What is The Healing Word?

What is the Healing Word?

Some of the events and places in our lives are so beautiful that each time we experience them we are surprised by how truly beautiful they are. I can recall when my friends and I were driving back for Christmas vacation from my first year of college in Michigan and seeing the Rocky Mountains to the west of Denver. As I got closer to Denver, they seemed to rise up out of the plains. The excitement, delight, and surprise grew more intense with each passing mile. A sense of wonder overwhelmed me and finally tears of joyful awe ran down my face and over my smile. I had forgotten how huge and beautiful the mountains were, and yet they were there all the time just as beautiful and just as huge. They had not changed. I had. Coming back helped me to remember.

Beautiful moments and beautiful places sometime surprise us like that even when we’ve only been away for a month, a week, or even a day. The Mass is one of those beautiful moments that is always more than I can anticipate or remember. One of my favorite parts of the Eucharistic Celebration is the prayer, “Lamb of God.” That is the first point in the Mass where we, the faithful, are actually speaking to the Real Presence. It is like seeing the mountains rise from the plains. Jesus is really there, really as beautiful, really as loving, really as real as life itself. He is always coming back to us in the Eucharist to show us how much he loves us, how available he is to us, and how wonderful he is all the time even when we do not remember.

In our parish, as in many others, the Eucharistic ministers are gathered before the altar during this prayer. As we speak to Jesus in prayer, helpful hands take hundreds of hosts, each conveying the fullness of Christ, and distribute them to several ciboria. “Bread, blessed and broken” is prepared for sharing. At the end of this short and beautiful prayer where we ask Jesus for mercy and peace, the Priest elevates the Host, showing us the Lamb of God. “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are they who are called to his supper.” John the Baptizer announced Jesus using words like these. It was the first public acknowledgement of Jesus’ mission. Again, the beauty of that moment is overwhelming as we contemplate the fullness of his Grace. Jesus is right there in front of us. So beautiful. So amazing. Then we all pray together again. As we look up at him in adoration, we pray this beautiful and amazing prayer, a prayer of faith asking to be healed:

“LORD, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.”

Have you ever heard that healing word?

Silence was what I used to hear when that prayer was offered during Mass. I have always believed that somewhere in Heaven or history, somehow in Theology or Doctrine, someone knew that healing word. Each time the faithful uttered that prayer, that word was spiritually given in response. Just as I had forgotten to see how beautiful the mountains are, I had forgotten to listen for his healing word for me. But what would it be?
If, like the Centurion whose words to Jesus are the basis for this prayer, I asked Jesus for healing, what is “the word” he would speak? Would he just look at me, see the weakness of my faith and say, “Yeah, right.”?

I think not. When the Woman from Canaan reminded him that even the dogs get the scraps from the master’s table. He did not withhold his blessing and healing. Jesus knew just what to say to her to give her healing for her daughter as well as for her own distress.

The LORD knows all our needs. He knows all of us by name all of the time. He knows what we want and how much that often differs from what we need. Much has been written and preached about how we offer to do his will and then list our specifications for doing that. All of us can recall at least one instance when we ignored his tender call and ended up stranded in the brambles. If he knows how many sparrows there are in the world, and knows all the names of all the stars, then he must also know the names and places of all the atoms in our bodies. He has created all of us, and each of us is uniquely created. Perhaps, then, the healing word invoked in our prayers at Mass is unique as well.

All of us need healing from the damage caused by sin. Some of us are nursing broken hearts, broken spirits, or broken bodies. Some of us are struggling to help our faith blossom under adverse circumstances. Some of us may be doing just great and know that God is working freely in our lives. “Only say the word, and I shall be healed.”

What do you imagine Jesus would say to you if you asked for healing? For some people, he might say, “Done!” Recall that the prophet Isaiah told us, “by his stripes we were healed.” (Is 53:5) All the healing we will ever need has already been accomplished through Jesus. It may not be manifested in our daily lives in ways that we can test with our senses. It may be something that is done spiritually first, and only gradually shows in the physical world. The healing is complete, nonetheless, in the eyes of God.

We didn’t even have to ask for healing the first time. It was a gift of Grace offered on our behalf to Adam and Eve. When our first parents sought their creator after that, he had another word of healing for them, and for us as well: “Come.” He called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to walk behind him and be his God. Abram, for his part, promised to walk beside God and be the first of his flock. God called his children out of Egypt, inviting them to follow him as Moses walked beside him. God led them through experiences that healed a whole nation and brought them to spiritual and physical healing in the promised land. When the people forgot the magnanimity of God’s blessings, he called out prophets to chastise and correct them. Finally, he called his Son to come to us and complete what we could not seem to get started. Now his Son calls us to come to the Father through him. He is asking us to get up off the kneeler, as an act of faith, and come to the altar to receive the sacrament which memorializes the reason Jesus came to us as an infant in Bethlehem.

In the Nativity account given to us in Luke’s Gospel, we learn how the angels and shepherds rejoiced. When we are filled with sorrow or doubt, when life seems just too difficult, the word of healing just might be, “REJOICE!” In Philippians 4:4, Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the LORD always; and again I say, rejoice!” We have a hope, a blessing, which the world cannot offer or understand. All of the Saints from Abraham’s time to today have found delight in the promises of God. What great healing there is in joyously accepting the gift of salvation! When we joyfully accept the gift of his love, all heaven joins with us. We receive Jesus’ promise that we can ask in his name, and we will receive so that our joy may be complete (John 16:24). Jesus invites us to follow him joyfully into the Kingdom.

We often hear evangelists urging us to accept Jesus’ invitation to lay aside our own lives, take up our cross, and follow the Master. Sometimes, though, we are hindered by stubbornly clinging to our own idea of what salvation is. We want to love God, but we limit the amount of Grace we will accept. “I am not worthy to receive you” is part of the prayer quoted above. That is true. In the parable of the Wedding Feast (Mt 22:1-14), the king says, “The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.” Worthiness has absolutely nothing to do with God’s Grace. It should never prevent us from accepting God’s healing of our lives. So very many of us have received the invitation to the Feast and refused to attend because we were not “good” enough. The word of healing in this case might be, “Enter.” How wonderful it is to know hat God loves us so much that his invitation is not based on worthiness, but rather on willingness to enter the feast of his love, the Eucharist!

Still, we must be ready to join in the communion of the Saints gathered around the altar. Coming to the Eucharist unrepentant is merely pretending that we understand the glorious mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is exalting ourselves rather than worshiping God. Though none of us is worthy of God’s unmerited favor, he nonetheless expects us to honestly accept his gift of love. Jesus told us to settle things with our neighbors before we approached the altar. Forgiving each other, and ourselves, is a crucial step in receiving forgiveness. When we complicate our situation by believing God won’t notice that we still have not reconciled our differences with each other and with him, we insult the creator of all good gifts. In this situation, the word of healing could be, “Repent.” There is no limit to the number of times we are allowed to repent just as there is no limit to the number of time that God will lovingly welcome the repentant sinner.

All of us sin because all of us are imperfect. Scripture assures us that the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son.” (Rom 6:23) Eternal life is life that is always renewed, always full to overflowing. Healing is God’s way of restoring wholeness to life. God’s healing restores wholeness eternally. How do we get eternal life, eternal wholeness? We believe in the power of God’s love. John 3:16 tells us that God loved us so much that he sent us Jesus so that whoever would believe in him would not die but have everlasting life. In Romans 10:9-10, Paul tells us that by believing Jesus is Lord we are justified, and by proclaiming our belief, we are saved. Can we be healed if we do not believe, know with unassailable certainty, that God can and will heal us? How wonderful it would be to hear, “Your faith has made you whole.” And yet, God is so generous that often a single step taken in faith is all it takes. For some of us, then, the healing word is, “Believe.”

Sometimes, though, in our day-to-day journey, our lives seem so ordinary that even a single step seems pointless. Each day is just as unremarkable as the day before, and there is little reason to believe that tomorrow will be any different. That is not the kind of exciting life we envision when we think of “eternal life.” If we are healed by his stripes, shouldn’t our lives be filled with rejoicing? Shouldn’t we be bubbling with faith, hope, and love? If God has loved us and really healed us, how could we possibly be bored? Well, actually, we can’t; but sometimes we forget. Sometimes we listen to that fallen angel’s lies: “God doesn’t always love you. Look what happened to me! One little mistake and ZOOM; right out of Heaven! Yeah, life’s tough all right. He’s probably forgotten about you by now. You know, he’s always more interested in people who ignore him.” Well, of course those are all lies, which is what we’d expect. God never forgets us, remember? “A mother would forget her nursing child before I would forget you.” (Is 49:15) Sometimes the word of healing is as simple as “Remember.” That’s what the Eucharist is all about: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

At other times we are weighed down with burdens we do not understand, pain we cannot endure, hopelessness that swallows all our joy in remembering Jesus or anyone else for that matter. Matthew 11: 28 -30: 28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Sometimes when we hear that we cry out to Jesus, “Your yoke? Your burden! No thank you. I have enough of my own to carry!” In this passage Jesus is telling his listeners they can free themselves of the burden of the law – sin and death – and take up instead a life of obedience to his law of love. When we do that we find it liberating to be free of the effects of sin and free to share the life and love of Christ with him and with everyone. Our burdens are lightened, so “Lighten” can be the healing word for those of us who suffer much. To lighten is to relieve of a burden in whole or in part, to reduce in weight or quantity, to make less wearisome, to become more cheerful, to make light or clear, to make (as a color) lighter. God will lighten every burden, lessen every care, wipe away our tears, and vanquish our despair. For each of these we give to him, he gives us in return Grace beyond our wildest hopes, a gift we cannot earn. Our life work is sharing our life.

When we look at the lives of those who have given their work life to the Master, we can see how that decision brought tremendous change into their lives. Think about what happened to the Apostles, especially Matthew and Peter. Matthew worked as a tax collector. His own people hated Matthew for his collaboration with their oppressors. When Jesus spoke the word of healing to him, it was, “Follow.” This was the same word of healing for Peter. Peter followed Jesus in life, through death, and into Heaven. Countless Saints have found that their lives could only be made completely whole by following Jesus. Many learned that they could follow without a map or even a clearly marked road. They learned to rely on Jesus for everything.

That kind of trust seems to come easily to the persons who heroically took up their cross to follow him. Yet, when we read the biographies of these grace-filled children of God, we see that often they, too, struggled with doubt, sin, pain, and sorrow just like we do. How could they have endured so much without trusting that God would make it all come out right in the end? Sometimes it’s easy to believe in God. We know he’s “out there” somewhere. That kind of mystical hopefulness is not very comforting when we need help. Knowing God is there is one thing. Trusting God to be here is something else entirely. If you know God, but don’t necessarily trust him, “TRUST” may be the word of healing for you. That’s especially important if God is asking you to do something that does not make sense in our worldly perspective. As your trust in God deepens, your understanding of the difference between The World and The Kingdom validates your trust.

Because of this, another word of healing often associated with “trust” is “obey.” Jesus commanded us to love one another. We must obey his command. “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” (John 14:23) If we love Jesus, we will want to love each other. Sometimes it seems too simple. Just love Jesus, and you will be empowered to keep his commandments to love each other. The reverse of this also seems simple. Just love others the way Jesus loves them and you will be loving Jesus. Thus, the word “Love” can be a word of healing, too. It is not as simple, though, as “feeling love” for one another. Love is not a feeling. “Like” is a feeling. Love is an action. We must act on our love, not merely express it or feel it. While it is true that loving Jesus and loving others are inseparable, they are inseparable acts, not feelings.

Speaking of feelings, what does it feel like to be whole, to be healed, to be filled with eternal life? How can we ever tell if our prayer to be healed has been answered? Again, the answer is in the Nativity narrative: Peace. The angels carried the message to us from God. The shepherds, the Holy Family, radiated peace. Paul tell us that by rejoicing in the LORD and depending on him, by constantly giving thanks, we will come to know that peace which surpasses understanding. (Phil 4:4-9) In this peace we are able to exalt God under any circumstances. We know that The Word is true. He told us Himself he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

John begins his gospel by telling us of Jesus’ coming as The Word Incarnate. The name “Jesus”, like the name Joshua, means “the LORD is salvation.” When we know with absolute clarity that Jesus is LORD, we are healed. Jesus may speak one or many words of healing for us in our lives, but if he is Lord of our life, each word he speaks will have the desired effect: We will be healed, made whole in the sight of God. Even if we never hear these words as if spoken out loud, we can be open to their effect by accepting God’s gift of Grace. It is a gift. We cannot buy it with our “good behavior.” It is not for sale. It cannot be a gift unless we accept it.

Without acceptance, a gift is just an offer. If we do not use the gift, its effect is limited. All of us have already been given all the Grace and Love there is. There is more than enough to make completely whole every person that ever lived. It is so beautiful and so huge that sometimes we forget. We do not see the Lamb of God, the Real Presence, elevated before us unless we look through our Father’s eyes and see his Son. We do not hear the healing word if we forget to listen with our heart and spirit. We do not taste and see the goodness of the Lord unless we expect and accept the healing we are promised when we pray, “Only say the word, and I shall be healed.” Whatever word God speaks into your heart at that moment, honor the giver by accepting the gift. And once you’ve accepted it, use it.

A few years ago, I decided I would make an effort to hear that healing word I prayed for during Mass. All during that time, I have found that listening often opens me up to insights that are unexpected. Sometimes a word would come to me, but by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I could not remember what the word of healing was. I began to write them down. That led to listening to the Mass and the homily with a more discerning ear. God really can speak to us through the persons, places, and things around us. I found that taking notes made a lot of sense. When I go to a class to further my education, or a workshop to learn a new skill, I take notes. I realized that it made sense to take notes while I am in the presence of Jesus, too. What he and his ministers have to say in their words and actions can help me in my pilgrimage. “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock, and the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20) Jesus opens many doors for us. He also asks us to open the door for him, the door to our hearts. When I was a child we sang a gospel chorus called “Into my heart.” It was a melodic prayer inviting Jesus to come and dwell in our hearts forever. That closeness to him is thrilling. Sometimes the healing word in “Enter.” We can ask Jesus to enter our hearts, and he asks us to enter his joy. In Matthew 25:21, Jesus shows us that our reward for doing his will is to “enter into the joy of your master.” If you received an invitation from the master of all creation, would you ignore it?

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95:7-8) How can we hear except we listen? If “Listen” is your healing word for today, then you know Jesus has spoken healing words to you. Claim them as your own, but share them with the Kingdom. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Everything that is yours is yours to give away. In this case, the healing word might be: “Be thorough!”

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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