The title of this blog post is a somewhat grumpy way of expressing my thoughts. Today’s Gospel story of the blind man’s healing brought up a touchy subject for me.
As you recall, the blind man sitting on the side of the road hears that Jesus is passing by. After crying out, “Son of David, have pity on me!” a few times, Jesus calls the man to himself. The Lord asks him what he wants. He wants to see. Jesus restores the blind man’s sight and tells him, “Your faith has saved you.”
That line is the clincher. It has both enlightened me and driven me crazy.
Regular readers will recall that I suffer from fibromyalgia, a mysterious chronic pain condition. I’ve had fibro for about four years now. (Please note: I am not seeking your remedy suggestions today.)
I also ‘married into’ a beautiful parish community known for being a local center of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. Here comes the rub… Now, listen: I have about a million praises for my charismatic brothers and sisters. Those whom I know are sacrament-seeking, bishop-obeying, Mary-loving, Christians. They have strengthened my faith, renewed my hope, and changed my life.
At the same time, there’s a phrase / concept that I’ve heard creeping around this circle (and other Catholic circles) that both annoys and – frankly – insults me. It comes out most especially during healing-prayer services:
“Just have faith and Jesus will heal you.”
By itself, there’s nothing wrong with this phrase. BUT! I’ve had people pray over me, use something like this phrase during their prayer, squeeze me tightly, look up, and then forcefully re-insist that I “believe! Believe that Jesus will heal you!”
Then I hobble away from the healing-prayer service. With fibromyalgia.
Don’t get me wrong: I truly do believe that God heals people during healing-prayer services (or any other time)! I’ve met folks in our parish who’ve been through terrible suffering and, by a miracle, were healed. Yes, God does grant physical healing to some people.
At the same time, for whatever reason, God’s eternal and infinite love leaves room for the physical and emotion pain that I experience as a fibromyalgia patient. And I’m OK with that. In fact, I have grown to appreciate the closeness I have to Jesus in my moments of suffering. Unfortunately, some of my fellow Christians look to today’s Gospel, and similar passages, and interpret them to mean that each time I’ve walked out of a healing service still suffering, I must not have believed enough. I must not have had enough faith.
Each time that a sick or suffering person is led to believe this really bad theology, the Christians who implied its truth are at serious fault.
Suffering, miracles, physical and other healings – these are mysteries beyond our comprehension. Oversimplifying these experiences can plant dangerous seeds in the spiritual lives of those whose suffering makes them especially vulnerable. A poor theology of suffering can lead a person to dismiss God altogether.
In the book My Peace I Give You, author Dawn Eden mentions a particularly insightful Catholic practice, called the “consecration of weakness” (emphasis is my own):
A traditional blessing confessors may give after absolving a penitent encapsulates this “consecration of weakness.” Invoking Jesus’ Passion, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of all the saints, the priest prays, “May … whatever good you do and whatever suffering you endure heal your sins, help you grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life.” With this blessing, the Church tells me that God does not merely heal my wounds. When I unite my heart to the Sacred Heart of his Son, whose own wounds are now glorified, he heals me through my wounds.
I can’t write an entire treatise on suffering here (and I won’t, when so many Catholics before me have done so). All I mean to point out is this: Each time Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you,” to a person He heals in Scripture, His words do not simply translate – “you had faith, therefore your [blindness, paralysis, etc.] was healed.” Christ’s words, “Your faith has saved you,” mean infinitely more. As Billy Kangas tweeted me today,
The blind man was saved from physical blindness, but through his process of seeking Jesus and coming to know His identity as the Christ, Son of David, he was also saved from spiritual blindness. Isn’t that what we should value above extraordinary physical healing?
Let’s help each other avoid poor explanations of suffering and healing.
Let’s show greater concern for one another’s spiritual needs as well as physical needs.
Let’s recognize that God heals everyone differently.
Let’s strive to see each other’s entire person – not just the wounds, warts, or disabilities – but also the beauty, the abilities, the hopes, and the gifts.
Am I making sense? Please, I welcome your comments.