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, November 11, 2012

Homily: Mass for Healing - God Knows Your Heart

Late yesterday morning, at our parish in Wildwood, Florida, we celebrated a special Mass focused on the healing of body, mind and spirit. Our pastor, Fr. Peter, celebrated the Mass and I was privileged to be asked to preach. I have posted my homily below:

Readings: Phil 4:10-19; PS 112; Lk 16:9-15

Good morning, everyone. And praise God – praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’m honored to have been asked to preach to you here today at this healing Mass. It’s wonderful to see so many people here today; all filled with the Spirit, all open to God’s healing presence. Praise God too for this.

There are definitely two or more of us gathered here in Jesus’ name, so we know He is with us. And where Jesus is, so too is the Father, for they are One, One with the Holy Spirit. We certainly want the Holy Spirit among us 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.

You know, among the many wonderful things Jesus told us about the Spirit is that He is the Trinity’s workhorse. Now Jesus never uses that particular word, but it's true nonetheless. That’s right…the Spirit does all the heavy lifting.

When we turn to Scripture we find the Holy Spirit doing the inspiring, the revealing, the anointing, the counseling. He is the giver of life, the fount of Truth and Wisdom, the Sanctifier, the source of sacramental grace, the manifestation of God’s power in the world. When Jesus rejoiced, He rejoiced in the Spirit. When He prayed, He prayed filled with the Spirit. The Spirit teaches us, He intercedes for us, He guides us. And He will be with us always. That’s right, the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us, does God’s work in the world. And thank God for that because these days we certainly need Him working among us and with us.

And do you know something else? He’s also the Divine Healer. In fact healing is the Spirit’s greatest work. God knows how much we all need healing – healing of body, mind and spirit – and He sends His Spirit into the world to heal all who come to Him. What kind of healing do we need? What do you need? Or you? What do I need?

All too often we’re just so sure we know, aren’t we? We think our aches and pains and illnesses point to our needs. These bodies of ours just don’t seem to hold up. Apparently our parents didn’t buy the extended warranty. And so we turn to the Lord in our suffering and in our fear, in all those aches and pains, those illnesses, in the trials of our children, in the sometimes shattered lives of those we love…and through it all we pray for healing.

But so often as we pray, in the midst of all that suffering, our faith wavers. We can’t understand why this suffering has fallen upon us, or why God doesn’t just take it away. And so our prayer falters. But take heart. St. Paul tells us, “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” [Rom 8:26]

You see, sisters and brothers, God knows your heart…and so God Himself, the Holy Spirit, prays for us in ways we can never understand.

About 20 years ago, I was given the challenging but thankless task of teaching a class of ninth-graders who were preparing for Confirmation. I know, it should have been fun, but it wasn’t. Even back then, I was already a curmudgeon.

Anyway, during one of our sessions, while discussing God’s divine nature, I went through the list of those attributes we normally assign to God…you know…He is eternal, holy, immutable, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial…

As I was reciting these attributes, one young man interrupted and asked, “What does omniscient mean?”

I said, “It means God knows everything.

He thought for a second or two and then said, “Okay,  but you really don’t mean everything, like what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“Oh, yes, God knows everything that happens, throughout all time – past, present and future – and everywhere, in the universe and in eternity, every single thing, no matter how large or small.”

But that didn’t satisfy this budding theologian. “But you mean He just knows things. He can’t know thoughts too, can He?”

“Oh, yes, thoughts are God’s specialty,” I said. “He knows your every thought, your every desire, all your hopes and dreams…and He knows them all even before you have them, the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly.”

Well, in the silence that followed, I wish you could have seen that young man’s face.

“You’re really serious, aren’t you?” he finally asked.

“Yes, I am. You can’t hide from God. He knows you perfectly, far better than you’ll ever know yourself. “

“You see, God knows your heart.

And, brothers and sisters, God knows your heart too.

The psalms praise “God who knows the secrets of the heart” [Ps 44:22]. And Peter, at the Council of Jerusalem, speaking of the Gentiles tells his brother apostles, “God, who knows the heart…granted them the Holy Spirit just as He did us” [Acts 15:8].

But it’s in today’s Gospel passage from Luke that we hear these words spoken by Jesus Himself. “God knows your hearts,” Jesus said to the Pharisees [Lk 16:15]. When they heard those words, do you think maybe those Pharisees recalled the words of the psalm?
LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast. [Ps 139:1-10]
From our human perspective, God’s omniscience seems to be a double-edged sword, doesn’t it?

We rejoice that God, in humbling Himself to become one of us, also honors us in our humanity through this same act of love. We rejoice that we are worth so very much to our loving God that even the hairs on our head are numbered. He knows every microbe, every atom of our bodies. He knows our every fear, our worries, our joys, our pains, our sorrows.

But He also knows every sin, every dark secret, every hatred, every weakness. Yes, our awareness of God’s omniscience should, as St. Paul would say, fill us “with fear and trembling” [Phil 2:12].

Did you happen to catch that question the psalmist asked? “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Sometimes we try, like Jonah, to hide from God, to turn up the world’s volume so we can’t hear God’s voice. But it doesn’t work…because God knows my heart. He knows my entire being.

Too often we simply forget this remarkable truth about God. We think we have to teach Him things.

I remember visiting a woman in a nursing home, giving her the Eucharist, and afterwards chatting with her for a while. I had visited her several times before, but had never really had the opportunity to talk with her. Anyway, that day she was very upset with God. She’d been sick for a long time, and really wasn’t getting any better.

“I pray every day,” she said, “hoping that God will help me get better. If God only knew how much I suffer…”

It took every ounce of control not to burst out laughing. That, of course, would not have been very pastoral. Instead I assured her that our all-knowing God certainly knew how she suffered, and that He too had suffered.

I always carried a few cards with me. They had a picture of Christ crucified on one side and the words to that wonderful old “Prayer Before a Crucifix” on the other. I gave her one and we prayed together. We prayed for healing, that the Holy Spirit would take her heart, the heart that God knows so well, and fill it with His healing peace. And as I left that day, for the first time I saw her smile.

But, you see, brothers and sisters, we’re all a little bit like her, aren’t we? We all like to complain about our sufferings. I suffer from occasional migraines; and, believe me, you don’t want to be around me then. Too often I’m not a very good sufferer.

I remember back in my Navy days, a fellow officer, knowing that I was a Catholic, mentioned that he could never be a Christian, much less a Catholic: “You people seem to enjoy suffering so much. That can’t be healthy.”

Well, he sure wasn’t talking about me. And, anyway, he was wrong. Christians don’t enjoy suffering. To enjoy suffering is to be mentally ill. No, Christians accept suffering, and that’s something quite different. We know that suffering is something we all experience. As someone once said, “Suffering is the true democratic experience.”

Nazi death camp survivors
Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived years in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, wrote a wonderful book, Mans Search for Meaning. In it he writes of our freedom to choose how we will respond to suffering. We can choose to be embittered, broken, hateful, resentful…or we can accept our sufferings as a path to something greater.

As always, Jesus shows us the way. He took His sufferings and turned them into something far greater, into an act of redemption. That act is what all of Scripture points to, for it’s nothing less than the story of God’s love, of His willingness to suffer for you, for me, for all of humanity.

And we are called to join our sufferings to His. We’re called to be like Paul who could say: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” [Col 1:24]

Dear friends, what is lacking in Christ's suffering is our acceptance of our own, willingly taken up with Jesus on His walk up Calvary. As Christians our sufferings have meaning and worth because through them we share in the sacrifice of Christ. When you and I come to understand, if only in the smallest way, His sorrow and His undeserved suffering, ours begins to pale and lighten as we place ourselves at His Side. And it’s through that experience that we learn how well God knows our heart.

It’s through that experience that we realize how faltering, how inadequate our prayer is; and how much we need the Spirit to intercede for us with those "inexpressible groanings" of His. For the Spirit prays for what we need, not what we want.

There will be healings here today, sisters and brothers. Some of you have come for physical and emotional healing. And there will be some of those. But every one of us here today needs spiritual healing, healing of the soul, the healing that comes from total surrender to God.

Yes, God knows your heart. But the question I put before you is: What’s in your heart today?

Are you willing to make an act of surrender, an act of abandonment, and take all that you have, all that you are, and lay it at Jesus’ feet. He wants it all, out of a love so great it’s beyond our understanding. He wants us to mirror His redemptive act of love by sharing in the crosses that we each must bear. Do we recognize the power of this collective faith and the prayers of our community come together as we have here today?

Do we trust that Jesus can do the same for us as faithful, prayerful people who lift others up who need to be healed?

After Mass we’ll have four priests available for the sacrament of reconciliation in the back of the Church. Take advantage of this healing sacrament and the graces it brings.

We’ll also have the laying on of hands right here in front of the sanctuary. 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.”

Trust God, brothers and sisters. He is not alternatively yes and no. He is always yes, because He knows your heart.

Praised be Jesus Christ…now and forever.

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