Over the past week, the Gospel readings have contained many scenes of healing from Jesus’s public ministry. We know that Jesus performed many miraculous healings during His life and continues to do so today. The healing springs of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast we celebrated on Saturday, have brought about countless healings that have baffled doctors and defied human understanding. We know that Jesus’s healing power is still active today. But reading about all these healings also raises an uncomfortable question: What about the people who don’t receive physical healing? What about the people who make pilgrimages to Lourdes, seeking a cure, and leave with no physical change? What about saints like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who prayed constantly and yet suffered an excruciating death? How do we reconcile the fact that God allows some people to be freed entirely from the burden of their disease with the reality that many who pray desperately for healing still suffer and die?
We can begin to understand this mystery through the story of Jesus healing the paralytic:
And when he returned to Caper′na-um after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Jesus does eventually heal this man, but His first action shocks everyone in the room: He forgives the man’s sins. This is not why the people went to such lengths to bring him before Jesus. Not only was this not what they were asking of Him, it was an act that seemed blasphemous! How could He forgive sins? But Jesus did this both to reveal His divinity and to put first things first. The people were asking for a physical healing, but Jesus wouldn’t settle for just that. He knew that unless this man received forgiveness of sins, unless he received the healing of his soul, he would never be truly healed. Jesus’s ability to make the man walk again is a manifestation of His healing power, but the most miraculous thing about this story is that the man’s sins were forgiven. That is the part that matters most. Jesus was asked to perform a quick fix—to heal just the man’s body—but He gave the man what he didn’t know he needed, healing him inside and out.
Some are granted both spiritual and physical healing, some just spiritual—but that spiritual healing is the greater priority, the most important thing. Unless our souls are healed and our sins forgiven, we are unwell, and if we are healed interiorly, we can bear any physical suffering. We can ask for healing and confidently expect our prayer to be answered: for regardless of the path we are called to follow, whether we are to give God glory through allowing Him to heal us physically or by offering up our sufferings, He will heal our souls, and His grace will shine through us. If our story is not to be one of miraculous healing, then He wants to give us the grace to bear our sufferings with joy and recognize their great purpose. If we earnestly ask to be healed, He will not fail to give us the interior healing that transcends any physical maladies. Ultimately, Jesus wants us to be healed both spiritually and physically; it pains Him to see us suffer. He wants us to be physically healed, too, but He also knows that we will certainly find physical healing in Heaven, and sometimes He uses our sufferings to help us—and the other souls for whom we offer our sufferings—to get there. Let us look to Pier Giorgio Frassati, who despite his terrible illness never wavered in his joy. He was not granted physical healing, but his soul was fully restored and awakened, and because of that he was able to see even his trials through the lens of grace. The promise of healing in the Gospel stories is there for each of us. When we haven’t found the cure that we’d hoped for, we don’t need to despair or worry that we will be forgotten. We are not forgotten. Everyone’s story is different, but He desires each of us to receive the most precious of gifts: interior healing of the soul, forgiveness of sins, and the promise of Heaven.