Fr. Charles Irvin
Isaiah 43-18-19,21-11,24-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12
From a very early age you and I are taught to be self-reliant. As adults we are very uneasy when we are forced to be reliant on others. We dislike being dependent upon others; we’re programmed to take care of our selves. That perhaps is why our bookstores are filled with so many “Do It Yourself” books.
Faith, on the other hand, requires us to abandon self-reliance and to be dependent upon God’s power. For us, as Christians, we are called to become an inter-dependent people and to receive God’s power through reliance upon and dependence upon Jesus Christ. Christianity is not a “Do It Yourself” religion.
For a miracle to happen faith must be present. Faith is the essential prerequisite for a miracle. Faith means one has receptivity to God’s healing word as proclaimed by Jesus. But does it mean that one must personally have faith in the power of Jesus? No, it does not! This perhaps shocks certain Christians who believe that nothing happens and nothing spiritually avails in the absence of the acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior.
The critical thing to note in this account from St. Mark’s Gospel is that the crippled man was in a state of spiritual paralysis. He couldn’t approach Jesus on his own; he had to rely on others. His friends brought him to Jesus and then lowered him down on a mat through the roof, dropping him in front of Jesus in order that he might be healed. I want to highlight something. It was their faith, not the crippled man’s faith, that placed him in a state of reliance of Christ’s healing power.
This is striking testimony of the power of intercessory prayer. It is likewise a striking icon of the Church. For we, in our own spiritual paralysis, are brought by our Church and placed at the feet of Jesus Christ in order that we might be healed, forgiven and saved. There is no greater evidence than this demonstration of the absolute necessity of the Church’s intermediary role in our salvation. We are and unable to return to God simply by our own efforts and under our own power. In our paralysis and on our beds of pain, we need the Church to lay us at the feet of Jesus, requesting of Him that our sins be forgiven and that we be healed.
It is quite true that only God can forgive sins. That is precisely the teaching of the Catholic Church. When we go to confession to a priest and receive the Sacrament of Forgiveness we, the ones who are paralyzed, are placed at the feet of Jesus — and thereupon we receive from Him God’s forgiveness. The priest does not forgive sins. The priest, ordained as he is into Christ’s Priesthood, mediates the presence and power of God to us, that pre-existing power and that pre-existing will of God that our sins might be forgiven. How can sins be rightly remitted unless the very One against whom we have sinned grants the pardon? Forgiveness must come from God Himself. In the Sacrament o Reconciliation it is Christ who forgives.
Lest anyone doubt that this is so, Jesus offers His own proof. The Jews of Christ’s time thought, as do many folks in our day, that the physical miseries of sinners were simply outward and visible sign of their sinfulness. People in many other cultures as well often regarded physical affliction as punishment for sin. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man they were therefore, according to their own standards of judgment, unable to deny that the paralytic’s sins had been forgiven. Were his sins not really and truly forgiven he would have remained physically incapacitated and paralyzed. Since the man walked, they had to admit that the paralyzed man was clearly justified and forgiven of his sins.
In the light of this gospel’s message, how do people today think about sin, about forgiveness of sin, and about the power of Jesus Christ living in His Church giving us forgiveness of our sins? More importantly, have we bought into the myth that forgiveness of sin is a “do it yourself” proposition, and that we, on our own, can heal ourselves? The moment we buy into that sort of thinking we eliminate the need for God to send us His Son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. We, along with other modern Americans, would be telling God that we don’t need Him and that we can take care of our selves. We would be telling God that we can take care of our own forgiveness and heal ourselves without His help.
Are we, then, people of faith? Do we really rely on Jesus Christ both to forgive us our sins as well as to give us the power to walk into newness of life? That, it seems to me, is both the question and the challenge that St. Mark puts in front of us. Which ought to prompt us to ask ourselves this question: “When was the last time I went to confession and received God’s healing forgiveness?”
So often you and I have heard people tell us: “I don’t need Church.” Many people declare that they are against organized religion, that they want nothing to do with institutional religion. I’ll grant you that there is much in organized religion that is defective and that it has done hurtful things to people.
But the Church is like a hospital; it’s filled with sick people… and sometimes the staff gets infected. But in spite of all that’s wrong in any hospital, it does bring people back to health. Hospitals do a lot of good; they offer people healing and a return to health. So, too, with the Church.
It is God who justifies us; we don’t. It is God who sanctifies us; we don’t. It is God who saves us; we don’t. But God is found in our humanity… as defective as our humanity might be. He is living among us, not to condemn us, but to save us.
May you and I be like those men we heard about in today’s Gospel account; may you and I bring many who need God’s healing love and forgiving power that comes to us in Jesus Christ. Those men were bold and audacious. May we be just as bold and audacious as they were, filled with the audacity of faith and the boldness of love for others who need to be brought to God. For our faith can supply what may be lacking in theirs. That’s what caring and loving are all about.