Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Homily 5th Sun OT Year B – The Healing Power of the Word of God

extremeunction It can be tempting at times, especially given the state of our economy and other pressures, to live life according to the despair of Job rather than according to the hope of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Life. “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings?” Job asks with despair. We strive to grow in holiness only to fall to sin time and time again. We work so hard, day in and day out for money to support our families, only to have it taken from us. We raise our children the best way we can only to see them leave the faith. We exercise and eat healthy foods only to be stricken with a debilitating disease. Even our nights provide no rest. “The night drags on,” Job laments, “I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.” Surrounded by sin and death we are tempted to utter again with Job “I shall not see happiness again.” What’s the use?

If you have uttered these words before, let me tell you that there is indeed hope; that you will see happiness again, even in this life, for happiness is your destiny, the very thing for which you were created. This happiness can be found in the Word of God, Jesus Christ the Lord. And perfect happiness can be found in Eternity with Him.

Notice how our readings today bring together the trials and sufferings of life with the preaching of the Word of God. We have in the same Mass the despairing cries of Job alongside St. Paul’s zeal for preaching. And we find Our Lord “preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.” Why are suffering and preaching brought together? I think this is to remind us that the Word of God is inextricably linked to every aspect of the healing ministry of the Church, physical and spiritual, as she seeks to alleviate suffering in the world. There is much wisdom in this; we must not take it for granted.

With all of the Church’s sacraments and sacramentals of healing, both those celebrated within Mass and outside of Mass, readings from Scripture are there. In the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, readings from Scripture are there. In Visits to the Sick, Communion of the Sick, celebrations of Viaticum, and Commendation of the Dying, readings from Scripture are there. In Baptism and even in the beginning of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – when the greatest sickness of all, sin, is healed – the priest is encouraged to read some passages from Scripture. It is unfortunate that this isn’t the common practice. The Church, you see, is not a haven for the perfect and healthy; it is a hospital for sinners. Our Lord is the Divine Physician and His Word is our medicine for everlasting life. After all, the word “doctor” comes from the Latin word docere, which means “to teach.” And in our Responsorial Psalm – one of the readings or “teachings” of the Word of God – we sang, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Remembering then how necessarily linked the Word of God is with both physical and spiritual healing, we are given both a consolation and a challenge. How often, when we suffer, do we look to everything but the Word of God for happiness or relief? In a world that has no tolerance for suffering and refuses to find meaning and redemption in it, we are tempted to turn to Christ, if we turn to Him at all, only when all other avenues have been exhausted. We try all the latest medications and remedies. Or we medicate ourselves through impulsive buying or thrill-seeking or lustful passions or by being in denial. St. Paul captures beautifully in our Gospel the universal longing that is at the root of all of these: “Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’”

We seek happiness and relief from our suffering in a myriad of ways but, deep down inside, “Everyone is looking for [Jesus].” Although in the midst of our trials, our Lord may seem to be “off to a deserted place” he is always very near. Let’s not wait until we hit rock-bottom to turn to Him. When we are tempted to look to worldly things to find what only He can provide, we must remember that he truly is found in His Eternal Word, especially in the Gospel proclaimed at Mass. He really can satisfy the desires we have. This is our consolation and challenge.

Perhaps you yourself are suffering even as you sit here today. Or perhaps a friend or a relative or a coworker you know is suffering today. St. Paul challenges us with full zeal and piety: “If I preach the gospel,” he says, “this is not reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Woe to us as well if you or I fail to preach the Good News to those who are sick in body or soul; if we fail to proclaim the truth of Christ’s redemptive suffering and his many healing miracles; if we fail to give the sick this greatest of medicines: His Word.

The power of His Word inspires us not to wait to call a priest to anoint our loved ones only at their final moment, as we used to do. No, the power of God’s Word impels us to call for the priest to preach the Good News of God’s Anointing as soon as we begin to be in danger. Why would we want to delay the giving of so precious a gift? And Why should we be afraid to see the priest when he comes? He’s not the grim reaper. He is Jesus Christ bringing the grace of strength, humility, perseverance, and healing. This is the challenge from St. Mark. He says that the apostles “immediately told [Jesus]” about Simon’s mother-in-law who lay sick with a fever. We must not hesitate to tell our Lord in prayer about our own trials or those of our relatives and friends.

We see that upon hearing their petition “[Jesus] approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.” Furthermore, St. Mark continues, “When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.” Perhaps you, or someone you know, are looking in all the wrong places for the comfort we can only find in Jesus. Perhaps you, or someone you know, are possessed by the demons of addiction or despair. Today is the day to resolve, if you have not yet done so, to gently take them by the hand and bring them to Jesus. If you have already begun this journey, resolve to persevere for our Lord himself said he wishes to come to us, to “preach there also.” We need only to “gather at the door” of His Word.

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