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Monday, second week of Advent

December 6, 2004

Happy St. Nicholas Day :)!

Did you know that the use of Christmas stockings can be traced back to this saint of the early Church? He was a bishop in Turkey in the early 300’s and was imprisoned during the persecution under emperor Diocletion, but was later freed by Constantine. That’s about all history tells us about St. Nicholas. His generosity was legendary, though. One old story tells of three girls whose father was so poor that he was planning to sell them into slavery. When St. Nicholas heard of their plight, he waited until nightfall, so as to remain anonymous. Then he threw bags of gold through the open window into the stockings that were hanging by the fireplace to dry. This allowed the young ladies to preserve their freedom. To this day children hang stockings (by a fireplace, if they have one), hoping to benefit from St. Nicholas’ generosity. As adults, we can benefit even more from his example; remaining steadfast when our faith costs us (as St. Nicholas did in prison), responding generously to the needs of those around us, and keeping our deeds of mercy secret. St. Nicholas, please pray for us!

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 85:9-14 “Our God will come to save us!”
+ Luke 5:17-26

Which is more important; physical healing or spiritual healing?

It’s a question worth thinking about. If we don’t stop to think, we’ll find ourselves much more impressed by physical healing, especially if it’s instantaneous, miraculous. That’s what makes headlines. It’s what gets passed by word of mouth through the entire community. And we certainly spend a lot of money in our search for physical healing! But physical healing won’t get us to Heaven. In fact, it might even make it harder for us to get there–that seems to have happened to King Hezekiah (II Chronicles 32:24-25), and possibly to the man who was healed by the pool of Bethsaida (John 5:1-15). And physical healing doesn’t ensure happiness.
[Sin] is the root of human unhappiness. Other things may make life unpleasant, uncomfortable, extraordinarily difficult, but not necessarily unhappy. We can find happiness in ignorance, in terrible physical fatigue, in back-breaking labour. But happiness is not to be found in the heart of a sinner. He may wear the mask of pleasure and carry an air of bravado about with him as a protection from the pity of others. But no one knows better than the priest that no great sinner needs to be urged to shame and remorse; that sinner has drunk deep of the cup of misery and knows well its bitterness. -Walter Farrell, A Companion to the Summa

Our natural eyes see the pain of physical sickness. But we must have the eyes of Christ to see the more tragic pain of spiritual sickness. We were made in the image and likeness of God; made to share in His happiness. But that image and likeness become distorted almost beyond recognition when our souls are warped and tortured by sin.

I bring this up because both physical and spiritual healing are mentioned in our readings, and Jesus emphasizes the spiritual. Isaiah talks again about a kingdom of plenty, in which sight, hearing, speech and the ability to walk will be restored. He also assures us that there will be no sin (uncleanness) there.

The paralytic who was lowered through the roof in today’s Gospel was in need of both physical and spiritual healing. Jesus, confronted with both a contorted body and a distorted soul, gave first priority to the soul: “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee” (Luke 5:20). Only after His authority was challenged did He perform the more visually spectacular work of healing the man’s physical paralysis.

Jesus still heals today, and He still gives priority to the healing of sin-sick souls (although He is the Healer every time our bodies are restored too, whether that happens quickly or slowly). All we have to do is recognize our sickness and bring it to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Not only are spirits healed, but souls in mortal sin are raised from the dead! That’s what makes the headlines in Heaven. That’s what makes the saints and angels shout for joy (Luke 15:7)! Tongue in cheek, I think that’s why Heaven has no roof. The thunderous rejoicing of the saints and angels raised the roof so often there was no point in putting it back on ;)!

When we’re thinking about the importance of spiritual healing, we might also do well to think about our role in the healing of others. We very naturally feel compassion for a cancer patient, an accident victim, or even a spouse with a sore throat. We want to help, and very often we can. But what about the person who bashed our mailbox…or the co-worker who spread lies about us behind our back…or the politician who pushed through a bill that puts further limits on our freedom of religious expression? The most natural and immediate reaction is one of anger, not compassion. We want the wrong righted and we want to make sure it won’t happen again. And yet these people have demonstrated that they suffer from a spiritual sickness that’s far more deadly than cancer. They’re in desperate need of healing. They need someone to bring them to Jesus every bit as much as the paralytic needed his friends to carry him.

I’m still fairly new at this (and not very good at it), but I’ve finally come to realize that one way to use the emotional energy of my anger constructively instead of destructively is to “offer up” the suffering I experience as a result of someone else’s sin. I can ask God to use my sacrifice for the salvation of their souls, and then continue to pray for their spiritual healing. Their spiritual healing is the only thing that’s going to right the wrong and prevent its recurrence. It’s the best way I know to bring good out of evil, to participate in the most important type of healing there is. Even if a person’s sin hasn’t personally affected me, I can still pray for their healing, bringing them before the Throne of Grace and begging for mercy. One caution here is to keep in mind that I must come in humility as a sinner praying for another sinner, not like the Pharisee who held himself up as righteous while despising the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). That’s where the Our Father (“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”) and the Hail Mary (“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”) can help us keep a holy perspective.

May God give us the eyes to see the tragedy of spiritual sickness and the grace and courage to work for healing, both in our own lives and in the lives of others.

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