Friday, October 12, 2007

Healing Thoughts

One of my greatest pleasures as a parent has been teaching my children the little songs my mother taught me. She never did it by halves -- her songs always had energetic hand and body movements, and dramatic intonations. There was no mumbling into a hymnbook; we sang each word ... as if we meant it. (What a concept.)

One of my favorites was about a wise man and a foolish man, who each built a house. The wise man built his house on the rock ... whereas the foolish one built on sand. You may remember what happened next ...

The rains came down and the floods came up.
The rains came down and the floods came up.
The rains came down and the floods came up.
But the house on the rock stood FIRM! (the sandy one went SMASH!)

Poor foolish man. He started with a dreamy seaside retreat, and wound up with an expensive pile of tooth picks.

The song concluded, "Soooo... build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ... and the blessings will come down (as the prayers go up)."

It wasn't until many years later that I realized that the song always ended prematurely. We never sang about the house "built on the Lord Jesus Christ" being subjected to those pesky rains and floods. It was as if we couldn't bring ourselves to admit that, sooner or later, the rains and floods always come. Even for those who build their life "on the Lord Jesus Christ."

There was a time when I thought that being a Christian meant that I would always get the happy ending to every story, so long as I followed Christ. I'm not sure where that idea came from, since I had witnessed terrible suffering. One case in particular made a lasting impression.

My mother's dear friend, Aunt Rosemary, contracted ALS in her mid-thirties. This vivacious, gentle lady went from chasing butterflies with us to smiling from her wheelchair ... to lying in bed, painfully spelling out each word with blinks of her eye.

Once night my mother met my father at the door in tears. That morning in Bible study (which was held at Rosemary's house), one woman felt "led" to pray for healing for Rosemary. The group gathered around the woman in the wheelchair, and waited expectantly for her to leap up. When nothing happened, they all sat around and discussed what might be keeping God from answering their prayer.

Finally, someone got a "word from the Lord": The reason Rosemary wasn't healed was because she had unconfessed sin in her life. At this point in the story, mom started crying again as she told my father what had happened. "It was like a flock of chickens, picking at the weak one! All of them gathered around her, and started questioning her. What was she hiding? Was she angry with God? Was she harboring doubts about Him? I didn't know what to do. They made Rosemary cry ... but they never did find out what the sin was."

It wasn't long before women started dropping out of the study. It was too hard to reconcile their belief in a loving, benevolent, healing God ... with what was happening to their friend.

Years later, I took a graduate course on the sacraments, and asked the priest whether he had ever healed someone through the sacrament of anointing. "Physical healing? No ... I don't think so," Father admitted. This flabbergasted me, since I had witnessed (and one time actually experienced) faith healing, through the laying-on of hands in charismatic churches. Why didn't the anointing of the sick work the same way, if Christ intended it to be a sacrament of healing?

The priest didn't say anything at first. He closed his eyes and let his chin sag to his chest, and stood there for quite some time -- praying for inspiration, I think. Finally, he said,

"Physical healing is not the most important way God heals people. It is at best a temporary 'fix.' Those who were healed by Christ Himself ... even Lazarus, raised from the dead ... they died sooner or later. As Catholics we believe that suffering is not without purpose. No, the greatest healing is not physical, but spiritual.

"Those who receive the anointing of the sick are reconciled with God, and strengthened spiritually for whatever might lie ahead. For some, it is more suffering. For others, it is the cessation of all suffering -- through death. Jesus used physical healing as a sign, to draw the people to Him so they would hear what He wanted to teach them. The healing did not last -- but that life was changed forever by the transforming power of faith."
In today's Gospel, we read of an encounter between Jesus and the crowd, who claimed that the source of Jesus' power was devilish, evil. Jesus replied,

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?....
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you." Luke 11:15-26
It was never Jesus' ability to work miracles that was in question, but the source of His power. For us, the question is not "Does God heal people today?" Of course He does, often through people -- whether through doctors using conventional medicine, priests administering the sacraments, or even "faith healers."

No, the question is not, "Does God want to heal me?" but "How am I most in need of healing?"

Or perhaps more to the point, "What will do my soul the most good?" Our bodies will not last forever. It is the state of our souls that must concern us most. And so, we need to avail ourselves of every means God has provided in the sacraments of healing -- Eucharist, reconciliation, and anointing -- to keep that which will never die in good working order.

"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word, and I shall be healed."

1 comment:

Gretchen said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts, and mentioning it on the Spitfire Grill. Spiritual healing is so problematic for modern Christians. I come to Catholicism through Christian Science, Charistmatic, Evangelical paths (in that order). So spiritual healing has been a very important aspect of Christianity to me. I could probably write a book about it, lol. One of the few good things I got from Christian Science was Jesus' admonition to us to "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give." (Matt. 10:8) So, that tells me it can be done (and I've experienced it numerous times). On the other hand, I've also NOT had healings when I've prayed and prayed and prayed for them. I'm just finding my way like everyone else, slowly and with detours. Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts!