A Ministry of Healing
Friday Oct. 12, 2012
Gal 3:7-14 Luke 11:15-26
If I were to compose a piece of music or create a painting to illustrate today’s readings, I’d call it “Conflicting Voices.” There’s no chance of any painting or motet coming, but let me try, in a word picture, to illustrate the idea.
Galatians is Paul’s most pointed letter, and he is desperate to correct the Galatians who wanted to base or evaluate their relationship with God on their observance of the law, rather, than, as Paul had himself so clearly experienced, on the gift of grace in Jesus. As I read his words I could hear (almost literally) the voice of John Houseman from those famous Smith-Barney commercials of the 1980s, “they make their money the old fashioned way; they EARN it.” Maybe I was hearing the voice of so many people who have a tendency to think they somehow have earned or need to earn their place in God’s love – or to feel overwhelmed by their failures and so believe they can never draw near to this Smith-Barney kind of God. Sometimes even the Church seems to be speaking in this voice, though that is not what it really professes.
There are multiple, and conflicting, voices in the Gospel as well. Voices of those whose motive is to test Jesus, perhaps to trap him, but who surely are not open to accept and receive the healing Jesus was/is offering.
As we hear the Gospel today in our own culture there are those (many?) who are reluctant to hear or are dismissive of any conversation mentioning demons. This fragment of a prayer aptly illustrates the situation: “Eternal God, in the long ago days when the earth was flat, and heaven was above the clouds, and disease was caused by demons, your son was born to lighten all our darknesses. We now, after the enlightenment, are in bondage to different limitations. We doubt what we cannot prove; we ignore what we cannot see, and find little room for faith, we suspect angels and disbelieve good news.” The voices we collectively call Secularism would mute the voice of God from our life’s soundtrack, but even for many who would affirm God, the question of evil and how to conceive of it remains a puzzle – or is dismissed.
At this point in my life, I would affirm the world is not a neutral stage. There are forces/influences for good and evil which affect events and affect us/me. Today we can know them by a variety of terms, medical, societal, psychological. The language of demons, once we come round to it again through these other lenses and, as Eliot said, “know the place for the first time”, can have real value. For, what is it that causes so many good people, drawn here to retreat, to say after a day or so, “I wonder what am I doing here, all these people are so much better than I am, so much more experienced in faith and prayer than I am; I feel I don’t belong.” I remember a conversation I had with Bob Lindsay SJ, my spiritual director before he died. I was telling him about a struggle I was having and he said (pointing) “that’s one of your demons. You know it well – it has been with you a long time. It may never leave completely, but because you now know it for what it is, when it begins to act up you can name it and tell it to “sit down” and behave, like a dog in the corner.”
Earlier this week I spoke with Maddy about today’s Gospel and she said , it’s true, there are such influences – and often enough, the closer a person comes to God, to holiness, or as Ignatius also describes it, to true freedom, the more active these forces, these voices, get, for they don’t want to play 2nd fiddle to God (a recurrence of the first and primal sin). I think this confirms the basic insight I’m trying to describe here and illustrates the 2nd part of the Gospel and the reason why we need grace and ongoing prayer and reflection, and discernment to be sure of our way.
However, and most importantly, beneath all these conflicting voices is the consistent voice of God who desires only our health and well-being. Much like the fervent and moving voice of Jean Valjean in “Les Mis” when he prays to God for Marius – “ bring him home, keep him safe…even if I should die for him.”
That’s Jesus’ ministry, and it is frequently characterized as a ministry of healing. This healing has not ended at the Ascension, but rather is a good way to understand the ministry of the whole Christian community. This healing ministry extends to each of us, not only those gifted with extraordinary spiritual gifts, or the gifts of medical or psychological knowledge. In an article written nearly 60 years ago a leader of the church in Scotland wrote:
“Healing is a central obligation of the Church. Christ came neither to save souls nor to save bodies. He came to save people. Thus our whole ministry is one of healing: making crocked places straight - in international issues, in class issues, and issues of sex. In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female. He is the At-one-ment. And as of the larger, so of the less. Christ makes crooked people straight. As in the body politic, so in the human body He makes straight, here the crooked mind and there the crooked body, and most often the crooked mind-body. Just as there is no such thing as “Christian Truth” over against Truth, so there is no such thing as “Christian Healing” over against Healing. All healing is of God….We must avoid the…tendency to concentrate on divine healing as if it can be an isolated recovery, sealed off from social concern. It comes, for instance, somewhere near blasphemy that we should merely pray for “Margaret suffering from TB,” when we know quite well this illness was contracted in a damp room in the slums of Glasgow…when we know there is a cause which we should be tackling at the same time.”
Healing comes in many ways – medical, spiritual, the quiet voice and presence of the neighbor. It comes in one-on-one contact, in prayer, in working for social justice and peace in the world and in the Church. This is the voice of Jesus (sometimes a whisper, sometimes a shout) and each of us is given a part in carrying this voice to our world. I hear now, an echo of Diane’s words from yesterday encouraging us to expectancy. Do we truly expect healing is possible, and do we believe ourselves part of this ministry of Jesus? One small suggestion…Perhaps for many or most of us, the talk of discernment, of understanding and discriminating between the various voices in our hearts and minds (call them angels, demons, or not) is very familiar and helpful. For many today, however, it is not. This wisdom has been lost or drowned out. Perhaps one thing you might do is share the insights of Ignatius and others with people God draws into your life and in that help them understand how God is working in theirs.
Let me conclude with a particular example of how the healing ministry is understood and practiced. For over seventy years now, a service of prayers for healing is held each Tuesday night on the isle of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, by members, staff, volunteers, and guests of the Iona Community. There is no regular leader of this service, for the community believes that the ministry of healing belongs to all of us, so leadership each week is shared by those present. At the service, intentions from all over the world and from those present are offered in prayer and a prayer of blessing is said for each one present who desires it for him or herself or for some other person, group, or situation in the world. This is the prayer of blessing, one we might in our hearts offer for each other here and for the world now: “Spirit of the living God, present within us now, enter you, body, mind, and spirit, and heal you of all that harms you. In Jesus’ name.”
The service includes this other prayer “God of compassion and love, we offer you all our suffering and pain, give us strength to bear our weakness, HEALING EVEN WHEN THERE IS NO CURE, peace in the midst of turmoil, and love to fill the spaces in our lives. An important prayer for healing and curing are not always the same, though we might tend to think so.
And finally the service concludes, as I will now, with this blessing “And now may the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, that we may abound in hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.”