The Healing of the Nations
Thirteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Aelred Connelly preaches on the healing power of Christ and the sacraments.
The first reading tells us that death and sickness came into the world, through the devil’s envy. God’s response to this tragedy of sin and death was to send his own Son among us as one like us in all things but sin.
In today’s Gospel, we see the power of God at work in him, with the healing of the woman with the issue of blood and the bringing back to life of the little girl. Sickness and death are part of our fallen human condition. The very-down-to-earth experience of dealing with the reality of sickness and death close at hand in my own family has helped me to see the same experiences in the Gospel as more than just pious stories. Our modern day equivalent are the miraculous cures in answers to the prayers of the Saints, or the same such experienced in places such as Lourdes.
It is perhaps a reflection of our modern ills, that more is made of the healing of mental than of physical illness. If we think of the great recent saints, they reflect the needs of our times. Mother Theresa and the great work of caring for the very poorest and the sick and the dying. Padre Pio with his great healing manner in the confessional, after the manner of St John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars. The healing of body and soul went together for Jesus. What was harder to see and be believed: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise take up your bed and walk’?
The part of the one who seeks healing is faith, that gift of God which moves us to seek necessary healing from the one who first created us, life in all its fullness. We see the witness to this in the Word of God in scripture, and in the gifts he left us in his body the Church, especially the gift of himself in the sacraments of initiation. To believe, hope and love in baptism; the strengthening with the gifts of the Spirit in Confirmation; above all the gift of himself as spiritual food that we celebrate in the Eucharist. He comes in the sacraments of return, Reconciliation and Anointing. We are maintained and grow as a community through the sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders. The sacramental imagery is further enhanced when we speak of the Church as the ‘Sacrament’ of Christ and the humanity of Jesus as the sacrament of God.
We see this enacted in today’s Gospel with the healing of long standing illness, and the bringing back to life of one who has died very young. Even the death of the ageing and the very old can leave us bereft. In having to deal with the immediate family needs, we sometimes have to postpone the grieving process. However the effects of the emotional, and physical reactions of the death of a close family member or friend, does eventually catch up with us.
This was as true for the closest followers of Jesus, witnessed to in the events of his passion, death and resurrection. As he leaves them again to return to the Father in the Ascension, there is a sense of sadness, loss and apprehension as they return to the upper room, to await the promised sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit comes as teacher, comforter and advocate. As the depths of the revelation of God in Christ is communicated to us at the deepest levels of our being.
But as St Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, the love of God has to be seen in the way we relate to each other, both as individuals and as community. The economic crisis and the scandal of politicians expenses bring back to mind my father’s old political slogan, ‘Fair share for all and priority for the needy’. It might seem old-fashioned, but is surely a closer approximation to Gospel values than our present culture based on desires rather than genuine need. Surely the sacraments give us a model for the ‘Healing of the Nations’, in our own time, as we look forward to our sharing in the life of the Trinity in the time to come.