Faith’s healing and gift to us offers us belonging—belonging to God and to a community. Through belonging, we experience meaning and peace. Faith is the experience of being loved by a loving Creator who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
PUBLISHED ONAug 2021
In my first month as a priest, I was called to anoint a young woman in the hospital of the next town. I was shocked. I had never anointed anyone before nor had we practised the Rite of the Anointing in the Seminary.
In the hospital, I was ushered into a room where the young woman was gasping and turning. Because I could not go near her head, I anointed the lady’s foot and begged God for healing. The medical staff continued their ministrations as I slipped out. I felt so hopeless afterwards, thinking it was impossible for the woman to be saved. The next morning they came to thank me, saying that the sick woman had suddenly recovered.
It was my introduction to the power of Faith in healing. Although the medical professionals had done excellent work, I felt sure that God’s healing had also taken effect. I told Jesus that I would not worry in the future. No matter what happened, I would just trust in Him, do my best and see Him as the One in charge.
Jesus Is In Charge
I was to see the wisdom of such an approach. I often went to the maximum prison in Pretoria in the 1980s to minister to the condemned. They had said their last goodbyes to relatives. I sat with them as they faced inevitable death in a matter of hours.
Surely this is a surreal healing situation, and yet Jesus was there. When no one else could touch these abandoned persons, Jesus could always reach them. His touch left them with deep peace. There are no other pretenses, only faith.
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11: 1). In the New Testament, Jesus tells people, “Go in peace, your faith has made you whole.” Of people who came for healing, Jesus asked them to have faith. The Gospel of Mark is filled with healing miracles.
In Luke 7: 21, Jesus assures the messengers of John the Baptist that indeed He is the One who is to come: “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard; the blind see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin-diseases are made clean, the deaf can hear, and the dead are raised to life, the Good News is preached to the poor. How happy are those who have no doubts about me.” As He sends out His disciples to the world at the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus promises them: “Believers will be given the power to perform miracles. They will drive out demons in my name; they will place their hands on sick people, who will get well.” (cf. Mark 16: 15–18) It is in healing that Jesus showed the people that He is the Messiah.
Faith At Work
Because of their faith in the Lord, the Christian saints have lived their faith by nursing, healing, and comforting the sick and the suffering. The leper hospitals in the Middle Ages, built and staffed by Franciscans, were faith at work in healing.
In modern times, we have marvelled at the healing works of Padre Pio. However, Padre Pio also built the largest and most modern hospital in southern Italy. In Padre Pio, we see combined faith healing with the science of medicine.
The Annals of the Shrine in Lourdes bear witness to thousands of healing cures. The Catholic Church has approved 67 healing miracles there, events which science cannot explain. The Church seeks the sign of miracles before a person can be approved for canonisation. Millions of other faiths also seek healings through the power of faith.
A Humble Prayer
Many people, however, scoff at the idea of faith healings. The concept of faith healing has suffered because of the fraudulent claims and ridiculous actions of exploitative evangelists.
In modern western society, many see healing through faith and miracles as a primitive belief. They only accept healing through medical science. In the writings of modern theologians, we never find what effect faith has on peoples’ mental and physical health. However, the more perceptive psychiatrists and psychosomatic doctors show growing interest in the role of spirituality in healing (cf. Francis MacNutt, 1974. Healing: 108. Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana).
The Catholic Church supports modern medicine and has created hospitals all over the world. All the first rural clinics in South Africa were established by the Church. In the recent coronavirus pandemic, the Church closed its churches and immediately adopted and promoted health protocols. But we still pray to God to protect us and give us the wisdom to take necessary precautions.
Evangelisation is the bringing of people to a personal encounter with Jesus, and the ministry of healing is a big part of it. The Church grows in areas where the ministry of healing is central to the religious experience.
Human beings are not machines but complex creatures. We have our bodies but we also have desires, memories, relationships, and emotions. We are spiritual beings in need of inner peace and meaning. Many of our sufferings and illnesses have emotional and spiritual origins. Stress and anxiety find root in a spiritual emptiness.
Faith’s healing and gift to us is that it offers us belonging to God and to a community. Through belonging, we experience meaning and peace. Faith is the experience of being loved by a loving Creator who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. People who see suffering and illness as meaningful can endure great trials.
In A compendium of healing prayers and rituals, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) invites the Church to bring Faith to illness. The compendium speaks of different kinds of healing and prayer. Priests with great experience dealing with evil spirits, deliverance and exorcism insist that the Sacrament of Penance is the first port of call for all inner healing. This Sacrament allows us to encounter the Jesus who told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven before commanding him to take up his bed and walk.
A Service Offered
St. James invites us: “Are any of you ill? You should send for the Church elders who will pray for them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick, the Lord will restore them to health and the sins they have committed will be forgiven.” (James 5: 14–16)
All the modern Popes have spoken of the existence of the spirit of evil and of evil spirits. Pope Paul wrote: “Evil is not simply a deficiency, it is efficiency, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting. A terrible reality, mysterious and frightful.” Our people are convinced of the invasion of evil spirits.
The demands for deliverance and exorcism are increasing. People who have experienced deep personal trauma are in desperate need of healing. With prayer, they can be brought to release and peace.
The compendium reminds us of the traditional Catholic use of sacramentals. Religious artefacts bring us before God who heals in faith. Today, families must remember the prayers and devotions that remind us of the power of God’s hand. We remember the role of Mary, the ‘Health of the Sick’. Many communities are bringing back the prayer to Michael the Archangel. The Church, says Pope Francis, is a field hospital.
The compendium provides for new areas of healing: the land and the environment, social ills, relationships in families, communities; and situations of isolation, fear, disharmony and loss of self-esteem arising from the loss of communion with one’s ancestors or elders.
Praying for the healing of the sick is a consolation and a joy. It must be characterised by love, emphasising that the sick one is a beloved member of a community. It is the Risen Jesus who anoints and blesses in a moment marked by joy, encouragement and liveliness.
Jesus continues to invite all those who are distressed and over-burdened to follow Him. “Save us, Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”