In today’s Gospel, the man was paralyzed, helpless. He could not move. He was completely dependent on others. Have you ever been laid up, and had to gratefully depend on the care of your friends? We learn to love each other so much more deeply when we surrender ourselves to another’s care, or surrender ourselves to caring for another. Illness can be a beautiful means of receiving divine love.
The man was paralyzed, and his friends brought him to Jesus. They couldn’t get through crowds around the door, so they climbed up on the roof, broke a hole in it, and lowered him down with ropes. “When Jesus saw their faith”—not only “his” faith, but the faith of the man’s friends, he said to the paralytic: “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus goes straight to the root problem: the man’s sins. His real problem was not physical paralysis, but the spiritual paralysis that binds all men and women.
Last night the musician Tony Melendez gave a concert here in Modesto. He was born without arms, but he plays the guitar with his toes and sings so beautifully. Tony radiates joy, despite or even perhaps because of his disability. A man does not need perfect physical health to be happy. That is a lie of the “supermodel culture.” In fact, physical gifts can lead to great sadness—poor Whitney Houston, for example. She began singing Gospel music in her church choir, but the world twisted her gifts, seduced her, and led her to a bitter end. A growing spiritual paralysis eventually killed her.
Jesus reconciled the man
Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter. “My Child, your sins are forgiven.” This is the only word we need to hear to be truly happy: that whatever we’ve done or not done in our lives, God is greater than our failures. He will reconcile us if we trust him. This is the “word” that Jesus was preaching—“many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, and he preached the word to them.” This is the word that draws out the human heart, and draws immense crowds. This is real healthcare.
True Health Care
A word about the healthcare debate between the Church and the current presidential administration. (Please take a bulletin home, because it includes an important insert from our Bishops on this issue.) The most vital healthcare Americans need is not contraception or access to all sorts of pharmaceuticals. The real healthcare we need is for our souls, because America is sick at its soul.
A secular government is promising all sorts of Band-Aids for our national paralysis—limitless access to sexual intercourse, countless free drugs and pharmaceuticals, and a towering debt to pay for it all. But only Jesus addresses the real problem: we lack God’s grace. We must turn to a power higher than the government.
The HHS mandate in question is not really about contraception, although the administration wants to frame it in those terms. The Mandate is really about an executive branch of government that seeks utter control even over our consciences. It cannot tolerate a power higher than itself. It wants to erase any faith-based activity from the public square; it wants to restrict the people’s faith to private churches. The Mandate would drive Catholic hospitals and universities—indeed, any conscience-based activity—out of business. It is an old problem, but we are facing it anew.
Our national paralysis is becoming obvious. A stubborn economic paralysis depresses America; political gridlock frustrates collaboration among rival parties. The battle is not about healthcare or about the economy or about politics. The battle is over America’s soul. We have turned our backs on God. Are we willing to turn back to a power higher than the government, or do we somehow hope that the congress, the presidential administration, and the courts can solve our conflicts? We are truly a conflicted nation at this time, and it is causing a persistent paralysis of our national energies.
Lent begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. The word “Lent” means springtime in Old English, and every springtime is a new beginning. We enter into Lent with true hope: that God will help us conquer our addictions and overcome our paralysis. The first reading from Isaiah speaks this hope: “Remember not the things of the past—see, I am doing something new!” God gives us another day, another chance, another Lent. We can regain our innocence; we can recover the joy of our youth. Make a plan for Lent now: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Give yourself to Jesus this Lent through resolute acts of love and sacrifice. And put it all into the immaculate hands of our Blessed Mother.
Jesus healed people, and only the Church can heal and protect the dignity of every human person in our nation. We cannot look to the Government to heal our cultural ills. Our nation needs the Church as much or more than it needs the government. After all, America was founded by pilgrims feeling government oppression, to establish a country where citizens could practice their faith free of government control. They made this the very first amendment of our bill of rights.