St. Mary of the Angels 2/5/12
Sunday: OT 5 B
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; I Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39
A friend of mine recently related to me an event from his early childhood. He was in a hospital. He had just had an appendectomy and that night he was in extreme pain. Now, this was back in the days before one could manage one’s own pain with Percocet. Being desperate, he pushed the light for the nurse. When she
arrived, she gently told him that she was sorry that he was in so much pain but that she could not give him a pain killer
for another hour. However, she then took his hand and slowly recited the 23rd
Psalm. He listened to the words, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing
I shall want…” He remembers that by the end, a calm had settled over him and he felt his pain diminish. A prayer and a touch.
A few years ago, when my brother-in-law, Alex, was dying of ALS, I arranged for his anointing with
the sacrament for the sick. As family we stood around Alex in his wheelchair
and we each placed our hand on him. We prayed for him with the prayers of the
Church and then anointed him with the holy oil. We both wept and were consoled,
and I saw a radiant smile cross Alex’ face. A prayer and a touch.
In today’s Gospel, Peter’s mother-in-law lies sick with fever. Jesus takes her by the hand and raises her up. Jesus,
whose very presence is prayer, also touches her.
There was no need for Jesus to touch. He did not touch
a man possessed by a demon nor did He touch the centurion’s servant. But
frequently He does touch, touches a leper, a hemorrhaging woman, Jairus’ dead daughter, and now, Peter’s mother-in-law. With each touch, Jesus took a great risk, for to touch any of these people made Jesus
unclean, contaminated, a reject from community and Synagogue. Certainly, no religious
leader would have dared touch this woman, Peter’s mother-in law. But Jesus
Sick people, wounded people have a need to be touched, -- like my friend, like Alex, -- like me, like
you? People want to be cured, healed. Jesus
wants to touch. Jesus wants to cure, to heal. But, it is one thing to cure people; it is quite another to heal the them. Curing is for the body; healing is for the soul.
Jesus always moved from curing to healing.
We can’t always cure the body. Medicine has its
limits. But, with prayer in Jesus’ name and with touch, we can bring healing
to a person’s soul. A prayerful nurse healed my friend as a boy. His cure came in time. My family healed Alex, but death claimed him a month later.
As a community here at St. Mary of the Angels, we know the power of prayer and touch. Remember last year, when, because of the flu epidemic, the Archdiocese told us not to shake hands at the
sign of peace, how the community placed arms on shoulders at the “Our Father” and replaced handshakes with warm
embraces? Deep down we know that prayer with touch heals our soul, heals the
soul of the community, heals both the one who receives and the one who gives. Was
Jesus, somehow, healed, too, in his soul even as He took on peoples’ sickness?
Prayer and touch are sacramental. In the sacraments God
touches us: with bread and wine in the Eucharist, with water in Baptism, with oil in Confirmation and the Sacrament of the
Sick, with the holding of hands in Marriage and the laying on of hands at Ordination.
Only the sacrament of reconciliation does not have a touch. And, maybe,
that is why the sign of peace takes so long here at St. Mary of the Angels. Before
the gifts are brought to the altar we need to pray and touch one another with peace for the mutual healing of soul.
Sacramental touching is a mystery to ponder, isn’t it?
I invite you to look at your experience. Have you ever felt in your own
life the touch of healing, the touch of comforting, the touch of empowering? Have
you ever felt raised up because someone touched you or held you in prayer and reverence?
I know that at my nephew’s funeral a month ago, just before my niece and I went to the church lectern, -- I to
read the Scripture, she to proclaim an Irish blessing, -- we embraced. We both needed that touch for strengthening our souls.
And lastly, as today’s story shows, curing and healing are not just for ourselves but for the
sake of giving ourselves in service to others. Jesus raised up Peter’s
mother-in-law and she served them. Consider how many of the named and nameless men and women whom Jesus cured, healed, raised
up, followed Him along the road in discipleship. We, too, my friends, who have
been healed, are invited today to give ourselves, as best we can, in loving service to God’s wounded people.
Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ