Two weeks ago I played music for the Catholic Charismatic Conference at Franciscan University. The main presenter was Damian Stayne, a great preacher with a powerful healing ministry. He lives outside of London and he’s a Chelsea fan, so that made him okay in my book.
Saturday night he led a healing service. It’s hard to describe in words what I saw. People who were deaf in one ear or the other could hear again. People who had bad knees could kneel for the first time in years. People who came in on crutches were running around the fieldhouse.
I was talking to one of the members of my band afterwards and he asked the question that was probably on many minds that night: “How much of that was real?” How many people had a psychological experience instead of a divine one?
My response: is there a difference?
We live in a world of science that tries to explain away anything that appears miraculous. The beauty of nature is just a result of a big bang. The miracle of life is really just a sperm connecting with an egg and chromosomes fusing together. We’ve limited our definition of “miracle” to “that which defies our scientific understanding.”
But I think that’s a lame definition of what a miracle is.
A miracle is an action of divine intervention. Which means we’re surrounded by miracles every day. Our very lives, our very breath, is a miracle.
I know that biology can explain how the cut on my arm can completely disappear in a week or so, but that doesn’t make it less miraculous. I know that physics can explain how the earth is in orbit around the sun, but that doesn’t make it less amazing. No, I don’t buy into the medieval explanation that clouds move in the sky because the angels push them around, but that doesn’t make them less beautiful, or me less grateful for a sunny day.
Did some of the prayers that night have the effect of a placebo and just trick the mind into healing itself? If so, so what? Does that make God less present? Didn’t He create the mind that way?
Everything is a miracle. But even using the more narrow definition that the world has for things miraculous, there were plenty of those “miracles,” too. How else can you explain the woman with advanced Multiple Sclerosis who can now walk without her cane?
Though many were healed, there were many who weren’t. “Sickness is a result of the sin of the world,” Damian said. “You can look that up in the Catechism. God doesn’t cause people to be sick, but He can use sickness to lead people closer to him.”
So I looked it up in the Catechism and found it at 1505 under the “Anointing of the sick.” It’s not to say that only really sinful people get sick, but that sickness exists because of humanity’s sinful condition. “Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life,” the Catechism says. “Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.” (CCC 1500-1501)
The CCC notes that, even with His many miracles, “Jesus did not cure all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the kingdom of God.” (CCC 1505) Some people take an all or nothing approach to God’s power. If He doesn’t heal everyone then they won’t believe. They will overlook the blessings in their life because of the problems in someone else’s, or they won’t believe the blessings in other people’s lives because of their own problems.
But I think that people who think that way don’t have a divine perspective on life. They don’t realize that every miracle of healing is temporary. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. But Lazarus eventually died again.
I know a young woman who was diagnosed with sever Leukemia. We prayed like crazy that she’d be healed. Know what? She went to the doctors and they couldn’t find a sign of the cancer. We rejoiced at her healing! But almost a year later, she wasn’t feeling well and visited her doctor. The cancer was back with a vengeance. She died within two weeks.
Did God heal her? Yes. Temporarily. Every healing is temporary. We have this idea in our heads that we’re all supposed to live until we’re 90 and than anything less of that is a cruel injustice that deprives us of our “right” to live. But that’s not reality.
God is more interested in eternity. He provides healings, not to prolong this life, but to grant us deeper faith for the next one. I guarantee you that nobody in heaven brags about how long they got to spend on earth.
In light of the miracalous healings (are there any other kind?) I experienced that Saturday night, Damian’s explanation of why sometimes healings don’t happen carried a lot more weight. He wasn’t giving an excuse on why nothing happened; he tried to delve into the mystery of why some things didn’t happen. He shared how his own wife has benign tumors in her brain that causes minor bouts of epilepsy. He’s prayed for her everyday, but the tumors remain.
Though God does not cause sickness, Damian suggested that we can use our sicknesses to glorify God and “poke the devil’s eye with a stick” by using it against him. The devil would like to use sickness and sin to pull us away from God. But God bore our infirmities upon the cross so that, through His suffering, we could be drawn to Him. And our sufferings are an opportunity to “make up what is lacking in the body of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24)
Miracles are all around us. God does amazing things in this life to give us hope for the next. He answers our prayers: sometimes with a “yes” and sometimes with a “no”, but always for our own benefit. We can become obsessed with feeling good in this life; Jesus is obsessed with us experiencing eternal joy in the next. Let us pray fervently, accept humbly, suffer faithfully, rejoice gratefully, and hope expectantly, so that we can live eternally with the One who loves endlessly.