Healing - Charity in Action
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

A person who has experienced serious illness can identify with Job’s lament in this Sunday’s first reading, “I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. (Job 7:3).” Job was complaining bitterly about the strange disease that afflicted him over and above other trials in his life, “I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul (Job 7:11).”

Action starter: Are you a healer?

Sickness tries the souls of men and women. Some people can carry illness heroically and with equanimity, but many of us are like Job. We rage, we complain, we become difficult patients. A person who is sick is generally focused on his pains or his powerlessness. It is difficult to be altruistic and care for others when one is suffering. Illness can keep a person from being fully alive. Although illness can be a means of giving glory to God, it oftentimes becomes a stumbling block, following the dictum of St. Irenaeus that the glory of God is man fully alive.

Much of the ministry of Jesus was involved with healing the sick and also driving out the evil spirits. This Sunday’s gospel speaks of this important ministry of our Lord, “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons (Mk. 1:34).” Jesus gained a reputation as a healer. Big crowds followed him, so much so that he had to rise up very early at dawn in order to commune with the Father in prayer.

Through the centuries, the Church has continued this healing ministry of our Lord, as mentioned in Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est:

As the years went by and the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. (no. 22)

The Church’s ministry of healing takes many forms today. On the institutional level, the Church has built hospitals, hospices, and orphanages. In many frontier territories, medical missions go hand in hand with evangelization. There are also priests, religious, and lay people who travel around the country to exercise their special gifts of healing, usually by prayer and the laying of hands. In many rural communities, church workers are involved in promoting alternative healing such as using indigenous herbal medicines, therapeutic massage, and other indigenous healing arts. Others exercise psychological healing through guidance and counseling. There is even a new field called family counseling.

Healing is making whole. A person may be broken by illness not just physically but also emotionally and socially. Disease can even alienate a person from God. A person who gets well is able to use his facu lties for serving others and giving glory to God. It is not surprising that some medical doctors become priests and religious and some priests and religious become medical doctors. One of our priest-doctor’s favorite story was about his arrival in his first parish. His first sick call was not to administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick. It was to deliver a baby!

On a wider level, healing also extends to societies. It is not just individuals who need to made whole. Societies broken by strife, divisions, social inequality, discrimination, and corruption also need to be made whole. This needs a different and kind of medicine. This kind of healing needs the courageous involvement of people who act in a unified manner for social transformation. The social healing arts also needs to be taught and to be learned. No wonder some medica l doctors became social revolutionaries. As a student in the 1970’s, one of our popular icons was Dr. Che Guevarra who was killed as a revolutionary in Bolivia.

Healing, whether of individuals or societies is an exercise of the charity of Christ. To love is to heal.