Fr. Donald Senior's Homily Encourages Health Care Professionals to Serve and Heal Patients Unable to Care for Themselves.
BY: SR. PATRICA A. TALONE, RSM, Ph.D.
Sr. Talone is vice president, mission services, Catholic Health Association, St. Louis.
Jesus works miracles in Catholic health care. He continues to work miracles every day through the faith, commitment, skills and dedication of women and men committed to his healing ministry.
At a program jointly sponsored by the Catholic Health Association and the Center for Health Care Governance titled, "Holding in Trust: Catholic Health Care Governance," participants reflected upon this fact as they gathered for Eucharistic celebration on May 13, 2008 in Chicago. Fr. Donald Senior, CP, president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and renowned scripture scholar, presided at liturgy and preached about scarcity and abundance in the day's scripture readings, particularly about the Gospel in Mark 8:14-21. Fr. Senior's homily, shared below, reflects the tension that all in Catholic health care feel today — the tension between the richness and excellence of our clinical services, and the tensions we experience as we realize that all that we do is never enough.
The healing stories in the Gospel form the bedrock of Catholic health care as they paint a picture for us not simply of what Jesus did, but how he did what he did. We read that Jesus touched the sick, reached out, listened, comforted, chided the many people who followed him, seeking him out in even the remotest places. Jesus did not treat every person who came to him in exactly the same way. He treated each one as an individual, often anticipating their needs. Because the healing stories of the Gospel are God's word, carrying with them light and life, we offer this incomplete list of healing narratives for your personal and communal reading, prayer and reflection.
Fr. Senior's homily touched the hearts of his congregation, reminding them that each one of us faces both abundance and scarcity as we seek to live out Jesus' healing ministry. His words are particularly apt for clinicians — physicians, nurses, therapists -- as they seek to serve and heal women and men in our society who are often unable to care for themselves. Jesus speaks to each one of us, as he did to his disciples when he asked, "Do you not understand?" that you do not work alone. His abiding presence lives within each community of healers gathered in His name.
Fr. Donald Senior's Homily
The readings for today's liturgy are the regular ones for this day in ordinary time when we also celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. It often seems to be the case that what seems to be heard at random can have special meaning for those of us who gather to hear the Word.
James, that blunt Jewish Christian teacher, reminds us that our own desires can lead us astray, even lead us, in his piercing words — "to give birth to death." But if we are true to God's word and God's truth, we will experience a very different kind of birth — one to true life.
Perhaps it is the reading from Mark's Gospel that might have the strongest lesson for us — and in a particular way for you, as members of the Catholic Health Association. This is a famous scene that underscores, in Mark's typical fashion, how the disciples have such a hard time grasping Jesus' teaching. Not necessarily because their IQ is low but because they are spiritually dull, not attentive to what Jesus in both word and deed has been trying to convey to them.
Here as they cross the lake he is reminding them about the loaves — not the rations they should have brought into the boat — which is what they fear — but a much more profound ration of loaves that Jesus on two occasions in this gospel distributed to the crowds. Jesus explicitly recalls the two stories in Mark that recount the multiplication of the loaves — first for the crowd on the Jewish side of the lake and then for a great crowd on the Gentile side.
We know these stories by heart. The crowds have gathered to hear every word of Jesus. Evening is approaching and they have nothing to eat. When Jesus expresses concern for these beloved crowds, his disciples by contrast suddenly become efficient. There is not enough to feed them so send them away into the nearby villages so they can find food on their own. Not so, Jesus says, you feed them! But the disciples protest: sarcastically asking, "Are we to go and buy 200 denarii of bread to feed this mob?" Obviously, a silly idea.
But Jesus has another view. "How many loaves do you have?" he asks. Five and two fish.
He tells the disciples to form the people in groups or small communities (Mark's description is beautifully put, the groups appear like "flower beds" on the hillsides). And Jesus takes those apparently meager rations, blesses them, breaks them and tells the disciples to feed the crowds. And, stupefied I suppose, they do — with baskets of fragments left over.
I am sure many of you have read or heard the famed educator and writer, Parker Palmer, comment on this passage. He puts it into the framework of scarcity and abundance. The disciples work out of a perspective of scarcity — there are only a few loaves and a big crowd. Not enough to go around. We need a zero-sum game. But Jesus works out of a conviction of abundance — these apparently insufficient rations can feed a multitude.
But it's not just that. Jesus evokes other dynamics that lead to abundance: the forming of people into small communities, the sense of reverence and care for them he displays, the involvement of the disciples in sharing the food on hand, his trust that God will bless what he does.
Palmer sees this miracle story as a parable on our society today. Most of the time we work out of a philosophy of scarcity: there is only so much to go around. Only so much food, only so much housing, only so much educational resources, only so much financial security, only so much health care available. So send the crowds away to find on their own and hoard the valuable rations for ourselves. But the Christian vision — the example of Jesus — Palmer contends, is to see the world in terms of abundance, not scarcity: abundance of food, abundance of opportunity, abundance of generosity and idealism. If we have a sense of community, if we truly care for each other, if we are willing to share our possessions so that no one will be in need.
In the ancient world — the world of the Bible — healing, too, was often conceived of in terms of abundance. To be ill was to be "weak" — asthenia, the Greek term often used in the New Testament to describe the plight of someone who was ill. Not moral weakness, but a lack of vital force — something that could be taken away by an evil spirit, perhaps, or an evil person or some adverse natural cause.
The healer, by contrast, was someone endowed with an abundance of vital life force —dynamis, exousia, are some of the Greek words commonly used. And the healer's art was to transmit this powerful abundance of life force to the one who was bereft of it. This was healing.
Jesus was a healer and one endowed with an abundance of vitality. He touches Simon's mother-in-\law and she gets up ready to serve. He spits on his hands and touches the eyes and ears of man who now can see and hear. He touches the woman bent double in the synagogue and she stands up straight, praising God. He touches the stretcher of the paralytic and he gets back on his feet. The woman with the hemorrhage who was suffering for 12 years (and yes, we have to admit, the text says she had spent all that she had on many physicians!), touches Jesus and the vital life force streams out of him and gives her new life.
Hospitals, clinics, physicians, people dedicated to healing and wellness and justice, people dedicated to respecting and promoting human dignity, people engaged in administering and directing vital institutions. These are the values of your striking identity statement printed on the back cover of today's liturgy program. And these are the same values exemplified in the mission of Jesus, the Son of God and the revealer of God's redemptive love for the world.
You have been endowed with God-given abundance — alongside all of the pressures and demands and anxieties that go with your profession. And this Eucharist in which you participate with faith and love provides the rations that can strengthen you to share that abundance with those in need.
Comment on this article at www.chausa.org/hp.
- Jas 1:12-18 and Mark 8:14-21.
- Mark 6:34-44 and Mark 8:1-10.
Selected Gospel Stories of Healing
Healing of the Leper
"If you wish, you can make me clean."
Cure of the Paralytic
"Child, your sins are forgiven."
Raising of Jairus's Daughter
(Mark 5:21-24, 35b-43)
"Do not be afraid, just have faith."
Healing of the Deaf Man
"He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
Curing of the Woman with the Issue of Blood
"Your faith has made you whole."
Cure of the Official's Son
"You may go; your son will live."
Jesus Heals Many
"At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them
to him. He laid his hands on each of them and cured them."
— list provided by Sr. Patricia Talone
Fr. Donald Senior, CP, is president, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago. He is a member of the Passionist Religious Congregation and gives lectures and conducts workshops throughout the United States and abroad and is the author of numerous books and articles. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI reappointed Fr. Senior to a five-year term as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
Copyright © 2008 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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