Nothing characterizes the coming of the Kingdom of God more than healing. Jesus’ ministry builds upon a foundation of bringing healing to the sick, and, through exorcisms, peace to those afflicted in mind. Even John’s Gospel, which gives an entirely different approach to the story of Jesus, has the cure of the man-born-blind as one of its highlights.
To a large extent, most parishioners do not see the sacramental healing ministry of the parish. Priests visit the sick in hospitals and homes, performing powerful signs through the Sacrament of the Sick—but most parishioners don’t see this.
I wholeheartedly believe that the more our parishes look like the Gospel, the more compelling they will be in drawing people to the Kingdom through involvement in the Church. What would it look like for a parish to move “healing” near the top of its agenda? I think it might take the following forms:
- Regular, public celebration of the Sacrament of the Sick, even at a Sunday Mass, but certainly at other Masses. Pastors would encourage parishioners seriously ill and aged to be joined to the presence and prayers of their fellow-parishioners.
- Publishing in the bulletin and on websites the names of those in hospitals who are willing to have their names revealed; this should be followed up by prayer on Sunday.
- Occasional celebrations in thanksgiving for “healing granted” through the prayer and the service of others. Such celebrations (in Mass or not) should encourage people to share the kind of healing they have experienced, and how it happened.
- Homilies and adult faith formation topics that help people recognize the extent of healing in their lives. While the Church emphasizes miraculous healings by potential and actual saints, most healing falls into categories much more ordinary: parents helping children or aging parents; consolation after trauma and loss; spiritual direction; counseling; encouragement of people who are discouraged; recovery from physical hurt; recovery from addictions, and the spiritual healing that happens both in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as in the apologies given and received as part of everyday life.
These ideas are just starters. With reflection we can see that healing can and should be a visible, basic foundation of parish life. Once we see that, we’ll more easily see how we are carrying on the project Jesus started two millennia ago, and that continues through the work of his Spirit in our lives.