I know a man who’s got a lot of problems: He struggles with his closest relationships, with his work, and with his direction in life. He blames everything: God hasn’t helped him, people are jerks, the government’s full of morons, and everything he’s tried hasn’t worked. But when someone asks him to look at what he could change about himself, he refuses. He’s looking everywhere around him for a solution when it’s right at his feet.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
We all do this in certain ways: look for amazing solutions and avoid the simple ones God gives us. I know a woman who lives with her parents, trying to take care of them, but constantly argues with them. The solution is to move out. However, in her mind, it just doesn’t seem possible. Many men unfortunately struggle with pornography. Even the British comedian Russell Brand, who’s not at all Christian, knows it’s bad for us. Yet, when I suggest to some men as a remedy, going to more daily Masses to change their worldview and receive spiritual strength, most don’t go for it.
Not every solution God offers is simple. But some are. We sometimes refuse them because of our pride. The First Reading is a portion of a famous Old Testament story about the healing of Naaman the Syrian, who has leprosy. The First Reading only has the end of the story, so let’s start with the beginning: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy” (2 Kg 5:1). Naaman’s like us: We have a lot of pride, and have a problem we can’t solve.
From where does the solution come? “Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy’” (2 Kg 5:2). The solution comes from an enemy, a young Israelite girl taken captive in battle and now a slave of Naaman’s wife. But she still wants to help Naaman. This is important, because oftentimes God suggests cures for us that don’t come from sources we like: a family member, a co-worker we don’t respect, or even a priest with whom we don’t get along. God loves sending us truth through imperfect people! Why? Because He wants to heal our pride and grow our humility: Will we take a solution from someone we don’t like? If we don’t, we only hurt ourselves. Put your hand up, please, if you’ll take good advice no matter from where it comes?
So, the king of Aram sends Naaman to Israel to be healed. Elisha, the Jewish prophet, hears of his arrival and invites him to meet. “So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kg 5:9-12). Naaman’s response is so human: Elisha doesn’t even meet him personally, but gives his prescription through a messenger—offending Naaman’s pride. And the solution is too simple: wash seven times in the river Jordan. That’s it? No one’s been cured that way. There has to be another way!
“But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’” (2 Kg 5:13). This is what God the Father wants us to know: Some healing is simpler than we think. The solution is just to move out and spend some regular evenings with our parents. The solution is to go to a Marriage Encounter weekend, which starts a journey of healing. Spend more time with the Eucharist. Go to Confession, a counsellor, or a doctor; tell a friend. We just need to humble ourselves. St. Ephrem remarks that the command to go to the Jordan represents the command of Jesus to be baptized, because Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. The leprosy that all people carry is sin, and it needs to be washed away by baptism (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 167).
“So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant’” (2 Kg 5:14-15). After the healing, Naaman acknowledges his error, and he has many of them.
There are seven capital sins: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. They’re called capital sins because they engender other sins. Which one’s the worst? Pride, because we act like we’re God, we determine what’s right and wrong, and we rebel against God’s plan. How does Naaman counteract it? He shows gratitude. He acknowledges the gift that came from God, and promises no longer to worship false gods.
Here are three types of healing on which we should focus:
1) The sacraments: The sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession are ways that God gives light and strength. All of us have weak minds because of sin: We can’t see things clearly. We know, for example, that it’s bad to take revenge on people. Then why do we do it? Because sometimes we can’t see clearly, and even when we do, we’re so weak that we keep on making the same mistakes. But if we receive the Eucharist with faith and love, and want to receive help, we’ll get it!
A woman by the name of Candace Vogler was, while a child, sexually abused by her own father and tragically rejected by her mother; her family was completely dysfunctional. She was left scarred and traumatized, suffering from night terrors and insomnia for 30 years. She became Catholic in 2016 and wrote this: “It is an extraordinary blessing to get to enjoy the ordinary graces of sacramental practice after years of just reading, praying, worshiping God in this place or that… I have come here from hard places. I am not clear of the difficulties and may never be…. [But] I enjoy a kind of peace now that I could not have imagined before. I am the luckiest person I know” (Brian Besong & Jonathan Fuqua, Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism, p. 285-6). Admittedly, this story is somewhat of a miracle, and there were other factors involved, but it points to the power of the sacraments.
Everyone who starts going to Confession regularly and receiving Communion with faith always grows. I guarantee that, if we approach the sacraments regularly and with faith, we will grow, and for some of us, this may be the healing solution. Also, for those of us here who are part of our family, or maybe are a guest, and who aren’t yet baptized, you may want to think about baptism. We’ll talk more about baptism in January. However, in the meantime, please talk to Peter Lee, our director of evangelization, if you have any questions.
2) Praying over each other. One of the spiritual gifts that God gives is healing through physical touch. In Alpha, this is normal: We pray with each other in small groups, and, if a person is okay with it, we put a hand on their shoulder and pray over them. When I was at an Experience Alpha conference, I was with mostly non-Catholic Christians and marveled at how they’re so ready to pray over each other. On one day, certain people asked God for healing, and we gathered around them and prayed over them. One person said he felt healing from wounds of the past when I prayed over him—believe me, it wasn’t me! Another time, I was drained and a pastor prayed over me, and it was very consoling. Peter might have the gift of healing, as someone told me that, after he prayed over her, she physically felt an improvement in her neck; Peter told me that this happens regularly. And I just found out that Deacon Andrew might have the gift, too.
In this season of Made for Mission, we need to open ourselves up to this simple gift. We’re not used to it as Catholics, but it’s a good and holy type of prayer. My dream as pastor is that, in a few years, we’ll be so comfortable that it’ll be normal for us to pray for healing and place hands over each other. And I wish we could have some dedicated healing ministry where we can do this after Sunday Masses.
3) Counselling. As I’ve mentioned before, most Catholics have an aversion to counsellors because they think it’s embarrassing. They like to go to priests because they trust us more, and we’re cheaper! But many of you could benefit from the listening ear and expertise of a good counsellor. In the bulletin, there is a handout with the names and contact information of Catholic Registered Professional Counsellors in the Lower Mainland who embrace the Church’s teaching on the human person.
Max Leal, one of our parishioners here, told me how he took my advice and went to a counsellor and no longer feels anger towards his father. Others here have benefitted from counselling over Skype, the Who Am I workshop, and Marriage Encounter! No one would have ever thought that my mom’s lifelong friends were having difficulties in their marriage. But Retrouvaille worked a miracle for them! All of us have wounds; many of us have traumas or mental illnesses. They don’t define us. There’s nothing about which to be embarrassed.
Someone recently reminded me that leaders go first. So I’ll close with a story of how I needed a counsellor. Eight years ago, in my second year in Rome, I felt totally burned out. Because of my pride and insecurity, I didn’t want to tell anyone how I was doing, and actually hoped that I would get so physically sick that I would be sent to a hospital for some months of rest. But God is so good that He knew I needed spiritual and mental healing, and so He didn’t give me what I wanted; he gave me what I needed. Eventually, my fatigue got so bad that I admitted to my superior, now Cardinal Stella, “I’m burned out.” He was very good and just listened. Then he said I should go see a Vatican doctor. So I saw the doctor who was looking after the pope, and he was the nicest guy in the world, but useless! Ha ha! So he sent me to see a Vatican psychologist. Now this guy was only somewhat helpful: Every time he asked me a question, he jumped to another question. And he kept on talking! After a while, I thought, “Maybe you should see a doctor.” But two graces came out of this: 1) He said correctly that I’ve got three problems that are deeply rooted in me; he said they’ll always be there and I’ll have to manage them—saying this has made me aware of falling into these same traps. 2) I was humbled—that was the greatest grace, a spiritual one. I accepted that I had a problem and was able to start adjusting my life.
God wants us to be healed, healing starts with humility, and is simpler than we think.