In today’s Gospel, just as Jesus is getting out of a boat on the Sea of Galilee, some men lay down their paralyzed friend on the dock, right in front of Jesus. And Our Lord goes to the root of the problem: he cures the man’s sins. Only after healing his sins does he heal his paralysis. We take two lessons from today’s Gospel.
Paralyzed by sin
Our First Lesson: the paralyzed man’s friends make a bold move by plopping him down right in front of Our Lord. They don’t give Jesus any choice but to face their friend, and they don’t give their friend any choice but to face Jesus. St. Thomas Aquinas writes: “the paralytic symbolizes the sinner lying in his sin; just as the paralytic can’t move, so the sinner cannot help himself.” Many of our friends trapped in sin—addictions, anger, compulsions—simply cannot get beyond their demons. We’ve all had periods ourselves when we need someone to help us out of a situation—a divorce, a depression, an addiction. But the first thing we must do for a sick friend is to pray for him, because all sickness comes ultimately from sin. Sometimes more direct action is necessary, such as taking a buddy to an AA meeting, or insisting that he got to confession, or talking to him quietly about how he is treating his wife and children. I mentioned to a nice lady yesterday how much I miss seeing her husband at Mass. “It makes me so sad that his business keeps him so busy on Sunday’s, but I don’t want to pressure him,” she said sadly. “Well,” I suggested, “after 30 years maybe it’s time for a bit of well-placed pressure.” I don’t know what she said to him last night, but this morning he was at Mass. It made my heart leap with joy, and I’m sure she was all smiles too. We must never give up on helping others regain holiness.
All Healing goes through the Soul
And this brings us to our Second Lesson: the Sacrament of Penance. This sacrament heals paralyzed limbs and hearts. Imagine paralysis in the ancient world, before motorized wheelchairs, handicapped ramps, and automatic doors. A paralyzed man had to lie on his back for the rest of his life, staring helplessly up at the sky. Does Jesus cure this helpless man’s paralysis? Yes, but only after he forgives his sins. He points out that mortal sin is worse than paralysis. Indeed, it is sin that paralyzes. The first thing in any distress—physical, emotional, or spiritual—is to go to confession, and to pray before the tabernacle. Jesus heals the man’s paralysis with a word, not only indicating his divinity, but showing how external paralysis only manifests the root problem: the internal paralysis of mortal sin. The first thing in any sickness is to get to confession, because the soul is infinitely more important than anything else. If our souls are all right, the rest of us will be perfectly all right.
Kolbe: A Pure Heart, a strong body and spirit
St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who died in Auschwitz in 1941, got tuberculosis at age 17, and lived with only 25% lung capacity for the rest of his life. But this infirm man founded and oversaw the largest friary in the world (Neopokolanow, near Warsaw, with 700 men). At the time of his arrest in 1941, he was managing the largest printing concern in Poland. He survived three months in Auschwitz at hard labor and almost no food, and in the end saved the life of another man by taking his place in the starvation bunker. Where did he get his extraordinary strength? Not from his weak body, but from a pure soul, a heart cleansed of sin.
The way to all health is through our souls. Before we go to a physician or psychologist, we must go first to God. If our country is sick, and she is, let her look above all to her soul. Yesterday 3000 people followed the Archbishop in a Eucharistic procession to United Nations Plaza, where we prayed the rosary. President Obama had left the City just hours before along that same route. I was hoping he could’ve joined us for the rosary. Imagine President Obama praying the rosary with Archbishop Cordileone. Imagine what that would mean to the health of this country. Our Lord wishes to cleanse, heal, and strengthen us, but we must first confess our personal sins, and repent of our national sins.
Let us pray to the Blessed Mother, that she bring our sick and suffering souls to her Divine Son. Let her lead us to share her purity, and the glory God has bestowed upon her, and all the saints, among whom are we, in the making.