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 18, 2015

Homily: Saturday, 15th Week of Ordianary Time - Mass & Healing Service

Readings: EX 12:37-42 • Psalm 136 • Gospel: Mt 12:14-21

Good morning, everyone! And it is a good morning, for we’re here today to celebrate God’s gift to us: the gift of life itself! That’s right! We’re here to celebrate and give thanks for our very being – each of us created out of love by our God. You and I created and destined to share eternally in the Divine Life.

But that’s not all. In this Mass, as in every Mass, we especially thank the Father for the gift of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who took on our nature, became one of us, one with us, and gave His life for us. It’s through Jesus, brothers and sisters, and only through Jesus, that we can share in the Divine life. Through His tremendous act of humility, Jesus took the sin of the world – that’s your sin and my sin – on Himself; He is indeed the Lamb of God, the sacrificial offering who came here to heal.

In a sense, then, Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection form a glorious act of healing, one which we re-present here on this altar. Every Mass, then, is a healing Mass, because of Christ’s healing presence in the Eucharist. When you receive the Blessed Sacrament, you should expect miracles, miracles of grace.

Yes, Jesus is the Great Healer. That was and remains His mission: to heal humanity, to repair our brokenness, to bring us to wholeness. This is the will of the Father.

And so today we Praise God! Praised be Jesus Christ! Praise His Holy Name!

And speaking of His Name, did you happen to catch that final verse of today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel?
“And in His name the Gentiles will hope” [Mt 12:21].
How about you? Do you hope? Do you? I trust you do, or I suspect you wouldn’t be here today.

As one the great theological virtues, hope is sandwiched between faith and love; in a sense forming a bridge between the two. Indeed, if our faith is weak, so too is our hope. It’s through faith in Jesus Christ that we can hope, and it’s out of that hope, that hope for the gift of eternal life, that we come to realize our obligation to return God’s love by loving Him and our neighbor.

Hope. Hope is an expectation, isn’t it? It’s the expectation that God will fulfill His promises to us. God loves to make promises…and keep them. We encounter them again and again throughout Scripture. Matthew reminds us of several promises in today’s Gospel passage. The apostle recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“…I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles…in His name the Gentiles will hope” [Mt 12:18, 21].
What a wonderful promise! Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, will proclaim justice and in His name we shall hope. Do you believe this promise? Do you?

If you’re here today to ask for healing, in what or in whom do you hope? Do you place all your hopes in medical science, or your doctors? Or maybe you look only to yourself, assuming you can heal yourself through an act of will?

Hard questions indeed. After all medicine has come a long way in recent years. And when you or I suffer from a chronic illness, the temptation is great to place all our hopes in the medical profession. A cure might be just around the corner. Yes, perhaps…and it’s certainly not bad to hope that science might offer you a path to regain your health. But by placing all your hopes there you, in effect, turn your back on God.

I think of my own family. One of our sons suffered from meningitis when he was just a toddler.  Thankfully he survived, but he didn’t emerge unchanged; no he lost almost all of his hearing. Today, just a few decades later, children are vaccinated so they won’t contract this dreadful disease. But back then, 40 years ago, we could do nothing but turn to God in hope and trust, knowing that He listens to our prayers.

As St. Paul reminds us:

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God” [Rom 8:28]. 

And St. James echoed this when he wrote:

“…every perfect gift is from above…” [Jas 1:17]
Keep that truth in mind: God is the source of every good. And what can be more perfect than the gift of healing, the gift that restores?

And so we return to Matthew and his reference to the prophet Isaiah. The question becomes obvious: Do you and I hope in Jesus’ Name?

Turn again to today’s Gospel passage. Jesus was confronted by two groups of people, two very different groups.

The first were the Pharisees. This day Jesus defied them by affecting a cure in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In their smallness, in their inward-turning self-absorption, the Pharisees had come to despise Jesus, and refused to accept His healing. How does Matthew put it? They “took counsel against him to put him to death” [Mt 12:14]. They did what evil always does. It seeks out other evil, joins together with it, and conspires in the darkness of secrecy.

And so Jesus “withdrew from that place” [Mt 12:15]. Was He afraid of them and their deadly plots? Not at all. Quite simply His hour had not yet come. Anyway, Jesus cannot hide when hundreds, perhaps thousands, are following Him. No, He wasn’t afraid of the Pharisees; He feared for them, for their salvation.

The second group confronting Jesus was the people, those who knew they were in need of healing. The Pharisees also needed healing, just as the people of Galilee did, just as you and I do. The Pharisees just didn’t know it; or knowing it, they refused to accept it.

But the people, oh, the people, they knew how broken they were. They knew they needed healing. They followed Jesus, seeking wholeness. They were like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, who cried out as Our Lord passed by: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” [Mk 10:47] That’s right – “Jesus, Son of David” – Bartimaeus certainly hoped in Jesus’ Name, didn’t He?

And we can only believe that the people of Galilee were overwhelmed by that same hope, for as Matthew tells us:

“Many people followed Him, and He cured them all…” [Mt 12:15] 

Many people followed Him, and he cured them all
Many followed Jesus. We don’t know how many – just “many”. And these He cured – not some of them, but all of them. Physical illness or spiritual illness, whether our own or that of someone we love, can be heavy burdens indeed.

But just a short time before Jesus had promised the people:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” [Mt 11:28].

Jesus issues this invitation to all: Come to Him, follow Him. He will take on our burdens, our weariness.

You see, in His humanity Jesus knows these burdens of ours; He knows our physical weaknesses; He knows our spiritual weaknesses; He knows the disappointments, the sorrows, the grief, and the pain that visit us. And He knows our sinfulness, the sins of the flesh, the sins of the heart, all that separate us from God’s healing love. He will take on our burdens. He will heal. Yes, in the Gospel Jesus cures them all, because they followed Him and allowed themselves to be loved.

True liberation from all that divides our hearts comes from allowing ourselves to be lifted by a God who loves beyond words -- from allowing yourself to be loved, allowing yourself to be healed. As Pope Francis is fond of reminding us, Jesus Christ is the source of all peace, the source of all healing, the source 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, God is not like that, for He is a loving God.

One evening some years ago I was asked to conduct a vigil service for a young man who had been killed by a drunk driver. 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 his sin, but 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. 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].”

Forgives and heals
Yes, Jesus went about that land of patriarchs and prophets taking this message and the remarkable gift of newness to people. Through a word or a touch, and often a challenge, He brought every kind of healing -- physical, mental, and most importantly spiritual. Through healing He brought to birth the Kingdom of God that has finally broken into a fallen world.

Jesus brings God’s healing power into the world, and offers a glimpse of heaven to all who are ready to declare their total dependence on God and their need for His healing, saving presence.

For those He healed, the experience 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]. And that peace, that healing, was a real manifestation of the very core of the Gospel message, a message of forgiveness.

Jesus calls those who dare to be healed to let go of their anger and hurts, to offer and accept forgiveness, to embrace those we have hurt and those who have hurt us. It’s in this very letting go, in this embracing, that we find true inner healing, the healing love of Jesus Christ, the greatest healing of all.

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

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

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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