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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Morning of Reflection: Ministry to the Sick 3

This is the third and final talk of the Morning of Reflection for our parish's Ministers to the Sick.

Part 1 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 1


Part 2 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 2


In the Liturgy the Church teaches that God is present in many different ways.

First of all, He is present in us as we come together and process to His altar, joined as one in song and praise. This is what is so unique about that procession, for it is the gathering time, when all present come together for a single purpose. And as Jesus told us, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

God is present, too, in His Word, proclaimed from the ambo, for Jesus is the Word of God, the eternal Word, the Revealed Word.

And most importantly, God is present in the Eucharist, as the Church says, par excellence. The Eucharist is Jesus' Real Presence, His Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine.

I've always liked Pope Benedict's comment on this in his book, Called to Communion:
" the event of gathering in which the Lord joins us to one another...The Eucharist, in which the Lord gives us his body and makes us one body, forever remains the place where the Church is generated, where the Lord himself never ceases to be found anew; in the Eucharist the Church is most compactly herself - in all places, yet one only, just as he is one only" [P.37].
Now, I'd like you to consider this multiple, yet one, manifestation of God's Presence in the Liturgy as it applies to your calling.

When you visit someone, and do so in Jesus' Name, you are called to share His revealed Word through Scripture, and finally to offer His Real Presence through the Eucharist. In truth, then, God's Presence follows you through that door to a home or hospital room. He is with you and those you serve in every way, for you are a "God-Bearer." You are a herald of Jesus Christ, of God's Word - His Revealed Word and His Incarnate Word. In fact those you serve can look at you as you enter and shout, "Here comes Jesus!" for you are carrying Him and you are carrying His healing Presence.

Let me tell you a story...a true story revealed to me by one of our parishioners.


Not long ago she came to me after daily Mass to thank me for visiting her husband in the hospital a few days before he died.  Well, for me it was nothing special, something I'm often asked to do - a welcome part of what my wife, Diane, and I do as hospital chaplains .

But then she told me something about herself.

She had suffered from depression for years, an illness that had made her life extremely difficult. It often struck her suddenly, as if a heavy weight were lowered onto her shoulders followed by an almost overwhelming sadness that would bring her to tears.

As her husband's health deteriorated, her bouts of depression seemed to increase in both severity and frequency. It was all she could do to try to care for him while trying to fend off this monster attacking her.

One Sunday morning, a day when her husband was feeling a little better and had decided to join her at Mass, she said her depression was particularly severe. But they made it to Mass and as she settled into the pew next to her husband, she silently thanked God for letting her be there. The weight seemed to lift and she was able to listen to the readings and the homily.

The priest spoke about the Eucharist, the power of the Bread of Life, the power to lift up those in need. She then told me, "Approaching the ministers to receive Christ's Body and Blood, I could think only of Him. All I could do was thank Him and repeat those words from the day's Gospel, the words of John the Baptist: 'He must increase; I must decrease.'"

She went on to say that as she received her Lord she was suddenly filled with joy, and even her ailing husband recognized the change in her that morning. "It was as if God were forming me anew so I could deal with the challenges I faced. I now turn to Him in joy and prayer throughout the day, thanking Him for His Healing Presence, thanking Him for giving me the strength to go on. Even if my depression returns, with His Presence I can bear my sufferings, but in the meantime I praise God that He has offered me healing and an abundance of live-giving grace."


Now, my question you all of you: Was this event in this one woman's life a miracle?

Maybe at this point it would be useful here to define a miracle. It's really any effect perceptible by the senses, produced by God which surpasses the powers of nature.
Most folks think only of physical miracles, like the healing miracles we encounter in the Gospel.

But there are also what the Church calls moral miracles. These are demonstrations of heroic virtue on the part of people like St. Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz.

And we also recognize intellectual miracles in which God seems to infuse knowledge in certain special people like St. Catherine of Siena, the illiterate Doctor of the Church whose writings, filled with worldly and spiritual wisdom, were read by popes and princes.

Yes, miracles abound, despite the fact that so many today don't even like to consider their possibility. Those who think this way tend also to deny the miracles we encounter in the Gospel. You see, they must deny the Gospel, because if Jesus Christ performed all those miracles during his earthly life, then as the Resurrected Jesus He must still be doing them.

After all, He's still with us, right here on earth, just as He promised: "I am with you always, until the end of the age." And if He's still with us, and indeed He is, then He's still doing the miraculous among us.

Going back to the Gospel, specifically John's Gospel, we find that John calls Jesus' miracles something else. He calls them "signs." And what does a sign do? It points to something else, something greater than itself.

We have a sign in front of our church that tells folks that the building on this property is St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. The sign isn't the church, is it? No, it points to something far greater than itself. And that's exactly what the miracles in the Gospel do.

Jesus associated those miracles, those signs, with His teachings. It was those signs that made what they pointed to believable.

If this property here were just a big empty lot, that sign out front wouldn't be very believable would it? Where's the church?

By the way, this is actually an article of our faith, something that as Catholics we are called to believe: miracles are necessary to make God's revelation credible. Did you get that? Miracles aren't just God having fun. They're not capricious acts designed to shock and surprise. Miracles are necessary because they make God's revelation credible.

It's also important to realize that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, worked these miracles through His humanity. His spoken word healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman. The touch of His human hands brought the dead daughter of the synagogue official back to life [Mk 5:41]. And even a touch of His garment healed the woman who had long suffered from hemorrhage [Mk 5:27-29]. Yes Jesus acts divinely but always through His human nature.

One thing to note: Jesus sometimes didn't perform miracles in certain places. Why? Because of the people's lack of faith.

And so to understand miracles we must recognize the importance of these two elements: faith and humanity. If all this is true, how does Jesus continue His miraculous work in the world? To answer that, we must turn to the Real Presence. What is it?

The Real Presence is Jesus Christ, true God and true man. It is the same Jesus Christ who fed the five thousand with only a few loaves and fishes; the same Jesus Christ who called the long-dead Lazarus from the tomb' the same Jesus Christ who calmed the raging sea with only a word.

I can recall my elder daughter, when she was just a teen, saying to me, "Dad, isn't it amazing that Jesus is still with us today, still in His human body, still with His wounds, still the same flesh and blood, still here with us? Isn't that amazing?" Yes, it is - the same Jesus Christ who told Thomas to touch His hands and His side and believe.

While He was on earth Jesus worked the miraculous for those who believed, for those who had accepted the gift of faith. The others, even those who had witnessed the miraculous, turned away in disbelief. And the same applies today. Those who believe in Jesus Real Presence on earth recognize this Presence in the Eucharist, in the fullness of His humanity.  And they also believe that His human nature is united with the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Those who witnessed Jesus Christ on earth had only to believe that this man they saw before them was the Son of God Incarnate. Today we are called to believe that what looks like bread and tastes like wine is the Son of God who became the Son of Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit.

And because faith is the condition for the miraculous work of Jesus Christ, is it any wonder that faith in the Eucharistic Real Presence should rewarded by miracles of every kind.

I think of the parishioner whose healing I described earlier, a healing that came to her through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Hers was by no means unique.

All that we find recorded in the Gospels about the miraculous cures performed by Jesus have been duplicated many times over by similar signs and wonders through the Holy Eucharist. And when it comes to moral miracles of the sort typified by so many saints and their heroic virtue, perhaps we don't pay much attention to those that occur around us today.

One of the real problems today is how many Catholics don't believe in the real power of the sacraments.  Too many go through the motions, but expect little or nothing.  They don't expect their prayers to be answered and don't really expect the sacraments to have any major effect in their lives.

This all stems from a lack of faith and obedience. But God, in His goodness and mercy, occasionally gives us glimpses of what He can and will do through the power of the sacraments. And when it comes to moral miracles, I have witnessed some miraculous conversions through devotion of the faithful to the Blessed Sacrament.

Let me give you just one example. Married for 50 years this faithful Catholic woman had an agnostic husband who despised the Church. I'll just call them Shirley and Ben. Because Ben was so hostile to all things Christian and especially the Catholic Church, Shirley avoided even mentioning religion in his presence.

The parish had a perpetual adoration chapel that she visited every day after morning Mass. There she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament for Ben's conversion. But Shirley died suddenly and Ben was devastated. But because he knew the depth of her faith and because of his love for her, he arranged for a vigil, funeral Mass, and cemetery committal.

At the vigil, our pastor and I were consoling him when our pastor simply said to him, "Ben, I think it's time. Do you want to become a Catholic?"

Ben seemed shocked by the question, but then wiped the tears from his cheek and said quietly, "Yes."

Six months later Ben also died, but by then he had been baptized and confirmed, and had received the Blessed Sacrament daily.

Whenever I think of that couple I realize the value of perseverance in prayer, especially prayer that stems from the deepest humility.

Shirley never asked that she witness Ben's conversion. No, her prayer was always for God's glory, not hers. It calls to mind those words that begin Psalm 115:
"Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name give glory" [Ps 115:1]
This too was a miracle, a moral miracle, but also a miracle of healing, for it healed a man of his brokenness, his broken heart and his broken soul. And it all happened thanks to the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ on earth, and the humble, prayerful intercession of a single person.

Do you see how much you and I need the power that Jesus Christ confers through His presence in the Holy Eucharist?
If we believe in the Eucharistic Presence and practice our faith as Christ demands of those who love Him, we will receive miraculous graces beyond the capacity of the human will to practice.

I look to Africa, the Middle East, East Asia and elsewhere through the world and am simply astonished by the depth of faith evidenced by the thousands who have given their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.

We live in an age of martyrs, an age that rivals the first centuries of Christianity. As Tertullian said early in the third century: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Today's martyrs are beacons of hope, miraculous signs pointing to something far greater than themselves, pointing to the One they follow, the One who gave His life for the salvation of all humanity.

In Chapter 6 of John's Gospel, Jesus tells a very skeptical crowd:
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" [Jn 6:51].
In revealing this, Jesus proclaims His sacrificial act of redemption, His laying down of His life for us. And in doing so He offers us the gift of eternal life. In other words, He lays down His life so we can have eternal life.

The question for us, then, is do also we lay down our lives in willing sacrifice or do we lead lives of pleasure, pride, selfishness or willfulness? Paradoxically, our search for happiness in all these things leads only to grief. Our refusal to lay down our lives in sacrifice to God and others is the root of our unhappiness, anxiety, fear and despair.

This is why we need the Eucharist in our lives. When we receive Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, we receive the saving sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. That one, full, final sacrifice is made real and present for our forgiveness and healing.

Do you share this with those you serve, preparing them to expect God working in their lives? In this ministry of ours we carry the Eucharistic miracle to others. Do you believe that? Do you let those you serve know of the power of the Eucharist to heal bodies and minds and hearts and souls?

The one place on earth where our confused human minds can always be enlightened by the mind of God is in the presence of God incarnate in the Blessed Sacrament. How today's overly educated world needs to know this, a world that believes it is smarter than the God it no longer needs, in which it no longer believes.

How often in the Gospel did Jesus restore sight to the blind?  This was just a prelude to phenomenal miracles our Eucharistic Savior performs for those who come to Him and say, "Lord I am blind; help me see."

I suppose my last question to you is this: Do you expect Eucharistic miracles?

Lord Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, teach us the wonders you want to work for us.  Lead us to your presence in the Holy Eucharist to work miracles of body of will and especially of mind because dear Jesus the Holy Eucharist is You and You are our God. And with God nothing is impossible. Amen.


Here are a few question to mull over in your small groups:

1. What miracles have you witnessed or experienced in your life? Did the Eucharist play a role? How?

2. How have you addressed the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Jesus with those you serve?

3. How can you help those you serve deepen their faith in Christ’s Eucharistic Presence and their expectation of miracles?

4. Have you seen changes in those you serve as a result of their deepening faith in the Eucharist?

Morning of Reflection: Ministry to the Sick 2

The following is Part 2 of the Morning of Reflection conducted for our parish's Ministers to the Sick. The third and final part will be published in another post.

Part 1 can be read here: Morning of Reflection - Part 1.


OK, Ministers of Healing, if you really want to learn what your ministry is all about, the best place to turn is to our four Gospels - wonderful books filled with God's Healing Presence.

Because there are so many, we don't have time to examine all the healings described by the four evangelists. And so I've just chosen one, trusting that the Holy Spirit will help us recognize its relevance to our ministry.

In fact, I'll confess that when I was led to this passage, at first I couldn't see any direct connection to our ministry. But in prayer the Holy Spirit continued to tell me: this is the passage; this is the one; this is the healing I want you to share. So I said, okay. He really doesn't like it when I argue with Him.

With that, let's turn to Chapter 15 of Matthew's Gospel.  And there we find Jesus doing something that most Jews would never do. He and his disciples left Gennesaret in Israel and walked about 30 miles to the coast, toward the cities of Tyre and Sidon, two Canaanite cites. -- two Gentile cities, two pagan cities. And while He was there, Jesus actually interacted with these pagans.

Why did He go there?  Well, the Pharisees and those who were plotting against Him had become more aggressive and He knew it was not yet His time. So He probably decided to leave for a while. But, perhaps more importantly, He leaves the land of Israel and enters the land of the despised Canaanites to instruct the Apostles and give them a taste of what they will be called to do.

Listen to what happened...


And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon."

But he did not answer her a word.

And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."

And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to little dogs."

She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the little crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. [Mt 15:21-28]


Many Christians, when they hear this Gospel passage, become almost fixated on Jesus' language, astonished that He would say what He reportedly said to this poor woman. Did He actually call her a little dog? That certainly doesn't seem very charitable, does it - not very Jesus-like?

About 25 years ago, during my five years of diaconate formation, I occasionally spent some time chatting with a rabbi about spiritual things. We usually talked about the Old Testament, but he was remarkably knowledgeable about the New Testament, especially the four Gospels.

I can't recall how it came up, but one afternoon I mentioned this particular passage and I guess my feelings showed, because he just laughed and said, "Amazing! You Christians are a lot harder on Jesus than we Jews."

When I asked him to explain himself, he said, "Well, that line about it not being right 'to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs' is just a another Hebrew and Aramaic expression, an idiom, a common phrase in those days. It's really no different than you or I saying 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks.' And who today would be insulted by that? No one. Everyone knows it's just an expression. In fact most people would probably laugh at it, just as the woman did when she gave her witty response."

So...the rabbi came to the rescue. It seemed reasonable. After all, Jesus' words really didn't bother her as much as they bothered me.

It helped...sort of. But even then, that Jesus would seemingly insult a mother who came to Him for continued to trouble me.

I recall one homilist saying that Jesus was simply testing the woman, seeing how she would react to the insult. In other words, was her faith stronger than her pride? Was her love for her afflicted daughter greater than her love for herself? Sort of a love-for-another vs. self-image sort of thing. I never really liked that explanation, as if Jesus were playing minds games with her.

Another commentator remarked that Jesus softened the common Jewish term for Gentiles, by calling her a "little" dog.

Okay, I suppose that's better, but I was still somewhat frustrated by it all.

So I just decided to ignore it and focus instead on the reality of the passage: the interaction between Jesus and this woman and the healing of her daughter.

First of all, she was a remarkable woman. Although a Canaanite, a pagan, she sought Jesus out...which tells us something, that the Holy Spirit already moved within her, that He had entered this pagan heart.

Approaching Jesus, she pleaded with Him, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David..." Like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, she called Him by His Messianic title, "Lord, Son of David."

And for whom did she plead? Not for herself, but for her afflicted daughter.

On the surface it seemed to be the kind of plea to which Jesus would normally respond. But then everything seemed to go wrong for her, didn't it?

Of course the disciples were upset with her, but that was nothing new. So often they seemed upset with anyone who approached Jesus, especially those they didn't approve of. And they certainly wouldn't approve of a Canaanite, and a woman, approaching Jesus. So they plead with Jesus, "Send her away."

But He didn't send her away, did He? Recognizing this, she came to Him, knelt at His feet, and once again begged for His help. And so began this brief, but strange, dialog between the two.

It's a dialog about little dogs and little crumbs, about Jews and Gentiles, about humility and faith, about mothers and daughters and healing - all packed into a couple of sentences.

At first Jesus rejected her request, using those seemingly insulting words. But after this apparent rejection and being called a "little dog" did she just go away, and withdraw in silence?

Not at all. No she did something rather extraordinary. She didn't argue with Jesus, but agreed with Him - "Yes, Lord..." I suppose I am a little dog - but she agreed in a most unique and creative way. What a comeback!
"Yes, Lord; yet even little dogs eat the little crumbs that fall from the master's table" [Mt 5:27].
Do you see what she did? In that one sentence she took this rather grim rejection, this metaphor of a dog, and offered a little parable of her own, a parable of divine mercy. "...crumbs that fall from the Master's table" - that's all she asks for.

One gets the impression that she became the teacher, that she reminded Jesus of something very basic, something that had maybe slipped His mind.

But that's only an impression, and a false one, because everything Jesus did was in obedience to the Father's will and to fulfill His plan. Here I'm reminded of St. Paul's wonderful words to the Romans:
"Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy" [Rom 15:8-9].
Yes, indeed, Jesus became a servant so the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. And isn't this exactly what the Canaanite woman did? Note, too, that throughout this encounter she called Jesus, "Kyrie" or Lord. Indeed, she used the title four times.

By fretting so much about our Lord's language we overlook perhaps the key element of this encounter. We overlook the woman's remarkable humility, a humility displayed to us thanks to those words of Jesus. In a sense she proclaims to Him that she is happily nothing more than a stray dog in search of a master, in search of her Lord.

Like all who come to Jesus, she comes filled with hope. It is that hope, bathed in her humility that drives her faith.  Hope and humility - that's the recipe for the reception of the gift of faith.

The hopeful and the humble - these are the faithful ones.

Who are the faithless? The fearful, the proud and the despairing.

And it is her faith that tells her something wonderful: Jesus has come to save. He has come to save, not just His own people, "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," but everyone. He has come to save her, her daughter, her people.

This woman recognized a divine truth that even the Apostles had yet to understand:
Jesus wants nothing more than to be found out, to be seen as the merciful Savior. He wants us to find Him out one at a time, individually in our lives.
She understands that to be overtaken, to be comprehended, to be sheltered, she must ultimately allow herself to be defeated by Jesus.

She submits, she adores, she is accepted. You can almost hear her, can't you?
You are the loving Lord of all, of past, present and future, of the high and the low, of the accepted and rejected, of the well-fed sheep and the scrawny little dogs, of the chosen Jews and the pagans who await you...the Lord of every needy person who seeks you.
Driven by hope, filled with faith, she is moved to love. And it's a totally selfless love. In her deep humility she takes possession of her new name, her new title, for she is happily the Lord's little dog. Happy to reside in her Master's house, happy to eat the little crumbs that fall from His table.

And what are those little crumbs but a foreshadowing of the heavenly crumbs, the bread of angels that comes to us from the Lord's table? It is in the Church, at the Eucharistic table, where Christ's mercy forever rains down these crumbs of life.

Brothers and sisters, when you take the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, to someone who can't attend Mass, you become everything to that person, just as Jesus became everything to that Canaanite woman, who awaited those crumbs. For you are the Church, sent out to take Jesus Christ to those who await Him, to those begging on their knees for His healing mercy.

You hold Him in your hands and you say, "Here He is. Here is Jesus, the one who has come to save you, the one who loves you, even in your sinfulness, the one who heals..."Take and eat the Bread of Life, of eternal life, the crumbs that fall down from heaven itself."

This is what the Church does, for we are a Eucharistic Church. This is what you do.

How did the Fathers of Vatican II put it? The Eucharist is the "source and summit of the Christian life." The source and summit, the beginning the end - yes, the Eucharist is everything.

How fitting that, before the final blessing at Mass, you are called forward to receive the Lord's Eucharistic Presence at the foot of His altar. And then, after receiving that blessing, you hear the words of dismissal.

Those of you who've been around a while, do you remember the Latin words, the words of dismissal?

"Ite, missa est!"

"Ite!" It means go forth, depart. And "missa est" - It is sent. What is sent? The Church is sent. You and I are sent. We are all sent to carry Jesus Christ into the world.

As Jesus manifested His Healing Presence in the land of Canaan, so too are you called to do the same in Central Florida. Just as thousands of others like you carry Jesus throughout the word to those who seek His Presence, to those who beg for His mercy.

But we're not yet finished with our Gospel passage.

The healing itself was a little different, wasn't it? Mark, when he described this encounter, tells us that the woman returned home to find her daughter healed. Matthew simply tells us she was healed instantly.

It was one of those long-range healings, not unlike the healing of the Centurion's servant, something we are reminded of at every Mass.
"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed" [Mt 8:8].
Jesus, moved by the faith of the Canaanite woman, heals her daughter from afar, and gives us a lesson on the power of healing prayer.

You don't have to be there!

That's right, you don't have to be there because you don't do the healing. That's God's job. Our job is one of faithful and prayerful intercession.

Interestingly, this Canaanite woman, this Gentile, this pagan, apparently knew this as well. She never demanded, or even asked, that Jesus follow her home to lay hands on and pray over her daughter. No, her faith is so great she merely falls at Jesus feet and begs for healing. She tells Him her need and lets Him do the rest.

Now I want you to think about something. As I mentioned in our first session, too often we take a rather confined view of our ministries. We place personal limits on what we do and whom we serve.

But there's another psychological limit that artificially restricts our ministry - a temporal limit. In other words, I do my ministry on Wednesday morning after Mass when I go to the nursing home...then I go play golf, or mahjong, or pickelball. Now, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with any of those activities. Not at all. I'm only suggesting that we mustn't compartmentalize our ministry, thinking of it as something we do only during a few rather restrictive hours.

Ministry is a calling, not a job. Yes, indeed, ministry is a 7 x 24 calling. To think otherwise is to miss opportunities for evangelization, which is the Church's primary activity - for that's what your calling is, a call to evangelize.

And secondly, out of this Gospel passage we're shown the importance of intercessory prayer. Are those you serve included as a regular part of your prayer life? Do you pray for them and for their families daily? This, too, is part of the ministry to which you've been called.

This Healing Ministry is a ministry of shared lives - a sharing, a mingling of your life and the lives of those you serve. Think about it. For many you are the only interaction they have with the Church. As I said earlier, you are the Church to them.

What does the Church do? It brings Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to the world - the revealed Word of God in Scripture and the Incarnate Word of God in the Eucharist. And this is exactly what you do. Just think of the responsibility to which this leads.

And maybe I'll let you do just that as you get together in your groups and consider a few more questions:

1. How can I better address the healing needs of those I serve?

2.What can I do to help those I serve better understand the Presence of God in Word and Eucharist?

3. What have I done to show those I serve that, like Jesus, I am interested in their every need?

4. What can I do to make the Church more present in the lives of those I serve?

Morning of Reflection: Ministry to the Sick 1

Yesterday, I was honored to be asked to conduct a morning of reflection for the Ministers to the Sick from our parish along with and a number of ministers from one of our neighboring parishes, St. Theresa in Belleview, Florida. 

The content of this post includes my brief introduction, followed by the first of three talks. I will include the other two talks in subsequent posts. Each talk was about 30 minutes long.


Good morning all. As Mary said, I'm Deacon Dana McCarthy, one of the permanent deacons assigned here to St. Vincent de Paul Parish. I've been here for 14 years now - in fact it's 14 years next month - and have seen the St. Vincent de Paul grow from a small but ever more crowded mission church, to a large ever more crowded parish church.

But in all those years this parish has been truly blessed by those who were here from its beginnings, people like Mary Wresh and her husband, Al. The other day I came across a 20-year-old parish booklet filled with photos of parishioners and ministries. I think there were six people in the photo of the Ministers to the Sick.

How many do we have now, Mary? Over 100? 

Before we begin, I suppose you'd like to know what we'll be doing this morning and how we'll be doing it. I intend to give a series of talks on various aspects of your ministry. And after each talk I'll toss out a few questions that I hope you will discuss in small groups. We'll then ask you to present your conclusions so we can all learn from what you discussed.

Nothing complex - a very straightforward approach. And somewhere in the midst of it all, we'll take a break or two.

The overall theme today is healing, but more specifically we'll focus on you, as you carry out your ministry as a Bearer of God's Healing Presence. I planned this to consist of three talks, each relating to a different aspect of this overall theme.

In our first session, we'll look briefly at ourselves, and then look beyond ourselves to those we serve, as we try to comprehend the breadth of their physical, mental and spiritual needs.

In our second session we'll jump right into the Gospel and try to understand, if only partially, what Jesus teaches us about healing.

And in our third session, we'll address the gifts that God offers to those you visit - the gift of Himself, His Eucharistic Healing Presence, and the gift of His Church - and how these gifts must change both you and those you serve.

I also hope to reserve a little time toward the end of our morning to address a variety of issues: 
  • Ideas or approaches you'd like to share with the rest of us;
  • Questions or difficulties you've encountered, and solutions you've come up with;
  • And anything else that relates to how we carry out the work our ministry.
And so I hope this morning will prove valuable, and will help you as you care for God's people, often His most forgotten people.

You are ministers of Word, and Grace, and Healing; you are messengers of God's Presence in the world. And this work you do - God's Work - is not a choice you make...not at all. It is a ministry, and therefore it is a calling. Just as Jesus called His Apostles, just as He called Paul, so He has called you.

In so many ways your calling is unique - one of spiritual and physical healing. God has called you to carry His Son to a world in need of healing. Like Mary, you are a Christ-Bearer, one whose ministry must "magnify the Lord."

Like John the Baptist, you are called to point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the introduce Him to those in need of His Presence. Like John you are sent before the Messiah, the Christ, so you too can say to those you serve, "Here He is...He must increase; you and I must decrease."

And like Peter and Paul and the Apostles, you are called to carry the Church itself to those unable to step through these doors. The Church isn't a building. It's not the Vatican, or the cathedral in Orlando, or St. Vincent de the Church is you, and me, and all the baptized. It's the apostolic succession of bishops and popes. It's all those who came before us and those who will come after.

This is your calling, brothers and sisters, the ministry with which God has blessed you - one that should drive you to your knees daily in thanksgiving and humility.

And so, humbled by our call and filled with thanksgiving, let's begin.


"Again, Good morning, Ministers of Healing!"

That's what you are, you know. Indeed, you are Ministers of Healing, for you take God's healing Presence to His people. This is what we'll be talking about today as we explore just a little piece of this wonderful and very central aspect of your ministry.

In some respects this title - Minister of Healing - is really a much better, more appropriate and descriptive title than the one you've been given. Just think about it: Minister to the Sick. It sounds so very limited, doesn't it?

Some of those you visit are indeed sick, whether in the hospital, a nursing facility, or at home. In truth, though, not everyone you visit suffers from physical or mental illness. Some are progressively or permanently disabled and unable to drive to Mass. But I assure you, they would not like to be called "sick."

Others are recovering from surgery or going through a period of rehabilitation, but they're certainly not physically sick.

And of course there are those who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer's, or other mental afflictions. Indeed, some of these, as their mental condition deteriorates, remain in remarkably good physical condition.

And some, like so many in our local community, are simply old and no longer as mobile as they once were. But they too are not sick, unless you consider old age an illness.

Yes, in our ministry we're often confronted by a wide variety of conditions, both physical and mental. But they're not all illnesses, are they? At least not in the way we normally think of illness.

But do you know something? Every person you visit, every person who accepts the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus Christ from you, and even the one who can't or won't accept it, is in need of healing. No exceptions. No one is exempt. You and I and those we visit might not need physical healing every day, but every single one of us needs to be healed...because we are all sinners.

And so, as we progress through the morning, I'd like you to keep that truth uppermost in your mind.

We are all sinners in need of healing.

I'll be repeating that, probably more often than you like.
We are all sinners in need of healing.
Whenever possible, I like to keep things simple. It isn't always easy; and those who know me also know that I can very quickly get swallowed up in the muddy details. I'll try to avoid that today.

Quite simply, then, my focus this morning will be on the needs of those we visit and what God brings to them through us. And in bringing this into focus I hope to expand both your understanding of this ministry and your concept of whom we, as Christians, are called to serve.

Of course, when you're seeking God's will in your life, I can think of no better place to turn than to His Word. So let's go right to the Gospel, specifically Matthew's Gospel, to that wonderfully scary passage where Jesus depicts the Last Judgment - Mt 25:31-46.


"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?'

Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."


Now, I won't try to second-guess God - which in itself is sinfully presumptuous - by telling Him how He should weigh our sheepfulness against our goatfulness. Instead let's just look at what Jesus says He expects of us. You all heard it.

Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. What better food and drink to give to those who hunger and thirst than the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

Welcome the stranger. So many in our communities are strangers in need of welcome. Alone, separated from family, without friends, they live lives of desperate loneliness.

Clothe the naked. We might not encounter the naked all that often, but believe me, there are many here in central Florida in need of a winter coat or a good pair of shoes.

Visit the sick - We'll certainly not ignore them today - and the imprisoned. Some of you might be involved in prison ministry, but you don't need to go to the Federal Prison in Coleman to encounter the imprisoned. Many of those you visit are effectively imprisoned in their homes, unable to leave, and  rarely visited.

These are all, of course, elements of the Corporal Works of Mercy, all a part of the ministry to which God has called you.

And did you notice that in our Gospel passage both the righteous and the wicked seem clueless, baffled by Jesus' references to Himself? Neither, really, had recognized Him in the world.

That should lead us to question our own motives. Why do we carry out this ministry?

Is it to please ourselves? To make us feel better about ourselves? To convince ourselves we're good people.

Is it to do good in the world? To right the wrongs we encounter?

Is it to place a check-mark in a box? "Well, I guess I should do something in the Church. Might as well visit the sick."

Or is it to serve Jesus Christ?

Jesus is pretty clear, isn't He? He ties care for others, the need to heal others, to care for Jesus Himself. By serving those who suffer, we serve Him who suffered for our salvation. From this we come to realize that the two great commandments - love of God and love of neighbor - are truly inseparable.

Every person we encounter bears Jesus' own face, and in every sufferer we come to know our suffering Savior. Perhaps Pope St. John Paul said it best:
"Christ said, 'You did it to me.' He Himself is the one who in each individual experiences love; He Himself is the one who receives help...He Himself is present in this suffering person, since His salvific suffering has been opened once and for all to every human suffering" [Salvifici Doloris, VII:29].
It's through the power of the Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters, that we are united to Jesus and allowed to participate in His saving Cross.  It's through this that we come to know Him and serve Him in our suffering neighbors. You want to know Jesus Christ? Then get to know those you serve in His name. Just as Jesus heals a broken world from the Cross, so too do you carry His healing Presence to those you visit.

The trouble is, we allow our titles to limit our thinking. "I'm a Minister to the Sick," we say to ourselves, without considering all those others in need of God's Presence and, yes, in need of our presence.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta pointed this out to us in her own unique way when she wrote:

Jesus is the hungry to be fed.
Jesus is the thirsty to be satisfied.
Jesus is the naked to be clothed.
Jesus is the homeless to be taken in.
Jesus is the sick to be healed.
Jesus is the lonely to be loved.
Jesus is the unwanted to be wanted.
Jesus is the leper to wash His wounds.
Jesus is the beggar to give Him a smile.
Jesus is the drunkard to listen to Him.
Jesus is the mentally ill to protect Him.
Jesus is the little one to embrace Him.
Jesus is the blind to lead Him.
Jesus is the speechless to speak to Him.
Jesus is the crippled to walk with Him.
Jesus is the drug addict to befriend Him.
Jesus is the prostitute to remove from danger and befriend Her.
Jesus is the prisoner to be visited.
Jesus is the old to be served.

There's no limit is there?

I recall once accompanying one our soup kitchen drivers as he delivered food to the poor. When we arrived at one elderly woman's dilapidated mobile home she invited us in, said "Hi" to the driver and then looked at me and said, "Who's he?"

The driver said, "Oh that's the soup kitchen president. He's just riding along with me today."

She laughed and said, "La-de-dah, the president." Then she added, "I used to be a hooker, but not any more. I'm a good girl now."

So I just said, "Well, I'm glad to hear it. I'm still trying to be good." That broke the ice.

Yes, folks, we're called to serve all, even those the world despises. We're called to serve those who make us uncomfortable, those who irritate us, those who sometimes even scare us.

Some years ago, back in my Navy days, I was on a US Marine Corps base and saw a bumper sticker that read, "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out."

Now before you get all aflutter about it, as someone who spent many years in the military, let me say that I understood the sentiment. When everyone you see, everyone around you, is shooting at you, such a statement becomes more understandable.

And, of course, crude as it was, it was a joke - perhaps not meant for pleasant society, but a joke nevertheless.

But, you know, with only a single modification, it can serve us well in our ministry. And so let's rewrite it:

"Love them all and let God sort them out."
You see, we don't do the sorting; we are not to judge. God simply calls us to love.

How blessed you are to realize that as you care for others you care for Jesus Himself. And here we encounter another Gospel paradox: when we keep all for ourselves in this life, we lose our lives eternally; and in giving ourselves away to sufferers, we gain everything. You see, that's what the healer must do. Yes, you must give the other Christ's sacramental Presence, but you must also give yourself.

Do we do that? Or has the practice of our ministry become "procedural" - a repetitive event - follow the rite...

Hello. How are you today?...Our Father, who art in heaven...Behold the Lamb of God...The Body of Christ...God bless you and have a great day...See you next week....Amen.
Let's return to our original thought, the one I told you to keep in mind. Does anyone remember?

We are all sinners in need of healing.
Yes, indeed, but to be a true healers, you and I must turn first to the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit does God's work in the world.

Moved by the Holy Spirit you can invite the other to experience new freedom in his or her life, to lead the other to forgiveness - a forgiveness that so often needs to be self-forgiveness.

Diane and I work as hospital chaplains and once or twice a month we're assigned to a 24-hour on-call ministry. We given a list of all the new admissions and spend several hours trying to visit as many as possible. We visit all regardless of their religious affiliation.

One morning, after we introduced ourselves to a patient, he said, "Well, I was raised a Catholic but I haven't been to church in over 50 years. And believe me, in that time I've done so much bad stuff God wouldn't even look at me."

So Diane and I spoke to him about God's love for him and God's mercy and God's total forgiveness. And then we asked if he'd like to be forgiven, if he'd like to be right with God once again. He couldn't believe it was possible, but we convinced him otherwise.

All he needed was the grace of a good confession and then the Eucharist would fill him with God's healing Presence. Like so many he first had to forgive himself before he could accept and experience God's forgiveness and the healing that follows.

On the day I was ordained a deacon, the bishop looked out at us, and reminded us that we are called to preach, to teach, and to heal.

I can recall thinking...well, okay, I can handle the preaching and teaching part, but how do I go about this healing thing?  Then I had a moment of terror. Maybe I should have thought about this before today, the day of my ordination.

It took me a long time in the trenches before I had even a clue, and I'm still a healer in training. Believe me, it's been a very long apprenticeship, over 20 years. And often enough I can't tell the successes from the failures, and so I simply let God handle it.
"Love them all and let God sort them out."
Let me tell you a story...

Willie came to the Wildwood Soup Kitchen every day, always among the first to arrive, sometimes two or three hours before we actually began serving our daily meal. He'd always ask for a cup of coffee and if I had a few minutes, I'd sit down across the table from him and we'd chat.

I won't call it a conversation, because Willie was rarely sober, and to be honest, I could understand only about a third of what he said. But we'd talk anyway. We'd talk about God and about heaven and about life and death and about sin and forgiveness. For some reason Willie seemed to think I was the pastor of the Presbyterian church where the soup kitchen is located. And no matter what I said, I couldn't convince him otherwise.

One day I finally said, "No, Willie, I'm a Catholic deacon, over at St. Vincent de Paul's Church."  And he just looked at me, shook his said, and said, "Funny they'd make you pastor here."

Anyway, that was our little ritual every Thursday morning for a year or so. One Thursday morning he asked me if I thought he'd go to heaven. I asked him if he loved the Lord, and he said, "Oh, yes."

And are you sorry for your sins, Willie?" And he said again, "Oh, yes."

So I just said, "You'll be fine, sir."

A few weeks later, early one frosty morning, they found Willie lying in the bushes outside the soup kitchen. He had died during the night. That was about ten winters ago.

You know, I probably learned more about Jesus Christ from Willie than from all the theologians I've heard and read and studied. You see, he had grasped the truth. He knew he was a sinner in need of forgiveness.

In this age when no one wants to take responsibility for anything, when it's always someone else's fault, or society's fault, or our genes' fault, this ragged man, suffering from alcoholism and who knew what else, realized he had sinned and sought forgiveness.

In God's eyes, if not the eyes of the world, Willie was eminently lovable. That's how God sees all of us when we recognize our responsibility for our actions and seek forgiveness. He sees us as lovable. Of course, He loves us anyway, and often enough He loves us into repentance and forgiveness.

Willie neither asked for nor received a physical healing, but God's healing power, His love and mercy, reached out and touched the heart of that man as he faced eternity.
It's important to realize that the healing we need, the healing God offers us, might be something very different from the healing we want.

You know, if you sat down tonight and read all four Gospels from beginning to end, you'd encounter Jesus' healing power on dozens of occasions. But those are just the healing events about which Matthew, Mark, Luke and John provide details. The Gospels are also filled with comments such as this from Matthew 9:
"Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity." [Mt 9:35]
Did you catch that? "...every disease and every infirmity."

Jesus' healing knew no limits, did it? How many did He heal? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? We don't know, do we? But nowhere in the Gospel did He refuse to heal someone.

And so I thought, as healers (and healees), we might want to take a lessons from the Great Healer, and from those he healed, by making a stop in the pages of the Gospel.

But before we do that, let's first think about our ministry and those we are called to serve.

Note: At this point, I provided the participants with the following questions asking them to discuss them in their small groups.

  1.  How did you become a Minister to the Sick? How did God call you? Describe your response.
  2. Has your understanding of this ministry, your calling, changed over time? How?
  3. What (or who) are the greatest challenges you encounter in this ministry?
  4. How have you changed since you became a Minister to the Sick?

Homily: Saturday, 3rd Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Sm12:1-7, 10-17; Ps 51; Mk 4:35-41


"You are the man!" [2 Sam 12:7]
David, the King, his sin exposed by Nathan, comes to realize the depth of his sinfulness. It is through your sin, the Lord tells him, that you have despised me. Such very hard words from God. And how these words must have torn open the heart of David, as he came to realize the depth of his sinfulness.

David, the King, falls to the ground. Now a penitent like any other sinner, he repents, pleads for forgiveness, and prays for the life of his infant son. We hear David's grief and his plea expressed in Psalm 51, the penitential hymn he prayed that very day:
For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your eyes...Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God; then my tongue shall revel in your justice. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. [Ps 51: 5-6,16-17]
Yes, his guilt makes David unable to praise; God must open his lips. God, through forgiveness, must allow David to love once again.
David sings his Psalm of repentance
But even though God forgives, sin still has its consequences, doesn't it? And if the sinner is great in the world's eyes, those consequences can be far-reaching indeed.

For David the most devastating consequence is the death of his son, the product of his sin. But he is also King, so the nation and its people will suffer as well. And the King hears that ominous prophecy: "The sword shall never depart" from the house of David.

Yes, David is forgiven, for our sins don't condemn us. If they did none of us could be saved.

No, the threat to our salvation comes from our refusal to repent, our unwillingness to change. But God never stops calling and waits patiently for repentance and conversion. His mercy is always there, just waiting for us.

You see, Bothers and Sisters, God wants life for us, not death. This is why He sent His only Son, our Redeemer, into the word, not to condemn the word, but...
"I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly" [Jn 10:10].
But that abundant life depends on our acceptance of God's gift of faith. How did Jesus scold the Apostles in today's Gospel passage? He did it with two questions...

His first question? "Why were you afraid?" The answer is simple enough...because the threatening seas had convinced them they wouldn't survive the storm. Yes, they were terrified.

And His second question? "Do you not yet have faith?" Again, a simple answer: No, they didn't, because fear and faith cannot coexist in the human heart.
Jesus Still the Sea - Fear and Lack of Faith
But Jesus performs this miracle because of their fear, so they will come to know who He is, so they will be able to answer that other question He will ask them later: 
"Who did you say that I am?" [Mt 16:15]
Yes, Jesus speaks to the sea as only its Creator can, and the Apostles ask themselves a question having just witnessed its answer:
"Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?" [Mk 4:41]
Of course the other Gospel message is Jesus' ongoing Presence in the Church.

The boat and the Twelve represent the fullness of the Church community, and no matter the trials and storms it might face, Jesus is always there among us.

Our weak faith can cause to believe God is sleeping, unaware of the threats surrounding His Church. And like the Apostles we turn to God our hearts touched with despair: " you not care that we are perishing?"

Silly question - one asked only by the weak of faith.

Brothers and sisters, we were given the gift of Emmanuel - God with us - so we need never fear, we need never despair. God remains with the Church, just as He promised:
"I am with you always, until the end of the age." [Mt 28:20]
And He remains with you and with me, always calling us, always forgiving us, always loving us, always saving us.