A few years ago I attended the funeral of a mother of a pupil of our school. The student was quite aggressive when he was in school and very disruptive. His father was already dead as a result of drug abuse and now at the age of nine his mother died on the streets also as a result of drug abuse. He had no brothers or sisters. No aunt or uncle wanted this child in their homes as he was so disruptive and violent. Therefore he was put into care where he lived in a residential home run by the health board. When it came to the funeral he was in the front pew with his aunt. The funeral mass ended and the coffin was about to be wheeled out by the undertakers when all of a sudden there were shrieks of loud cries from this nine year old boy. A feeling of panic seemed to descend on the congregation present. The undertakers looked as if they wanted to make haste, to get the coffin out of the church before any others would wail out of control. This child’s life was broken. The priest very gently went to the microphone and said, “could we just stop and hold, hold this child’s pain, now listen to this child’s pain, now feel his pain and hold him in our hearts, let us be quiet while we hold his pain for a moment”. For that moment, we all seemed to experience an empathy with this child, felt the ache of his pain which for a brief moment brought healing for all.
In today’s gospel story Jesus is acknowledged as a teacher and a healer. In his teaching he contrasts the faith of the centurion with the lack of faith in Israel. The kind of faith that Jesus demands of Israel, and shown through the centurion, is that of a faith which has no conditions. Through Jesus we are shown that there are no conditions for the care and mercy that God has for each of us. He heals with a touch, with a word, by being present to the pain of the situation in front of him. Jesus responded to the call of the centurion and recognised his faith that is now incorporated into the liturgy. We also see how the power of God, though Jesus, made its way into the lives of the centurion, of Peter’s mother-in-law, of those possessed by demons and those who were witnesses to these miracles. We read that ‘when evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and he healed all the sick’. Jesus was active in working with those who suffered. He could understand and be present to the suffering. Everything that Jesus did was a manifestation of God. This quality of God is found in our humanity. It is there for us to express in our daily living. Jesus was out to serve, not to impress. In this story Jesus gave without fuss and with utter simplicity. As Wilfrid Harrington in his book, Jesus our Brother, explains to us that Jesus’ healing activity was motivated not only by his concern for suffering, his sympathy with the afflicted but also as a sign of the breaking in of the kingdom into our human lives. The saving power of God making its way into our lives. Our destiny is to be human, as God understands human- human with a share in divinity. Dominic’s concern was to preach the goodness of humanity and the freedom of the human in such a way that it again became clear that the Christian faith had a good, wholesome message to proclaim. This concern of Dominic’s and Jesus’ involvement with those around them is not something that belongs in the past.
As in Jesus’ time and Dominic’s time so too also for today, there is a desperate need in the world for healing. We visit shrines, go on pilgrimage, ask for prayers, wear medals, have a special prayer that gives us comfort. Indeed the recent film, The Way, illustrates how many of us seek healing. The film begins with Tom, a widower who is an American, receiving a phone call from a French policeman to say that his son, Daniel, had been killed tragically while walking El Camino Santiago. Tom goes out with the purpose of bringing his son’s body back to the States but ends up doing the pilgrimage in order to try to understand his son, and similar to the child from our school, he needed to be healed of the ache of loneliness he felt, the pain of feeling all alone in the world. He meets many others on the way who are in need of healing. The story develops as a group is formed, Sarah, Josh and Jack, walk with Tom to where he releases his son’s ashes into the sea. Whatever the surface reasons each of them give for being on pilgrimage, their deep desire is to be healed, to have an inner peace with who they are. To do this they need to heal what is broken in their lives. We all have our own demons that we are faced with and at times take from our human freedom. And while medicine has progressed and it is wonderful, there is still a need for inner healing, as Albert Nolan writes, something transcendent, something that will heal body, soul and society, a holistic healing is needed. Dominic, following the Christian message, brought together all that is good to show and proclaim the message that Jesus proclaimed, that the saving power of God can enter into peoples’ lives. And what of our situation in Ireland and our response as Dominicans to our present day? The healing now is to bring communion out of the crisis in Ireland. Where the face of God has become disfigured there is need for healing. We need to precipitate a new creation of hope, where faith communities do not live as institutions, where institutions of care do not become tools of control, where we learn together and not separately as laity, religious, or those ordained but together. How approachable and open are we to respond? The preaching of the gospel needs to reveal this spirit of compassion and healing. How approachable are we to enable healing to occur so that the saving power of God may be made manifest in human life. It is in ourselves, in our families, in our communities, in small groups, in our work, our ministries, in the places that separate us that we are called to heal.