HOMILY WEEK 01 02 – Year II
Spiraling Out of Control and into Healing
(1 Sam 1:9-20; 1 Sam 2; Mk 1:21-28)
How would you take the air out of a glass? Would you use a vacuum pump? Or simply fill the glass with water, and the air would be pushed out.
In a similar way, the readings today invite us to come to Jesus with faith to receive his healing, but in a manner that involves a spiritual spiral.
The 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous offers us a framework to work with regarding this image. Step 7 reads as follows: “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” That is the only step where I felt something was missing – something to replace what was removed, and that to me was the healing gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I am convinced God does not so much pull out our shortcomings (as with a vacuum pump), but rather gently pushes them out by filling us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (like filling a glass with water). So, when I wrote the booklet Together We Heal, a 12 Step Approach to the Healing of Sexual Abuse, I obtained permission from the World Headquarters of Alcoholics Anonymous in New York to adapt Step 7 to read as follows: “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings, and fill us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” thus adding the positive element of healing to the element of deliverance already in the step.
Hannah, in the first reading, needed not just to be delivered from barrenness, but also to conceive. She came before the Lord praying so intensely for that miracle that Eli the priest thought she was inebriated. She stood her ground, however, and her prayer was granted – she was healed of her barrenness and filled with the ability to conceive and bear a child.
The man who confronted Jesus in the synagogue had an unclean spirit, whatever that might be. He needed to be delivered from that spirit and Jesus cast it out. The man was left free from that spirit, and filled with a spirit of serenity and wellness.
Jesus came with a two-fold mission – to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and to heal, because we stand in need of both. There is a difference between sin, that which we do (actions, words, thoughts or omissions) and sinfulness, that which makes us do it (painful emotions like anger and bitterness; negative attitudes like false pride, stubbornness, selfishness, and our addictions, whether chemical or process).
The sacrament of reconciliation, over the ages, has been used almost exclusively to obtain forgiveness for our sins, for which we receive absolution and a penance to perform. I think it would be safe to say we have for the most part overlooked the power of that sacrament to heal our sinfulness that would help us not to sin in that same way again.
Today’s readings invite us to focus on that latter aspect of the ministry of Jesus – to sanctify us, to heal us and make us whole. So, we can ask ourselves, where are we barren and in need of healing like Hannah? Could it be some selfishness that prevents us from being more generous, or some laziness that prevents us from being more productive? We can come to Jesus like Hannah, receive healing and be transformed into greater Christlikeness.
We can also ask ourselves, where are we possessed and in need of deliverance, like the man in the synagogue? We need not be afraid of the word “possessed” which might make us think of some mental issue. No, we are all struggling with shortcomings such as painful emotions, negative attitudes and even addictions. There are probably very few people who are totally free of any addiction, and certainly none who are free of those other shortcomings. Essentially, they are an abuse of the three temptations Jesus faced in the desert that we all face every day: “money, fame and power” as the Big Book puts it, or as I like to express them, “possessions and pleasure, prestige and fame, power and control,” the most devious, dangerous and prevalent being the latter – power and control.
There is a saying, “Name it, claim it, don’t blame it, tame it and we can aim it.” We need to be honest and humble, make that inner journey into our personalities and way of being, admit these realities wherever they are to be found within our thoughts and actions, and basically do Step 7: Humbly ask God to remove these defects of character by filling us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This leads us into the pattern Jesus gave us by which he heals us – the Paschal Mystery of passion, death and resurrection, a Spiritual Spiral. We can visualize this as a line moving upwards across a page (the Abrahamic journey), with circles decreasing in size strung out below it and touching the line (the Medicine Wheel of Indigenous spirituality). What Christianity has done is put the two together into a spiritual spiral.
Our passion is facing and admitting some painful truth about ourselves, a downward movement on the circle. Our death is dealing with it and letting it go, the bottom of the circle. Our resurrection is the new life that the Spirit of Jesus fills us with to replace that defect, the top of the next smaller circle. We have changed by experiencing some healing and transformation. Joy and a new sense of freedom will be the sign of our healing.
Many years ago, Claude, a former Oblate priest and I were asked to serve a northern community. As we were keen on team ministry, we decided that we would co-pastor that faith community, something that had never been done before. It wasn’t easy, as we had to struggle with basic things such as who would take the first office near the entrance of the house, and who would be in charge of the finances. One evening, after a pastoral team meeting at the hospital, I could see that Claude was restless. Having taken Marriage Encounter, I suggested we dialogue. When we exchanged papers, I read on his, “At the meeting today, I felt that they would do whatever you wanted no matter what I said.”
I was shocked! That was the first time in all my ministry someone gave me the feedback that they felt controlled, thus implying I was a controller. Facing that painful truth was my passion. Accepting it, praying about it and sharing it with others was my death. Letting it go and rising to a less controlling way of being was my resurrection, and I can honestly say that I experienced some healing of that defect of character that was hurting a brother Oblate. That is the invitation of the readings today to us all – to experience inner healing through the Spiritual Spiral.
The Eucharist is our food for that spiritual journey – we are nourished by God’s Word, supported by the faith community, and healed by receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus made present for us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
May our celebration empower us to be like Hannah, have a similar experience as the man in the synagogue, and receive the healing that only Jesus, the redeemer and savior, can give to us. And may freedom and joy be the surest sign of that healing.