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!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Healing Mass Homily

Today at noon our parish celebrated a Healing Mass. We had a wonderful turnout, probably 250-300 people. The Mass was sponsored by our parish's charismatic prayer group, and so we had a lively, Spirit-filled time of it. It was an honor to have been asked to preach at the Mass, and so I thought I'd share my homily with you. It's a little longer than usual, but I had a captive audience and they didn't seem to mind.

One thing about my homilies. I have a little notebook I carry around  with me. If I hear another preacher say something that interests me, or if I read something I think might be useful later, I jot it down and don't hesitate to use it in one of my own homilies, often years later. I may or may not write the name of the preacher or the source, but even when I do, later on the name often means nothing to me. And so, when I prepared this homily, I referred to several of my little notebooks for ideas, and thank those anonymous preachers and writers who inspired my jottings.

Healing Mass – July 10, 2010
Year 2: Saturday, 14th Week of Ordinary Time
Readings: Is 6:1-8 • Psalm 93 • Gospel: Mt 10:24-33

Good afternoon, and welcome to this Mass of Healing here at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. We are blessed to have such a nice crowd here today. Praise God.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Deacon Dana McCarthy, one of the permanent deacons assigned here to St. Vincent de Paul, and I am truly honored to have been asked to preach to you here today at this healing Mass.

Now I was told that there would be a lot of charismatic Catholics and other Spirit-filled Christians here today. Is that true? Well, praise God. That’s wonderful, because we want the Holy Spirit here today in all His power, in all His glory, so we can come to know our loving Father better, all through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me begin by simply saying…

Peace and blessings to you!

That’s the very greeting of peace and well being with which St. Francis of Assisi embraced his 13th century world…and it’s really a Gospel message of healing.

Francis had experienced such deep inner conversion that the peace of the Risen Christ permeated every fiber of his being. He was particularly sensitive to all that divided the human heart -- violence, hatred, envy, anger, lack of forgiveness, lust, greed, materialism, and, yes, illness – and pained by this division, he became an “Instrument of Peace” to so many who were deeply in need of healing. Those who responded to his evangelical invitation discovered that life really was worth living, and they discovered, too, a love far deeper than they ever dreamed possible.

True liberation from all that divides our hearts comes from allowing ourselves to be lifted by a God who loves beyond words. It comes from allowing yourself to be loved, allowing yourself to be healed. Francis, the peace-giver, was one of those rare people who put others in touch with Jesus Christ, the source of all peace, the source of this healing from which flows such gentle power.

Now, I have a question for you…Does God will illness? Does He want us to get sick or injured?

No! Of course not. God doesn’t look at us and say, “You know, Betty’s been pretty healthy lately. I think I’ll get her attention and afflict her with, oh let’s go with rheumatoid arthritis.”

No, that’s just not what God is like, for God is a loving God.

One evening some years ago I was asked to conduct a wake service for a young man who had been killed when a drunk driver hit his car head-on.  As I was about to begin the service I heard a man say to the widow and her children, “It was God’s will. All we can do is accept it.”

Well, let me tell you, I almost came unglued. I approached them and said, “No! God did not will this to happen. What happened was an evil thing, and God does not will evil. The death of this good man, this husband and father, was the result of sin, not of his sin, but of the sinfulness of the world. Only God can overcome that sin, but if we turn to Him in faith, if we ask Him to help us cope with this tragedy in our lives, He will give us the grace we need. You can be certain that God didn’t will this to happen, for Jesus told us clearly, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly’ [Jn 10:10].”

Yes, Jesus went about that Holy Land of the Patriarchs and Prophets bringing this message and the remarkable gift of newness to people. Through a word, a touch, a smile, and often a challenge, He brought every kind of healing -- physical, mental, and most importantly spiritual. Through these healings He brought to birth the Kingdom of God that has finally broken into a fallen world.

In bringing God’s healing power into the world, Jesus offered a glimpse of heaven to those who were ready to declare their total dependence on God and their need for His healing, saving presence. For those healed by Jesus it was an experience that carried them to the very limits of our human horizons. To these belong the peace the world cannot give…, as St. Paul said, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” [Phil 4:7]. That peace, that healing, was a real manifestation of the very core of the Gospel message, a message of forgiveness.

Jesus called on those who dared to be healed to let go of their anger and hurts, to offer and accept forgiveness…and, like Francis, to embrace the lepers of the lives. It’s in this very letting go and this embracing that we find the healing love of Jesus Christ. And this inner healing is the greatest healing of all.

Turn first to the Spirit, sisters and brothers, allow yourselves to experience new freedom in your life, taste God’s forgiveness and extend it to others – a forgiveness that’s so often needs to be self-forgiveness – so that you and they will be able to accept and experience God’s healing power.

Do you know what keeps us from tasting God’s healing power?

I really believe that, more than anything else, it is sin and fear. Do you remember our first reading a few moments ago from Isaiah 6? There was Isaiah, an apparently righteous man…but he was overwhelmed with fear. Why? Because of his own sinfulness in the presence of God.

Now, we Catholics believe that God is present here with us…right now. He’s present because we’re gathered here in His name, and He promised to be present whenever we come together. But that’s not all. He’s also present in His Word, the Word we just heard proclaimed; for Jesus Christ is the Word, the living, eternal, creative, incarnate Word of God. Finally, we believe He is present in a very special way – body and blood, soul and divinity – in the miraculous gift of the Holy Eucharist.

And so, I ask you, here in God’s presence, are you afraid? Does your sinfulness make you want to flee from God? Was it hard to talk yourself into coming here today? Were you worried that you’d be the one sinner among all these holy rollers, all these folks who go around singin’ and shoutin’ and speakin’ in tongues? Well, don’t worry. Just like Isaiah, they’re sinners too.

Did you think it would be a waste of time, that God wouldn’t touch you with His healing power because...well, you’re a sinner and God can’t like sinners very much. Yes, that’s right, God doesn’t like sinners…No, God loves sinners. And He especially loves sinners when they repent.

After all, Jesus began His public ministry with a pretty simple message: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15]. To repent – metanoia -- means to change, to turn away from one thing, sin, and turn toward another, God. And, it’s through this repentance, this desire to change, that we can receive the antidote to fear, something that only God can give.

The antidote is the same thing that Francis preached…forgiveness of our sins. Isn’t that exactly what God did for Isaiah? “Your wickedness is removed, your sin purged." You see, God had a mission for Isaiah, just as He has a mission for you and for me. Then, with his sins forgiven, Isaiah could turn to the Lord, not in fear, but in love, and say, “Hear I am, Lord…Send me.”

Yes, fear and sinfulness are evil buddies. They hang out together.

Indeed, in our brief Gospel passage from Matthew 10, three times Jesus tells His disciples not to fear. It’s fear that keeps the disciples from carrying out the mission Jesus has for them. It’s fear that makes us unwilling to acknowledge Jesus Christ before others…unwilling to change. After all, that’s what He said: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father."

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that all of you want to get to heaven, that all of you want Jesus to acknowledge you before His heavenly Father. And so, if our number one goal is to be with God, we’d better make God the number one thing in our lives.

Well, then, do what He tells you. Evangelize, carry Jesus Christ to others, be Christ-bearers in a world that’s turned away from God and doesn’t know how to climb out of its sinfulness.

If you think about it, God gave you everything. He’s the source, the giver of all…Oh, except one thing. He didn’t give us our sin. That comes from within each of us. We all sin. That’s what keeps us from being healed – our sins, and our faith or, I should say, our lack of it, along with our unwillingness to forgive and be forgiven.

When we choose Jesus, when we decide we want a personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior, when we do that…we must change. We must change our lives, reject sin, and choose. What in your life, what habitual sin, is keeping you from changing? Have you asked God to free you from it? Have you taken your sin to God in the sacrament of reconciliation?

Jesus tells us to ask and we shall receive. But how many of us actually ask for God’s help in overcoming the sin in our lives? Unless we ask, we can’t receive. But when we ask, God will shower us with grace, all the undeserved grace we need. We need only cooperate with that grace.

What sin is keeping you from the change God wills for you? Sins of anger and unforgiveness and bitterness? Sexual sins? Sins of pride? Laziness? Gluttony? Addictions? Realize, too, that your sin doesn’t just affect you. Sin is like tossing a stone into the water. The splash is biggest where it lands, but those waves, those ripples go out across the entire pond. That’s what our sin does. It affects us first and foremost, separating us from God, but it also affects those around us, our family, our community – and some sins can even affect all of humanity.

But, you know, your sin also affects God. It pains Him. How did the prodigal son phrase it? “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you…” [Lk 15:21]

What keeps people from God’s healing power in their lives is their sinfulness.

Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Well, which are you? Are you one of those comfortable, lukewarm Christians who believes he can just sit back and live in the midst of his own sinfulness? If so, perhaps I should remind you of what Jesus said about you: “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” [Rev 3:16]

You see, the lukewarm really don’t believe. They think there are things God can’t do. That’s why they keep on sinning but still call themselves Christians. They figure that sin of theirs is beyond God’s power or that God can’t bring about change in their lives. But we know God has power over everything. And when we believe in it, when we rest on it, when we let it permeate our being…well, it makes all the difference and makes us ready to change, ready to repent.

We can’t change, though, we can’t turn to God, unless we talk with Him. So build up your prayer life. Come to God in prayer every day. Spend time with Him, telling Him your worries, your joys, your sorrows, your hurts…tell Him everything He already knows. That’s okay, because He wants to hear you say it.

If you came here today to get healed, but aren’t willing to change your life, then shame on you. Because that’s just a slap in God’s face. Yes, you want God’s love, but aren’t willing to love in return.

I know there’s some heaviness here today, and it comes from us…all those sins we need to get rid of. And the Lord wants you to do just that, to give them to Him, to let go…because He can take them away no matter what. Confess your sins in the sacrament of reconciliation and let God shower you with His grace, overwhelm you with His love.

You do know that He loves you, don’t you? Well, then, let’s take a moment to remind each other of that. Turn to the person next to you, and just tell him or her, “God loves you.” Go ahead, do it right now.

Yes, sometimes we have to be reminded of that wonderful fact. Knowing that, we can learn to love as Jesus loved. We can learn to forgive as Jesus forgave. Father, forgive them…His loving words from the Cross. True love, real love is not a feeling or emotion, but a decision. This is what brings healing, brothers and sisters.

Be certain of this: God always heals. He might not heal exactly what you wanted, but He will heal something, something that He knows is more important.

Let's do something special today. Let’s all of us make an act of surrender, an act of abandonment. Let’s take all that we have, all that we are, and turn it over to God. He wants to take it all, and He does so out of a love so great it’s beyond our understanding.

After Mass we’ll have a laying on of hands. I urge you to come forward. Turn your heart and mind to Jesus Christ. Give Him permission to come into your life, to work His will within you.

“Heal me, Lord.” Let that be your prayer. “Heal me, Lord, of all that is keeping me from being one with you.”

Praised be Jesus Christ…now and forever.

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