THE SACRAMENTS OF HEALING
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JAMES 5:13-20; MARK 10:13-16 ]
We all need healing, be it physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual. The Lord continues to heal as He had always done during His earthly ministry. But He has not stopped healing us because He commanded His disciples to continue His work of healing and exorcism. Indeed, we read that the primitive Church continued the ministry of healing through the apostles. Over the years, the healing ministry took on a more sacramental and structured form. By the time of St James, we see the sacrament of healing in the form of the anointing of the sick and the confession of sins to one another. It is from this basis that the sacraments of healing as celebrated in our Church today are founded. Today, the Church continues to heal through the sacraments of the sick and reconciliation.
It is a pity that many Catholics lack appreciation of these two sacraments of healing when Christ comes to heal us sacramentally, that is, in a tangible way, through the use of holy oil in the sacrament of the sick and through the absolution given by the priest in the sacrament of reconciliation. Why does the Lord heal us in this way if not for the fact that we are Incarnational beings? Even children need to be touched. We read that Jesus “put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.” Of course, we must not receive the sacraments of the sick and forgiveness of sins in a superstitious manner. Rather, Jesus knows that as human beings we need to be touched to feel the power of God. He knows too that we need to hear the words of forgiveness and so He spoke to the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven.” And at Pentecost, Jesus specifically gave the power to His apostles to forgive, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:23) And also to Peter, He gave him the authority to pardon sins when He said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19)
So what is preventing us from making full use of these two sacraments? There are two reasons, ignorance and sin, especially the foundational sin of pride. Firstly, many Catholics have been misled into thinking that these two sacraments are inventions of the Church to control the laity. Far from the truth, because all of us, regardless whether we are the pope, bishop or priest, need to avail ourselves of these two sacraments. Even the Pope needs to look for a priest to have his sins absolved and a priest to anoint him when he is sick. In fact the Pope, bishops and priests frequent the sacrament of reconciliation more often than the lay faithful because we know the healing power of this sacrament and because we are aware of our sinfulness. Without regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation our hearts will become numb to our sins. Just as no one can baptize himself, so no one can forgive himself. Jesus wants us to come to Him through the established channels of grace in the sacraments of the sick and reconciliation.
In truth, it is our pride that prevents us from going for the sacrament of reconciliation; we do not want to expose our wretchedness and sinfulness to another human being. In human relationships, we need to hear the words of forgiveness when we have hurt someone we love. Why should it be different when it comes to hurting God? We too would like to hear God’s pronouncement of forgiveness; and what is more tangible than to hear it from the minister that He has chosen to act on His behalf. So no matter what reasons we give to justify our not celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, it all boils down to our pride and ego. We do not want to humble ourselves and admit that we are sinners before God and before man.
Secondly, many fail to see the relationship between healing and forgiveness. We cannot speak of healing without forgiveness, received and given. Healing is always of the mind and the body which are closely interconnected. The human person is one composite whole. He is an embodied spirit. So although spirit and body are distinct, they are not separable. Both act in tandem with each other. The body can affect the spirit and vice versa. If the soul or the mind is sick the body will eventually lose its immune resistance. And if the person is emotionally wounded, he will eventually fall into depression and then become physically ill. The illness of a person could begin from physical sickness, which then affects the human spirit. Thus, the sacrament of confession together with the sacrament of the sick are intended to bring healing to the mind, spirit and body. The first step to healing is always the forgiveness of sins and the capacity to forgive. Once a person is liberated from his or her sins, he or she is able to see others’ compassion and set those who have hurt them free.
Thirdly, many see their sins as a personal sin against God. All our sins, regardless how private or personal they are, are always sins against God, Christ and His mystical body. If Christ is hurt by our sins, so is His body the Church. Any member of the Body of Christ who has sinned against the community, weakens the holiness of the Church and makes the Church less credible. Because one sins against the community, forgiveness must be sought from the community, of which the Bishop, as the head of the Christian community, forgives his or her sins through his deputy, his priests. At any rate, it is the whole Christ, head and body that wants to forgive us, not just the head without the body. As in the early Church, it is not confessing to just anyone, but to the elder of the Church. For this reason, St James exhorted his community to call for the elder. He wrote, “If any one of you is in trouble, he should pray; if anyone is feeling happy, he should sing a psalm. If one of you is ill, he should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him.”
Of course, the sacraments of reconciliation and the sick are more than just the forgiveness of sins but restoration of a person’s general health. Forgiveness of sins, which is the fundamental healing that takes place, is followed by the healing of the body as well. And of course when such a prayer is made by a man of faith, the prayer is more efficacious, for as St James taught, “The prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you; the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully. Elijah was a human being like ourselves – he prayed hard for it not to rain, and no rain fell for three-and-a-half years; then he prayed again and the sky gave rain and the earth gave crops.”
Let us pray for the gift of humility and faith. This is what the gospel is inviting us to do. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” To be like little children means to surrender our lives to God in faith for forgiveness and healing. It calls for humility, like a child asking for forgiveness, and recognition of our need for healing. Without the humility of a child and faith, we cannot receive the sacraments of the sick and reconciliation. But when we humble ourselves before the Lord, like Naaman the leper, we will be healed and be set free from our fears, anger and unhappiness.
We must also encourage those who have not availed themselves of these sacraments by removing their ignorance and fears. St James tells us, “My brothers, if one of you strays away from the truth, and another brings him back to it, he may be sure that anyone who can bring back a sinner from the wrong way that he has taken will be saving a soul from death and covering up a great number of sins.” Let us help those who are broken to be reconciled with God and their fellowmen. By bringing them to Christ, we save his soul.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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