Searching for Healing, Encountering Christ
Last week I had the privilege of serving as chaplain for a pilgrimage of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross College students from Notre Dame to Montreal, Canada. As you know, Montreal is the site of St. Joseph’s Oratory, one of the largest churches in the world, which was founded by St. André Bessette, a Holy Cross brother who was used by God as an instrument of physical and spiritual healing.
We took a group of just over 40 students on pilgrimage to this holy place to pray through the intercession of St. André, and of his patron, St. Joseph, to ask for healing for ourselves and for our loved ones. Each pilgrim was invited to choose a petition or two, to identify people or areas in their lives in need of the healing touch of Christ. Those petitions kept us focused on our purpose for undertaking this trip as we visited various parishes, shrines, and the tombs of three saints: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, and finally St. André.
The high point of the pilgrimage took place in the upper church of the Oratory Basilica, where we had a healing prayer service. First, one of our student leaders shared an experience of healing from her own life, and then I gave a reflection about the various gifts of healing God has planted in different individuals among His children, from nurses and doctors, to mental health professionals, and also in the sacramental ministry of His priests. After these reflections, there is time for personal prayer and reflection as the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick are made available for those who desire and need those graces.
Praying for healing from God can be hard, because I think most of us sometimes wonder, on the one hand, whether God still DOES miracles like that very often, or on the other, whether it might be selfish of me to pray for healing for a relatively small hurt when so many others are facing death’s door. The ministry of St. André is evidence that God does sometimes will to snatch people out of death’s hand, but that He also deigns to heal from conditions that from one perspective merely cause discomfort or inconvenience. The miracles of Jesus recorded in Scripture are mostly the BIG ones, which shouldn’t be surprising. But we also know that even though He could calm a stormy sea He sometimes took the time to calm a single heart.
Whether we “get” the miracle or healing we ask for may not be the ultimate point, though our hearts break for the suffering of those we care about. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man lowered through the roof on his mat, the order of His declarations was: “Child, your sins are forgiven. Rise and walk.” Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, all these received their miracles but later still died, most likely full of years. But their ultimate and eternal healing, never to suffer or die again, was assured not only by a bodily cure, but even more by their spiritual anointing. They were each claimed as brothers and sisters of Jesus, and therefore children of His own Father. And so are we.
Miraculous healings are hints and foretastes of the Kingdom where miracles will no longer be needed; the Holy Eucharist is a participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb; Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation point towards the eternal embrace of the Father. On that day, He will remove our sadness like a heavy coat is shed when you come in out of the cold.
"You expired, Jesus,
but the source of life
gushed forth for souls
and the ocean of mercy
opened up for the whole world.
O fount of life,
unfathomable Divine Mercy,
envelop the whole world
and empty yourself out upon us."
"O blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus
as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you."
Jesus, King of mercy, I trust in you!"
-St. Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament,
Apostle of Divine Mercy