The National Shrine of St. Odilia, Onamia, Minnesota
We see in scripture that the main mission of Jesus as he preached among the people of Galilee was proclaiming that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He was preaching a new day in God that was of peace and justice and mercy and love—and that it was at hand. And, to keep this from being a concept only, Jesus then (and eventually also The Twelve, as we heard in today’s Gospel) “anointed many who were sick and cured them.” Thus, human touch and generous compassion and the gift of healing were—and still are—a key aspect of Christian faith, hope, and love, as they were in the very human life that Jesus of Nazareth shared with us.
And so in this long tradition of faith, we gather here at the National Shrine of St. Odilia, Patroness of the Eyes and other ailments of the infirm, to share in this eternal ministry of the Church. We pray here for healing and we reach out in hope for those seeking the favor of the Lord for themselves or those whom they love.
Recently, I was reading a book titled, “How Healing Works.” It was written by a research scientist who was also a physician, and he explained that they have found through many double-blind, empirical studies that interventional medicine can only explain about one-third of all health improvements in people. Conversely, two-thirds of all healing and health improvements are not the result of medicinal or surgical interventions but of some other aspect of human experience and cure. Now to be sure, this author’s point was not to dismiss medical intervention as any sort of sham, but to highlight that the act of healing and how it comes upon us is not associated only with medical intervention as we tend to think—at least within the great medical advancements we know in the west. There are other dimensions to healing that bring us along and help us recover which are associated more with our own spirit and the shared hopes of the human community and, as certainly we’d claim, the very Spirit of God.
I also once read that when we are ill, we heal first physically, next emotionally and finally spiritually, but I thought that this was a very odd progression. For, if we are people of faith, why would we not heal first spiritually? Yet, as I’ve pondered this question, I’ve begun to think that, really, illness and injury and decline are challenges within our human condition, and to be given the burden of carrying any such pain or limitation connects us right away with the mystery of our experience of suffering, and mystery, of course, ultimately connects us with God and our destiny in God. Thus, when we know pain or physical limitation or a desire for healing, we have to work at re-integrating our faith with these realities, and that takes time—time to come to new insights about our faith and our understanding of God and spirituality. It can take a long time to come to some bearable understanding of how our suffering is acceptable in the realm of God and not actually a rejection of God’s care for us, yet this is probably a more profound healing in spirit than even our significant healing previously in body or emotion.
There are 32 Crosiers in our priory here, and 12 actually have some concerning medical issue present in their lives today—a few quite serious. And in our community we have to wrestle with this reality as we attend to our infirm with kindness and keep the faith in the midst of this reality. Of course, we do a lot of doctoring and seek gain from every medical intervention possible to assist in comfort and healing. But we also have to keep walking forward together in trust even should mystery stymie our hopes or our search for understanding lack clarity in the deep things of God. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ confirms that human touch, generous compassion, and the gift of healing however it shall come in the Lord—these help us see that even in struggle and even in decline, the Kingdom of God is at hand. And hope is not lost even in sorrow.
As we heard in today’s Word from Ephesians, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ and destined us for redemption by godly grace lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, God has included us in the plan for the fullness of the Reign of God which will sum up all things in Christ both in heaven and on earth.”
My sisters and brothers, we are citizens of heaven already. May this be our hope even as we still beg the Lord for healing in body, mind and spirit.