Bringing Friends to Jesus for Healing, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), February 19, 2012

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
February 19, 2012
Is 43:18-19,21-22, 24-25; 2Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

BRINGING FRIENDS TO JESUS FOR HEALING

  • We are three days from the beginning of Lent and this Gospel is given by God to us to help us to focus on what Lent is about and how we’re supposed to respond.
  • Many people when they think of Lent think of what they give up, about not eating meat on Fridays, about praying more and better and giving alms in Christian charity. These are all parts of Lent but not the central core. The real meaning of Lent is conversion, is spiritual healing. It’s our recognition of our need for God’s help and our coming to get it so that we can truly live the Christian life of love as his beloved and holy children.
  • Today’s Gospel points us to healing that we all need, the healing that God wants to give us. After many days away preaching, Jesus had come to Capernaum and it was reported that he was “at home,” which almost certainly means he was at Peter’s house. Next Sunday I’ll be celebrating Mass in the Church built right over Peter’s home on pilgrimage with the 52 parishioners and others who will be making the journey in Jesus’ footsteps with me. There were so many people present that there was no room for the sick to get in. So four friends went up on the roof, took off the roof, lifted their friend up on his stretcher — itself a very difficult task— and then lowered him down in the middle of the room in front of Jesus, another challenging feat. It was obvious why the friends had brought the paralyzed man to Jesus. They wanted him to heal him of his physical infirmity. But as we were discussing two weeks ago, Jesus had come from heaven to earth primarily not to cure us of our physical ailments, but to save us by healing us of our spiritual cancers. That’s why the first thing Jesus did for the paralyzed man was to say, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He only healed him of his paralysis as a confirmation against the critics present, in order essentially to demonstrate that he was the God who not only could make cripples walk but make sinners saints.
  • The first thing Jesus wants to give us this Lent is this spiritual healing. We’ve come here to Peter’s house, the Church built on the rock whom Jesus made Peter, and it’s here that Jesus wants to give us the same physical healing he gave to the man in the Gospel. He has the power to forgive sins and, in order to make his mercy available and easy, on Easter Sunday evening he breathed that power to forgive and retain sins to his apostles . If we’re going to live a good Lent, we need to allow Jesus to heal us of our sins in the way he established. Please get one of the fliers in the back of the Church containing all the prayers you need to make a good confession and many questions that will help you to examine your conscience well in preparation. We all need spiritual healing and Jesus wants to heal us. He wants through that great sacrament to help us and strengthen us to live not only a good Lent but a truly good life. The sacrament of his spiritual healing is one of the most important means. Please come to confession and please don’t wait until the end of Lent to come. Come at the beginning of Lent or even before Lent starts, so that all of Lent can be a period of growth after Jesus the Divine Physician surgically removes the cancer of your sins and gives you Lent spiritually to recover and grow strong.
  • I want, however, to spend most of our time today on the other essential lesson of today’s Gospel. It’s what it means to be a true friend — and what this has to do with Lent. We see in the Gospel that the paralyzed man’s friends carried him to Jesus. He couldn’t go on his own. He needed help. And they were there for him. Not only doing the minimum of bringing him close to Jesus, but out of their love for their friend, overcoming the obstacle of the crowded house and climbing up on the roof. Even though it seems they were primarily bringing their friend to receive physical healing, not spiritual healing, they knew they needed to bring their friend to Jesus. That was the greatest thing they could do for him.
  • It’s the same way for us. We need to seek during Lent to bring our friends to Jesus. We should want to bring them to hear his word. We should strive to bring them to be in his presence. We should endeavor to bring them to pray for the healing of physical or emotional issues. We also should try to bring them to experience true spiritual healing.
  • The Gospel shows us that sometimes our friends can’t get to Jesus on their own. They occasionally are paralyzed by one thing or another. There’s a need to carry them, to help them, to sustain them. And it’s worth it.
  • I never tire when I preach retreats to mention the great miracle that God did here in our parish for and through Joe Amaral. It began with his reading a meditation on the Gospel passage today that focused on how the Lord had healed his sins before he healed his paralysis. Joe called a relative and asked her to bring him to confession and it was in confession that he was healed not only of his sins but, for five years, of his paralysis. But the most beautiful part of the story happened then. Joe started using his ability to walk to visit friends and family and telling them all, “The reason why I’m standing before you today is as a witness that God still has the power to forgive sins.” He was giving that witness to Catholic groups, to Protestant groups, to everyone else through the media. And loads of people were brought here to confession by him and his work. By his being a true friend, caring for others enough to use his ability to walk, to speak, to witness, to bring people to Jesus. He was a testimony to the power that God wields in his confessional. I still get people who come here to confession and they ask me, before they start, is this the confessional where the miracle happened. I always reply, “Every single time someone comes to confession, a miracle happens!” St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, used to say that the miracle of the healing of sins in the confessional is an even greater one than raising Lazarus from the dead! The latter is just giving life to a dead body, but the first is giving life to a dead soul.
  • Speaking of the Curé of Ars, we can’t help but reflect on how his ministry in the confessional in Ars began. Over the last 31 years of his life, he would hear confessions 12-18 hours a day, but it wasn’t that way for the first decade. Even though his confessionals would be mobbed in other places during parish missions, they were relatively empty in Ars. He spent a decade waiting. But then one night three women were returning late from one of the lascivious dances that called the vogues that were afflicting the souls of the city. They passed by the Church and saw a candle burning inside. They looked in and they saw their pastor, Fr. Vianney, kneeling in prayer before the tabernacle, begging God to grant him the conversion of their parish, saying that he would do or suffer anything he needed to if only God would grant him the conversion of his parish. The women wondered why he would be praying so hard for them. One of them was touched, however. She approached. He asked her what she might need. She said she wanted to ask him why he was praying so fervently for his parish’s conversion. He told her. She asked if she could go to confession. She left crying, full of tears of joy. The other women followed her in. They, too, left with the weight of so many sins off their shoulders. And the following day, they — as women can do when they start to talk to other women — started telling everyone about what a great confessor they had in Ars and what he had done for them the night before. Soon other women were coming. Soon kids were coming. Soon men were coming. It all started by three women sharing their experience. It all began with three women bringing those they cared about to God through the Sacrament of Confession. Those who have lost 100 pounds, rather than professional athletes, are better at persuading those who are overweight, that a diet plan will work for them. Cancer survivors are the best ones to give hope to those beginning chemo or radiation treatment. So it’s reconciled sinners who are the best evangelists of the Sacrament. We need to be those types of friends. Some of us are. We’ve brought many people back to God in the sacrament. Some of us haven’t yet been, but this Lent is a chance for us to become true friends to others, true ambassadors of Christ, carrying other people to receive God’s healing.
  • But we have to care for each other enough to lift each other up. A priest I know told me a story of what happened in his parish. A man started to go to Mass there. He was going for about a year. As soon as Mass ended, people would gather in some small groups to exchange pleasantries, but no one seemed to notice him. One day this man decided to go to Church wearing his baseball cap. As soon as he took his lonely seat at the back of the church, an usher came to him and said, “Brother, we don’t wear caps in church here.” “Thanks,” he replied, but didn’t remove his cap. During communion he went up to receive, but one of the deacons at the Church pulled him aside and gently said to him, “My brother, wearing of caps is forbidden by men in church.” “Thanks,” he replied but did not take off his cap. After Mass the priest was shaking hands with worshippers at the back of the Church. He greeted the baseball-cap-wearing man and added, courteously, “But, my dear brother, wearing of caps in church is not allowed.” “I know,” said the man, “but I have been coming to this church for two years now and no one ever seemed to notice me. Today everybody called me brother but no one has treated me as a brother during the past year.” It’s a powerful story. We’re supposed to help each other. We’re supposed to inspire, encourage, and sometimes help carry each other to Jesus. But for that to occur, we’ve got to begin by caring for others. And when we begin to care for them, then we become capable of acting with charity. Then we become capable of acting even with heroism, as the true friends in the Gospel did, overcoming obstacles to bring their friend to experience Jesus’ healing.
  • As we get ready to begin our preparations for Lent, we should not only recall our need for spiritual healing and come and receive it in Peter’s house the Church from Jesus acting through the same priests through whom he gives us his body and blood, but we should begin to look around us, see our brothers and sisters, and start behaving toward them as true friends, getting to know them, beginning to help them, and seeing if they need our help in any way, or we need theirs, to come to Jesus and experience the healing that he came into our world, that he died on the Cross, to give us.
  • One of the most important lines in today’s Gospel is that Jesus “seeing THEIR faith” — seeing in other words the faith of the paralyzed man’s friends — worked his double miracle. May the Lord Jesus look upon us today and see our true faith, strengthen it and help us to live it, as we prepare now to celebrate the greatest feast of faith of all.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25

Thus says the LORD:
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
The people I formed for myself,
that they might announce my praise.
Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob,
for you grew weary of me, O Israel.
You burdened me with your sins,
and wearied me with your crimes.
It is I, I, who wipe out,
for my own sake, your offenses;
your sins I remember no more.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14

R. (5b) Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.
Blessed is the one who has regard for the lowly and the poor;
in the day of misfortune the LORD will deliver him.
The LORD will keep and preserve him;
and make him blessed on earth,
and not give him over to the will of his enemies.
R. Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.
The LORD will help him on his sickbed,
he will take away all his ailment when he is ill.
Once I said, “O LORD, have pity on me;
heal me, though I have sinned against you.”
R. Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.
But because of my integrity you sustain me
and let me stand before you forever.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from all eternity. Amen. Amen.
R. Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.

Reading 2 2 Cor 1:18-22

Brothers and sisters:
As God is faithful,
our word to you is not “yes” and “no.”
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ,
who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me,
was not “yes” and “no, ” but “yes” has been in him.
For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him;
therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.
But the one who gives us security with you in Christ
and who anointed us is God;
he has also put his seal upon us
and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.

Gospel Mk 2:1-12

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
it became known that he was at home.
Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them,
not even around the door,
and he preached the word to them.
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd,
they opened up the roof above him.
After they had broken through,
they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,
“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming.
Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Jesus immediately knew in his mind
what they were thinking to themselves,
so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
-he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”