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, March 21, 2015

Homily: Healing Mass - March 21, 2015

This morning our parish celebrated Mass followed by a healing service. I was honored to have been asked to preach, and privileged to join my wife, Diane, as one of the prayer teams who prayed over (and with) those who came for healing. It was a beautiful morning. My homily follows...

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Readings: Jer 11:18-20 • Psalm 7 • Gospel: Jn 7:40-53

What a wonderful crowd -- God’s people gathered here today to taste His healing and forgiveness. And I can only assume you’re a very different crowd from that which John just described in our Gospel passage. How did he put it?

“A division occurred in the crowd because of Him” [Jn 7:43].

I trust we have no division here today, certainly no division “because of Him.”

Yes, you and I know who Jesus is. As Peter would later confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Mt 16:16]. But the crowd that day was divided. They had gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkoth, or the Feast of Tabernacles. And as they listened to Jesus proclaim God’s Word, they could only ask each other: Who is this Jesus who walks among us and speaks with such authority? The answers were many. Yes there was division because of Him.

A few in the crowd, the unimportant ones, thought He was the Prophet, and they said so openly: “This is truly the Prophet” [Jn 7:40].  It’s the same claim many had made about John the Baptist.

Not “a prophet” but “the prophet.” In this they went back more than a thousand years to the words of Moses, to the 18th Chapter of Deuteronomy. Here Moses had prophesied that God would raise up a prophet, one greater than Moses himself [Deut 18;18].

To others in the crowd Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah; and they, too, spoke openly: “This is the Christ” [Jn 7:41].

But they were scolded by the Pharisees, the self-righteous aristocrats of dogma. This Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. Just listen to Him. Can’t you hear that Galilean accent? Haven’t you read the prophets? It’s right there in Micah: the Messiah will come from Judea, from Bethlehem, the city of David. He certainly won’t come from a backwater like Galilee.

Yes, the common people – those the Pharisees considered ignorant, lawless, and “accursed” – saw Jesus more clearly, didn’t they? It’s evident the Pharisees despised the people. Indeed, the very name “Pharisee” means “separated ones.” Separated from the people, the “accursed,” they knew all they had to know about Jesus; but of course they were wrong. Indeed, they were so convinced Jesus was a fraud they wanted to arrest Him.

And yet, how did John put it? “No one laid hands on Him” [Jn 7:44]. Even the Temple guards, sent by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus, were unable to do so. And what prevented them? John tells us: nothing less than Jesus’ Word, nothing less than the Word of God Incarnate. The guards, themselves, confessed it: “Never before has anyone spoken like this man” [Jn 7:46].

Yes, “this man” speaks like no one else. Jesus speaks, God speaks, and things happen. Not only does God create a universe with His Word, but he also changes hearts...at least some hearts – hearts that are open and receptive, hearts that ache to experience the forgiveness and healing power of their Savior.

Is your heart, is my heart, open and receptive to Jesus Christ? Are you and I gathered here today to praise God, to thank Him for the gift of life, for our very being? Are we here to ask that He send us His Holy Spirit, that He touch us with His healing power, healing us in ways we’ve never dreamed of?

And, believe me, He will touch us…oh, yes, he’ll touch each one of us today, simply because He promised to do so. When we come to Jesus in faith, when, in all humility, we approach Him with our broken bodies and in our sinfulness, He wants only to heal and forgive.

The question is: do you believe that? It’s an important question because our faith, or perhaps more accurately, our acceptance of God’s gift of faith, is a key ingredient when it comes to God’s healing power.

And so this is our first healing principle: Faith, a deep, living faith, brings healing.

We encounter this again and again throughout the Gospel. At our parish Bible Study, we’ve spent the past few months digging deeply into Luke’s Gospel; and it’s remarkable how often Jesus said those wonderful words: “…your faith has saved you.”

We hear it when Jesus healed the ten lepers, but only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank Him [Lk 17:19]. We hear these words again when He gave sight to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, a man the disciples tried unsuccessfully to keep from Jesus [Lk 18:42].

Jesus also said, “…your faith has saved you,” when He forgave the sinful woman who anointed him in the home of Simon the Pharisee [Lk 7:50]. Unlike the leper and Bartimaeus she was neither ill nor handicapped. To our knowledge she received no physical healing. But just like the others she too was a sinner. She needed salvation; she needed saving; she needed healing, spiritual healing. And it seems she was a public sinner since Simon and his friends apparently knew all about her. Indeed, her very presence in their midst was for them a great scandal. No, Simon and his guests weren’t very happy about her crashing their party, were they?

But Jesus? Moved deeply by her faith, He could do nothing but love her, love her with divine, forgiving, merciful love. And because her faith was a deep repentant faith, she too could do nothing but love. For that’s what her act of anointing was, an act of love, born of repentance.

As St. James instructed the first Christians: “Confess your sins… and pray for one another, that you may be healed” [Jas 5:16] Yes, we’re called to both repentance and prayer: Confess your sins…and pray for one another. We repent, then, for our own healing, and we pray for the salvation and healing of others.

This, then, is our second healing principle: A true, living faith always leads to repentance, and true repentance will manifest itself as love.

When we love each other, we pray for each other, and in that sense each and every one of us is called to the ministry of healing, a ministry of love. We see this manifested most beautifully in all three synoptic Gospels when the paralytic is carried by his friends to Jesus [Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26] But because Jesus has attracted such a huge crowd they can’t get near Him, so what do they do?

Why, they get creative. They make a hole in the roof, lower their friend on his pallet through the hole, and plop him down right next to Jesus. What a remarkable act of love!  But notice, the paralyzed man never says a word. He asks for neither healing nor forgiveness. No, his friends do all the asking, not with words, but through their own faith and their act of love. This moves Jesus to act. All three Gospels declare that Jesus, seeing their faith, first forgives and then heals. He forgives first so we will know that our salvation is the more important result.

This leads us to a third principle: The living faith of the community, a faith that manifests itself in acts of love for others, brings forgiveness and healing.

Of course, whenever we look at faith and healing, we inevitably find ourselves asking: Just how strong does my faith have to be? Faith – that all-important element of true healing – is a gift, but it can be a troubling one for the Christian

I’m sometimes approached by those who are distraught because they prayed for physical healing and believe God has ignored them.
“Deacon, I’ve prayed for God to take away my cancer…or to ease my pain…or to remove this debilitating illness, but nothing has happened. I guess my faith just isn’t strong enough.”
No, I tell them, it’s not because your faith is weak. But sometimes you and I aren’t open to God’s will for us, and so we ask for the wrong things. More than anything else, God’s wants our salvation. That’s why Jesus so often said, “Your faith has saved you.” It’s your salvation and my salvation He desires more than anything else. Whenever physical healing occurs, it’s simply a manifestation of God’s will for that person.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg...How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” [Lk 11:11-13; See Mt 7:7-11]

All too often, almost willfully ignorant of God’s will for us, we ask for the snake or the scorpion and then wonder why God gives us something else. How often do you and I ask for His Holy Spirit, the greatest of His gifts?

The Spirit is waiting for you to call for Him. He wants nothing more than to fill your entire being with His presence. And it’s a miraculous presence, one that will bring you to understanding and acceptance of God’s will for you, one that will bring the healing God wants for you.

Each one of us is here for a purpose, brothers and sisters, and that purpose will always involve the Cross; for it is Christ, the crucified one, who stands at the door and knocks at the heart of every man and every woman. Recall the words of Jesus in the Garden as He prayed to the Father:
“…if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” [Mt 26:39].
Yes, Jesus suffered and died, and did so for all of humanity. His plea to the Father was not for Himself, but for us. You may be here today for healing, but healing for whom? Are you focused solely on yourself, while some of those seated all around you are in desperate need of your prayer, in need of your healing touch?

This is the wonderful thing about our loving God: He doesn’t force Himself on the world; no, He wants us to do His work, to bring the world to Him. It’s summed up well in the beautiful Lenten hymn we all know:
"Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim, ‘til all the world adore His sacred name."
That’s what we’re called to do: to lift high the Cross, to proclaim the love of Christ Crucified to all the world. It’s a task that must start right here, with you and with me. Just look at each other. Look to your left and right. Look at those in front of you and behind you. Do it now!

Unlike the people in Jerusalem, we aren’t just a crowd. We are a community, brothers and sisters, a community of faith and love. We’re not a mere collection of individuals who happened to come here today to beg God for what we think we need. We are the universal Church – One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic – present here and now in Wildwood, Florida.

Later, at the sign of peace, will you reach out in love to these others in our community, in this holy Church, others who need your prayers? Will you offer your prayers for them when the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord and lifted up for your adoration?

God has a plan for the world, but He also has a plan for each one of us, a plan for our salvation. And so our prayer today should echo Jesus’ prayer in the Garden: “…not as I will, but as you will.” Let God be God, brothers and sisters. Let Him decide what is best for you, what will bring you to salvation.

Come to Him today in faith, in repentance, in love, and experience God’s healing touch.

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