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 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.

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