We are all sick in various ways
. Some are sicker than others. Some are sick physically, others emotionally and others still, psychologically. But we are all sick spiritually; some even under serious bondage of the devil, as we read in today’s gospel. In fact, emotional and psychological sufferings are even more intense than physical suffering because they have to do with the mind and heart which cannot be easily relieved by medicine alone.
Such was the case of Job who was afflicted with all kinds of sicknesses. He was so miserable he started to wonder about the meaning of life. Quite often, physical suffering can cause us to lose our morale, meaning and self-esteem in life. We must recognize the anguish of suffering. We must never discount the intensity of people’s pain. How we suffer is also dependent on the pain threshold of each person. That is why we must not dismiss the sufferings of people without showing compassion and empathy, especially those of us who are not suffering physically, emotionally or psychologically.
In one way or another, we are seeking for healing and deliverance from our pain and misery. So asking to be relieved of our suffering and pain is a very human thing to do. God will not refuse us that request, as the psalmist tells us. He is full of mercy and compassion.
Having stated this fact of sickness and healing, it is important that we view healing, especially physical healing, in perspective. We must not seek to be freed from our physical illnesses at all costs. There are some who seek to be healed by all means, regardless of the consequences. If Christ does not heal them, they go and approach other deities. But even these cannot always heal them. So they move from one deity to another, and eventually die anyway!
The meaning of life is more than having our bodies healed. Suffering is part and parcel of human life. Even Christ had to suffer, and the late Holy Father St John Paul II suffered tremendously in his last days! God did not take away his physical handicaps even though the whole Church prayed for him. It is clear in the gospel that Jesus did not heal everyone who was sick. Yes, He healed many, but not all. In fact, realizing that many were simply coming to Him for physical healing and treating Him as a miracle worker or a healer, He withdrew to the mountain to hide and pray.
It is important that we understand healing miracles in a wider context. The truth is that Jesus’ mission was not simply to offer physical and material comfort to His people. All these things, health and wealth, are transitory in life. That is why all the more, suffering and illnesses must be seen beyond this earthly life to that of eternal life. Because everything in this life is passing, we must therefore seek a life that will last forever, which is a life with God and in God, which begins in this world and realised fully in the next. This explains why the Church forbids us to reduce the Mass to a healing mass, or the Sacrament of the Sick simply to physical healing. The truth is that the Church is concerned that we are healed not only physically but spiritually as well. It is an integral and holistic healing; one that will bring about salvation not only of the body but the soul, not only for this life but for life everlasting.
The purpose of Jesus’ mission is therefore not simply to prolong our life on earth but to prepare us for eternal life. Hence when Simon and his companions found Him and said, “Everybody is looking for you.” Jesus answered, “Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.” This is not to deny the importance of miracles, especially healing miracles, because this is the way many people come to experience the personal love of God. Truly, if God had become man in Jesus, it was in order that man might encounter God in a tangible way. By becoming man He assumed our sufferings and sicknesses, even our sins. Accordingly, the Church proclaims Jesus as our compassionate high priest because He knows what it means to suffer, to live in fear, especially the fear of death. So in Jesus, especially in His miracles, healings and other deeds, Jesus demonstrates to us that He is the compassion and love of God in person. Healing miracles are important because in Jesus, the kindness of God is shown. In Him we know that God loves us and is merciful.
From this we realize that miracles, especially healing miracles, are meant for the purpose of invoking faith in God and especially in Jesus as the manifestation of God. Miracles are His credentials to substantiate His identity as the Son of God, as the personal representative of the Father. They are meant to provoke faith in Him as the power and mercy of God. They are not a substitute for faith. Indeed, miracles of whatever kind in themselves are ambiguous. We must go beyond experiencing the miracles and arrive at faith in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. If Jesus forbade the devils to proclaim His identity, it was because although “they knew who he was”, the people did not. Unless they discovered Jesus as the power and mercy of God in person, there would be no real faith and conversion!
Once we believe in the identity of Jesus, then the corollary is to trust in His Word. Ultimately, it is in the understanding of the Word of God, believing in His Word and doing His Word that can bring us fullness of life. We must never think that every time we pray, the Lord will heal us physically. Rather, every time we pray, God will give us the fullness of life which goes beyond simply bodily and physical health. Having good physical health is not sufficient to make us happy.
To live a good life, a life of integrity, bearing fruits of love, generosity, compassion and a good conscience is greater than any physical healing. For what brings us true joy is when we are at peace with God and our fellowmen. For this reason, preaching the Word is primary in the proclamation of the gospel, for it leads to conversion of mind and heart.
Once we know who Jesus is, then, like Job, we will come to understand that suffering remains a mystery in the divine plan of God. To some extent, there is a close relationship between physical and spiritual health. But this is not always so as in the case for Job who suffered even though he was upright spiritually. But suffering is not meaningless. It can be redemptive and salvific. So suffering has a redemptive value, such as the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Only faith in Jesus’ love and victory over death can enable us to suffer redemptively. Indeed, in the case of Pope St John Paul II, his suffering has become a source of inspiration to all those who suffer because of illnesses. From hindsight, we now realize that if God did not take away his suffering, it was because he wanted to make use of his suffering for a greater cause, which is to proclaim the power of faith in God even in apparent hopelessness. Most of all, sickness is meant to help us strengthen our spiritual life for a greater end, which is eternal life.
In Jesus, we come to realize that suffering need not break us but build us; it need not make us bitter but can make us better. Suffering, especially sicknesses, might weaken us bodily but can build us interiorly in terms strengthening our character, particularly in perseverance, patience, compassion and faith.
Thus, when we speak of healing miracles, we must consider healing in a holistic manner. More than just physical healing or even the healing of the mind and the heart is the healing of the soul. So what makes us truly happy in life is not physical well-being but spiritual health. We need to be healed of our sinfulness and selfishness. We need to be freed from our bondage to the devil, the spirits that oppress us and make us slaves to insecurity, possessiveness, jealousy, power, wealth, lust and death. Those of us who have experienced His mercy must learn to have faith in Him. We must grow out of expecting miracles all the time or prolonging this human life. Rather, life is more than physical health. Life is more than simply living on earth, but it is our hope that we can share the fullness of life by being one with God, sharing in His life and love, now and hereafter.
Indeed, we know that we are truly healed only if like Job, we grow in faith and confidence in the Lord and His incomprehensible ways, or like Peter’s mother-in-law, when we begin to reach out to others, just as she began to minister to Jesus and wait on Him. So if the Lord heals us, it is in order that we can in turn become the proclaimers of the Good News. Like St Paul, we can proclaim convincingly the mercy of God only after encountering His resurrection in our own lives.