Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
Jesus claimed that he was the promised Messiah who was sent to preach the Good News and heal the sick. “Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared, and entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, as he was in the custom of doing, he stood up to do the reading. When the Book of the Prophet Isaiah was handed to him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release of prisoners…Rolling up the scroll, he gave it back to the assistant and sat down. All in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him. Then he began by saying to them, ‘Today this Scripture if fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4: 16-21)
Later on, when John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come, or have we to wait for another?” Jesus answered, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Matt. 11: 1-5)
This was and is the mission of Jesus: to preach the Good News and to heal the sick. He invited all to come to him and be healed: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will refresh you.” Preaching the Good News and healing the sick are intimately interwoven. In fact, preaching the Good News is itself healing. The Good News is that God loves us unconditionally, for ourselves as we really are with all of the physical warts, psychological quirks and spiritual infidelities. Psychiatry continues to find this as the soundest of all possible foundations for carrying out the difficult task of healing the sick mind. Christotherapy is the healing that comes from the meaning that the Good News that Christ proclaimed gives to our lives.
This two-fold mission of Jesus is also the mission of the Mystical Body of Jesus, the Church. One of the principle means of healing that the Church uses is the Anointing of the Sick. “Is there anyone sick among you, let him call in the elders of the church, let them pray over him, anoint him with oil and the sick man will recover.” (Jas. 5: 13) The Anointing of the Sick, just as in all of the Seven Sacraments, is the action of Jesus. The priest is simply an instrument. The sacraments work of themselves, if received with the right disposition.
While the Good News is eternal, the healing is only temporal, and should be kept in perspective. Lazarus, for example, after having been raised from the dead, had to die later. The ten lepers Jesus healed had to rot in the grave later. After all it is human life that is terminal not the disease. Ultimately, we realize that death is the greatest healer of all. In death we get not a new kidney, liver or heart, we get a whole new glorified body which will live forever.
To receive the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick efficaciously we need faith. Jesus could not work many miracles in his home town of Nazareth because of their lack of faith. So we approach the sacrament with the faith of the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.”
To receive the Anointing of the Sick it is not necessary that the illness be terminal. On the other hand, the illness should not be trivial. The illness need not be physical. It may be emotional or mental, or just the infirmities of old age, those “intimations of mortality” that become more frequent and much more impressive as we get older.
I remember on a visit to Lourdes, during the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, I was convinced that one of the sick would throw off the blanket, jump off the cot and dance all around singing Alleluia. It didn’t happen and I was disappointed. But before I left Lourdes I realized that the great miracles are spiritual. People come to Lourdes often as the last resort; they are depressed, angry and resentful. They wonder, “Why me?” But before they leave a miraculous transformation takes place. The depression, anger and resentment are transformed into peace and joy. Like the apostles they leave rejoicing that they have been found worthy to suffer something for the name of Jesus.
Will everyone who receives the Anointing be healed? Yes, if they receive it with the right disposition. But the healing will not necessarily be physical or instantaneous. It may be spiritual. God may give us the grace to recognize this illness as a gift, an opportunity to share in his own passion. It may help us to realize that it costs to be a lover, that the language of love is sacrifice. We really do not know what is best for us. This suffering may be necessary for my salvation, or for the salvation of others. So we leave it to the Lord, who gives us what he knows in his infinite wisdom to be best for us.
What a wonderful, healthy and happy world it would be if we all realized the intimate connection between proclaiming the Good News and healing the sick. If we all proclaimed the Good News by the way we live and healed with our love. Every one of us is hurting in some way, we are all wounded. And we can all be healers, yes “wounded healers.” We all have the power to love. And love is perhaps the greatest healer of all. We all need love. We all need to love and be loved. And loves cures both the one who gives it and the one who receives it.
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