Peace be with you all in these times. It seems strange and yet perfect to finish this series amidst a pandemic. We need to believe and pray for healing all the more right now. And, living in such close quarters with those we love. It can offer opportunities to pray with one another that we don’t usually have. I will be posting this Part 4 and the conclusion of the series with Part 5 this week. Then, we will move onto another topic.
Who Can Pray for Healing
Many Christians share their stories of need with one another. We will often ask for prayers from people, whether it’s at the end of lunch with friends or on Facebook. And, intercessory prayer does work miracles. While at a Night of Healing Prayer in 2019 a woman stood to receive prayer for her husband suffering from blood cancer. Her husband could not be present that evening. He went to the doctor the next day and, after the normal exam, he asked them to run his numbers. The numbers came back normal. That powerful intercession from his wife healed him through the prayers of those gathered together. Intercessory prayer is powerful, but Jesus calls us to lay hands on the sick to heal them.
In each of the three main Commissions by Jesus in the Gospels, he commissions his Apostles, disciples, and “all believers” to heal the sick. He summons the Twelve and sends them in: Matthew 10:1, Mark 6:7, 13, and Luke 9:1. Each of these commissions of the Twelve includes either a charge to heal or a testimony of them healing from the authority of the commission. But, Jesus doesn’t stop with the Twelve. In Luke 10:8-9, 19 he commission 72 other disciples (non-apostles) and gives them authority to cure the sick. And, in Mark’s gospel, the commission broadens to include “those who believe.” In Mark 16:17a, 18b Jesus states: “those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, [...] They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Whether we find this consoling or challenging, the truth revealed from the heart of Jesus is this: if we want to follow Jesus the way Jesus has called us to follow him, then this will include us praying for healing of bodies and souls with those we love and our neighbor.
What about the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick?
It is true that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick calls for an ordained, Catholic priest. This is because, by his ordination, the priest represents both Christ and the entire Church. And, in praying for the sick with the oil - most often blessed by the Bishop at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week - that priest unites the infirm or dying person to the entire universal church’s prayer in a powerful way. It is the difference between meeting someone from Germany or meeting the ambassador to the United States from Germany. One is deputed to represent the entire country of Germany, and the other is simply a citizen who reveals a unique aspect of that country. The priest is ordered within the Church to represent the entire Body of Christ and carry that catholic (universal) weight of authority into that moment of serious illness or at the time of death (at the nearness of death, the pope has granted every priest the authority to pardon the infirm from all punishment and guilt from sin [this is also granted should the one near death have desired it, even if the priest couldn’t make it]). Jesus placed absolution from sin within the apostolic lineage of authority (Matthew 16:16-19; John 20:22-23) that tradition sees carried through to the presbyter-priests of today through the episcopacy-bishops.
As we can see from this discussion about the Anointing of the Sick, it differs greatly from simply praying for someone on the street corner or in the workplace lunch room. When a Christian Catholic prays with another person, it is an exercise of their baptismal authority (the very same root and ground that enables a man to be able to receive Holy Orders). By baptism, we become the Body of Christ on earth as his sacrament. Jesus doesn’t simply tell us to pray for the sick (that phase is nowhere in the gospels); rather, he says, boldy and uncomfortable: “heal the sick”. And, I don’t think Jesus meant “give them Tylenol.” Jesus knew the Holy Spirit that he sent into the Church. It is the same Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary and conceived the Word incarnate within her immaculate womb. It is the same Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus at his baptism. It is the same Holy Spirit who poured himself as tongues of fire upon the entire church gathered on Pentecost. And, the same Holy Spirit poured upon all flesh through faith in Jesus Christ. This Holy Spirit works miracles in Jesus’ Name through us today.
Called to Pray with and for the Sick
At a healing service someone gave me a “word of knowledge” for cysts on the ovaries. A “word of knowledge” means that the person, in prayer, “sensed” that God wanted to heal someone or multiple women with cysts on their ovaries that night gathered in prayer. So, I called out that word and a lady stood up. She and her husband had not been able to conceive children due to this ailment. She received prayer and now has two twins on the way! Praise, Jesus! Our prayer for healing not only helps us get through the day without pain, it very well may enable new life to be born into the world.
That is an amazing testimony, but it also touches on an important point about God’s providence. God can do anything, anytime, and anywhere. Yes. This is true. However, God has revealed that he chooses his Church to be the ordinary way through which he acts supernaturally in the world. The Sacraments of the Church and the apostolate of the laity, religious and ordained are the avenues of grace through which God chose to pour out new life, grace, conversion, deliverance and healing into the world. And, so, the uncomfortable and challenging question from the above testimony is this: If that Christian Catholic had thought “I’m only thinking up things” when in prayer they sensed that God wanted to heal a woman with cysts on the ovaries, would that word have been given? And, if I did not give that word and the lady did not respond in faith, would she have been healed? And, if none of that had happened, would those two babies have been brought into the world? If we understand how God reveals the way He works in the world, that is, through us as the Body of Christ on earth, then we cannot wave this away with a simple “sure He could.” God works within the world-structure He invented. And, what Jesus reveals is that the Father delights to work in, with, and through His children first and foremost; we reveal His sovereignty through the obedience of our faith. We can try and divest ourselves of the power and authority of healing prayer, but God has people in our lives waiting for you and me to step out into that uncomfortable place of mission to open the floodgates of healing.
This call to pray for the sick includes intercessory prayer. But, it must include actually stopping what we are doing and praying with other people. This isn’t just a “Fr. Bearer thing,” this is exactly what Jesus himself calls us to do (see the Scripture quotes above). It means laying a hand on the head or shoulder of someone who is sick, or holding hands in prayer, and asking the Holy Spirit to come and heal them in the Name of Jesus. You and I have been called; we cannot get out from under the word of the Gospel and the beautiful mantle of grace Jesus laid upon us in Baptism.
Be Not Afraid
Praying for healing is simpler than you think. Jesus does the work. We’re just his hands and lips and feet. The next part of this series will touch on practical ways to move into a time of praying for healing and offer a simple outline to help think through praying for healing.