Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sickness and Healing

(13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

The Scriptures we hear today lead us to reflect on the mysteries of sickness and health, of illness and wellness. Everyone knows the experience of sickness, both in themselves and in the suffering of others. We know the tragedy of the terrible diseases that afflict those we love, and we are always aware of the fact that most of us will one day suffer through the last illness that will end in our death.

We automatically know that there is something wrong with this. It isn’t right that people suffer, that disease unjustly ends lives prematurely, and that people die. Sickness and death, in a way, are the simplest signs that there is something wrong with the world. We all know it in our hearts. People shouldn’t have to get sick, and shouldn’t have to die. The first reading today confirms this knowledge for us; the author of wisdom puts it simply: “God did not make death,’ but made all things “wholesome” and “man to be imperishable.”

So if God made everything wholesome and human beings to be imperishable, why do we get sick and die? Since God did not make death and does not will any creature to suffer, we know that sickness and death are part of the fallen state of the world. They are part of the fallenness of the world that derives mysteriously from, as Wisdom says, the “envy of the devil” and the disobedience and sin of our first parents. But here we have to be a little careful. Even though we know that sickness and death are part of the fallenness of the world that resulted from the original sin of our first parents, this does not mean there is a simple correspondence between sickness and personal sin for us as individuals. In other words, people do not suffer the punishment of illness in this life because of their individual sins. Instead, we all live together in an atmosphere of physical corruption and death because of the general sin of the world, and we suffer corporately on account of it.

This isn’t how God wills the world to be. God desires that his creatures be healthy and joyful. This is a large part of why we worship God for sending his Son into the world, because where God is there is only life and wellness. In Jesus the presence of divine wellness arrives among us. We see this in the two sandwiched parts of the gospel we hear today: The woman who had suffered for so long just had to touch Jesus’ clothes and she was healed. The little girl only had to receive Jesus’ word, and she rose again from death. Where Jesus is, there is only life and there is no room for sickness or death. This is why, for the Fathers of the Church, one of the favorite titles for Jesus was the “divine physician.”

This is why Holy Mass is such a sublime gift for us. In every Mass we hear Jesus speak the word that delivers us from death, just as it did for the little girl in the gospel today. In the Holy Communion we receive we are like the afflicted woman who reached out in faith to touch the Lord. She touched his clothes and Jesus’ healing power went into her body. We receive his Body and Blood and his healing power enters into our bodies and souls. One of the quiet prayers of the priest before Holy Communion expresses it so well: “Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body.” The new, more accurate translation (which we should have soon) puts it even more strongly, calling Holy Communion the “healing remedy.”

As the afflicted woman pushed her way through the crowd just to touch the Lord, let us strive in prayer to seek his healing presence. And as Jesus entered the house of the little girl to bring her healing, so he enters the inner room of our hearts through Holy Communion. Let us welcome his healing arrival.


Adoro said...

Thank you Father. I needed this.

pennyante said...

Fr. Charles wrote: "In other words, people do not suffer the punishment of illness in this life because of their individual sins."

Many years ago, I worked at a hospital as a parent advocate. I got to know many children in desperate situations. One child had birth defects that meant hospitalizations several times over several years.

The mother had a difficult time dealing with her child's situation because a cousin had told her that she must have sinned terribly and that God was punishing her by giving her this child. I spent a long time with the mother trying to undo the pain the cousin had caused her.

The family were simple country folk and believed what the cousin had said. What a tragedy...

Brother Charles said...

pennyante: May God give them peace. Disabusing folks of such debilitating beliefs is one of the hardest tasks of ministry. God bless you.

Snup said...

Interesting take on the readings for the week. My priest focused on the crowd and how we crowd God out of our lives...