Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, is all about healing.
First Reading: Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Second Reading: First Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
(Apologies, beginning of homily missing)
…we find Jesus going from place to place. And what Mark wants us to understand is it is not only the gospel, the Good News, preached by the word, that’s important, but, even more, it is what he does.
And today we have a day in the life of Jesus and it takes up after last week’s gospel. Remember he was in Peter’s home town, Capernaum, where he made his centre of ministry for the next two years. And it was there in the synagogue that he not only preached the word of God, but drove out the unclean spirit from the man who was burdened with terror and fear and, as we would say, he was full of demons.
He leaves the synagogue and he goes immediately to Simon Peter’s house which is in the same village of Capernaum. And his mother-in-law (we didn’t know Peter was married, now we know he was married), his mother-in-law was sick. And she must have been seriously sick, because it was a synagogue day and everybody in the village was in the synagogue and you must have a very serious reason for not going to the synagogue on that Saturday, as we have the same kind of rules for Sunday services.
Anyhow, Jesus goes immediately over, as Mark says, and he takes her by the hand and lifts her up. And then the odd thing that follows is “and she began waiting on them.”
And this is typical Mark, you see. Here is a woman who is sick, physically sick, in need of a cure. And so when Jesus goes over, he lifts her up. Without anybody asking him to do anything, he lifts her up. And the word that Mark uses is the same word that we use later on in his gospel, when God lifts him out of the grave into resurrection.
So the rising of Simon Peter’s mother is a little bit more than just rising from the bed. It is that the Messiah has come to bring us out of death into new life, out of illness into healing, out of sickness into cure. And this is what Mark wants us to understand. For this is what the Messiah does, the Holy One of God. He comes to heal and to save.
Sometimes we’re afraid he comes to judge us, and to make us more fearful than we already are, or to make our lives more unhappy than they already are. But this is a terrible misinterpretation and it certainly has no place with St Mark. For Mark says whatever demons drive you, whether those demons are fear, whether those demons are disgust with your own person, whether those demons that terrorise you are what has happened, what is to come, what will the future bring into my life. It sometimes can be like alcohol, addiction of every kind. All those demons, Jesus comes and takes you, laying there prostrate and crippled by those demons, and says “arise.”
And then that is why Mark adds the note “when you are healed, you must serve.” Jesus is not looking for gratitude, he’s not looking for saying, “Oh thank you very much. Now I’ll go home and carry on with my regular life.” Jesus is saying, “You have been healed and now you must serve.”
The response to being healed by God, whether it’s broken hearted, whether it’s from some physical need or physical cure, or whether it is just the sadness of wondering what will the next day bring, if he touches you and heals you and then your response is, “I will go out and do what he does.” Which is to serve those who are sick, to serve those who are needy, to serve those who are not quite able, perhaps, to face the day in themselves. To be there for them, to care for them, knowing that it’s the love of God that has healed you, and the love of God, through you, that will bring solace and new hope and new love to the people who are in great need of it.
Lourdes is a wonderful place. The first time I went to Lourdes, I didn’t know what to expect, because everybody goes to Lourdes to see cures, you see. The first thing you say is, “Have there been any cures while you were here?” And it gets to be like a miracle place.
Oddly enough the church’s rules are so stringent about declaring a miracle happening in Lourdes, not only do they have committees of priests judging them (who are the harsher judges of what took place), they’re all studied, those cures that have taken place. They’re studied by, first of all, medical people, whether you believe in God or not, the committee is formed by all kinds of people. So, in perhaps the 151 years, the ones that are passed as cures under these stringent rules are in the small numbers, maybe twenty to thirty.
So I went there hoping that we’d have a cure while I was there and I found out something quite different. The best way to tell you why it’s different is to tell you the story that one of the caretakers of the sick…
You see Lourdes is given over to all the sick people. There’s no traffic in Lourdes. Everybody has to get out of the way for wheelchairs. Everything stops to let the wheelchairs go by. Lots of people spend their vacations there, taking people from the train to the grotto, bathing them in the waters, bringing them to a place where they can stay the night, or a few nights, or a week.
Anyhow one of the ladies who does that kind of work, I was talking to her and I said to her, “Do you ever see any cures?” And she smiles, as she must have heard this a hundred thousand times, and she says, “Now, I’m going to tell you a story which is true, and you listen carefully, and it goes like this…
“One day I went to meet the train, and there was a boy on the train and he was paralysed from the neck down, and something terrible happened, he fell into something or…” (she wasn’t quite sure what it was). “But anyhow, the spine suffered and he was unable to move. And he was very angry. And his parents and his family brought him to Lourdes to see if the waters would cure him and a miracle would happen.”
And every day she brought him to where he was staying and she helped him into the bed. And he laid there and she came in and she fed him every day, and they would take him to the waters. And each day he wouldn’t say anything. He just wouldn’t say anything at all. Or he was surly if he did open his mouth. And towards the end he seemed to quiet down a little bit.
But on the final day they brought him down and washed him in the waters. And he came back and then they dressed him and she was taking him to the train. And by that time she’d got to know him a little bit and she says, “William, I’m very sorry that you weren’t healed.” And he said, “Oh,” he said, “but the miracle took place,” and he smiled at her. And she said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, I came here not only with a crippled body but a crippled heart. And my heart has been healed, and I go home rejoicing and at peace.”
And then she looks at me and she says, “Would you like to hear a miracle story?” I said “No.” And she said, “That’s the miracle of Lourdes. People come with broken hearts and they’re healed. They come with tears in their eyes and go home rejoicing. They come because they know that the presence of God is there.”
And Jesus has taught us God comes into our lives like a whirlwind. Jesus moves like a whirlwind.
And at night, I’ll read you what happens at night, in this little place way off there in Capernaum.
“When evening came, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. And the whole town was gathered at the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, driving out demons, permitting them not to speak because they knew him.” And rising very early he went out to pray. And then when they track him down again he says, “Yes, this is what I have come to do. We must go from village to village and we must heal.”
So the first obligation of a disciple is not to pray. The first obligation of a disciple is to heal.
The second story I’m going to tell you has to do with Lourdes, too, and it’s another side of cures. You see cures are physical things, you say he was cured of this disease, he was cured of that disease. But when you say to somebody, “I went there and I was healed,” it’s more than a cure. Sometimes people who are cured are healed, and sometimes people who are not cured are healed. And that is what the lady was trying to tell me.
And now I’ll tell you my favourite Lourdes story, because I saw it on television. It was… remember, what was the name of the programme? “60 minutes plus.” This goes way back now to the 1950s. And I was watching television, and they had a little bit on Lourdes.
One of the newsmen had gone to Lourdes with this American family. There was a little girl and she was crippled, crippled from birth. She was a sweet little girl of about five years old. And this family, the mother and father, used to take her every year to Lourdes since she was two years old, so now it was about her fifth or sixth trip. And she was bright as a button and smiling all the time.
And the reporter interviewed the mother and father and said, “You come to Lourdes, what for? I mean you come to Lourdes every single summer because you, the father, has a vacation, and you put your whole vacation here, and she doesn’t seem to be getting any better.”
And he looks at him and he says, “We come to Lourdes, not for a cure. We come to Lourdes so that for the next fifty weeks of the year we know that we have the strength from God himself to take care (Apologies, end of homily missing due to problems with the recorder).
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Father Hanly’s homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, was delivered on 8th February 2009.
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