow comes to us, when sadness overwhelms us, when illness allows fear to envelop us, we can shut ourselves away from others. This only deprives us of a basic resource of our faith: the support and love and prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We all experiences times of discouragement, times when God seems so very far away, times when it’s hard, so very hard, to hold onto God with our own strength. It’s precisely at these times when we need each other’s presence and strength. This is what Thomas discovered. Disillusioned by the death of His Lord, he had lost his grip on his faith. Like Peg sitting alone in the kitchen, with fear as her only companion, when Thomas was by himself his faith only weakened. When he separated himself from the prayer of the Church, Thomas couldn’t believe.

He might not have believed what the others had told him, but out of loneliness if nothing else, he rejoined the tiny community. And it was in that community that Christ once again became real to him. Peg, too, rejoined her family and her faith community. Indeed, a few weeks later at a special Mass for the parish prayer group, she received the graces that dispelled her fears.

And this is an important point. Some things can happen to us within the fellowship of the church that won’t happen when we’re alone. It’s by coming together that we can dispel our fears, the fears that come with illness, the fears that accompany anxiety, depression and emotional upheaval.

This is why we celebrate healing Masses such as this, to celebrate the fact that we are all together in this quest for wholeness and healing. And to take advantage of Christ’s healing presence in the Eucharist. In one respect, then, every Mass is a healing Mass. And when you receive the Blessed Sacrament, you should expect miracles, miracles of grace. Jesus always answers your prayer — not always the way you want, but when you come to Him in faith, and not in fear, you won’t be disappointed.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid. Indeed, three times in this passage, Jesus tells them not to be afraid. “Be not afraid.” It’s a constant theme running throughout the Gospels. Yes, fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; but this fear is rather a feeling of awe and reverence before the ultimate mystery that is God. Over and over again Jesus said, “Don't be afraid!” And St John wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

God wants our love, not our fear. You see, Jesus knows what fear can do to us. And He offers the only antidote to fear as a gift, the gift of faith. It’s a gift freely given. We need only ask for it. We need only turn to God in prayer, with the humility and trust of a child, and this wonderful, life-altering gift is ours.

And this brings up another point. If you have come to this Mass strictly to receive a healing, then in all likelihood nothing will happen. To my knowledge there’s no one here blessed with an extraordinary gift of healing.

But if you have come to pray, if you have come to open yourself up to God’s Word and God’s love, then you can expect great things to happen. Brothers and sisters, when we pray the prayer of the Church, Christ’s holy and redeeming sacrifice of the Mass, when we come together in thanksgiving to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ is present.

Oh, how He is present!

Just as He was on the Cross, as He too uttered those all too human words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Just as He was when the Risen Christ entered that upper room and was greeted by Thomas with those faith-filled words, “My Lord and my God.” And when Christ is present, His love is present. And when His love is present, healing takes place.

If we didn’t believe that, there’d be little reason for us to come together today. You see, it’s Our Lord’s deep compassionate and unconditional love that heals us.

But before I wander too far afield, let me return to those two truths: healing and fear.

These are Gospel truths, you know. They’re Gospel truths because they are such an integral part of the Gospel.

Jesus did a lot of things during His public ministry. He preached, He taught, He listened, He warned, He prophesied…but the one thing He did everywhere He went was heal…and He told us not to fear.

He calls us to do the same. That’s right; we are to take part in Jesus’ healing ministry by bringing others to Him.

Remember the healing of the paralytic, an event described by Matthew, Mark and Luke? The paralytic – lowered through the roof – by his friends who, despite all obstacles, find a way to carry him to Jesus. Note the great faith, the hope in Christ expressed by those who carry this man to Jesus: the Gospel text is explicit about Jesus noticing their faith and responding to it.

And note, too, the triple miracle that occurred that day in Capernaum. First, Jesus read the minds of those who were murmuring against him, who were accusing Him of blasphemy. And, of course, there was the physical healing of the paralytic, the one miracle, the obvious one that all present could see. And it was through this physical healing that Jesus proved and demonstrated His divine power, that he had the power to perform the greatest miracle of that day, to heal the soul, to offer spiritual healing through the forgiveness of sins.

You see, physical healing by God is never an end in itself. It always aims at something else, something much greater: the soul’s spiritual healing – to remove our fears, to continue the lifelong conversion that our faith demands of us.

And so, why are you here today? Are you here only for physical healing? Or are you here to experience Christ’s redemptive work of healing and salvation?

I can recall the first healing Mass I ever attended. Father Gabriel looked at us told us gently that Jesus wants to heal the whole man, the whole woman. “Any healing today,” he said, “won’t come because of me, or because of any of us present here today. Only One Presence can heal us. For only God is love; and only God’s love can heal.”

He then lifted a cross and held it up for all to see and asked the congregation: Did your mother die for you? Did your father die for you? Your husband? Your wife? Your best friend? No, only Jesus died for you. And only God loves you with the love that can heal. Any healing you receive today, any healing whether of body or soul, is through Jesus Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit.”

Jesus on the Cross is God with skin on, a personal, relational God. And He tells us that God not only knows everything about us, but actually cares about us. He’s God up close and personal and touching. He lives in our world…speaking...guiding...healing… walking with us...eating, drinking, crying. A God who is compassionate, caring and loving. A God who is willing to go to the cross for us.

Father Gabriel then added, “For those who do not receive a physical healing, it’s not that you don’t have faith – no, not at all. You see,” he explained, “within God’s providence suffering is allowed.”

Yes, brothers and sisters, we need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this too often, the fact that the Lord took his wounds with him to eternity. He is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him. He let himself be injured through his love for us. His wounds are a sign for us that he understands and allows himself to be wounded out of love for us. These wounds of his: how real they are to us today.

Indeed, time and again, the Lord allows Himself to be wounded for our sake. Yes, Jesus continues to share in the sufferings of the world. What a gift those wounds are! What a consolation! It is through those eternal wounds that we can come to experience the certainty of His mercy. It is those wounds that remove the doubts and fears, just as they did for Thomas as he fell to his knees and uttered, "My Lord and my God!

What a duty they are for us, the duty to allow ourselves in turn to be wounded for him! For this is the first purpose of Sacrament of Healing: to allow us to join our sufferings to those of Christ on the Cross. This very act on our part makes our sufferings redemptive.

And, yes, we are all in need of healing. And so this sacrament, through the power of the Holy Spirit, sometimes leads to physical healing…but it always leads to spiritual healing.

You are here today to pray together, to be anointed, to receive the healing power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son. So you can leave this church today knowing that you have work to do, the work of the Holy Spirit. For that, too, is a duty that comes with our faith.

Yes, it’s easy to say, “Jesus I love you.” But Jesus says in reply, “Show me.”

Like the men who carried the paralytic to Jesus, do I want to help others experience Jesus’ healing touch? Do I appreciate enough those who try to carry me to Jesus, those who love me? Do I realize that I’m capable of doing the work of Jesus Christ – that through the power of prayer I can bring God’s healing power to the world? Is there enough wonder in me to accept that God, by healing my spirit, by creating in me a new heart – that by doing this He is doing something greater than creating the material world?

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.

God love you, and bless you, and heal you...

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