[Homily: Sunday Mass, Assumption Chapel, ADDU, 7 Feb. 2014]
In the responsorial psalm in today’s liturgy, we declared, “Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.” The reference given is to Matthew 8:17, where the healing activity of Jesus is seen as a fulfilment of an Isaiahan prophecy, “He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Is. 53:4). That Jesus was a healer must have deeply impressed people in Jesus time. It certainly must have impressed his close follower, Peter, whose mother-in-law he healed. “He approached her, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them” (Mk 1:31). Stories of Jesus’ healing power could not be contained. They spread quickly to those who were sick and those who cared for the sick. So they came from far and wide to encounter Jesus in the hope for healing. Apparently, they did not approach him in vain. Our Gospel reports: “When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him” (Mk 1:32-34).
He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
We might recall the many instances where Jesus healed. He healed, that people might understand his mission and his message more. His mission was to manifest the goodness and kindness of his Father, to tell people about his Kingdom, to lead people to accept his Father’s rule, his law in their lives, which was a law of love, not rejection, a rule of compassion, not condemnation. He healed, not to coldly exploit a person’s illness to make a point about his theological doctrine, and so convince a person to accept a distant, conceptual faith, existing only in a world of concepts. He healed, because his message had to reach flesh-and-blood persons, and because healing was his Father’s message for these persons. His was healing not only of physical infirmity, but of personal interior alienation, personal estrangement from God, his Father. His was also healing of the inner estrangement from life, the estrangement from life’s meaning, the estrangement from life’s joy that comes with being too wrapped up in one’s self and one’s selfish concerns, where wrong is confused for right and the superficial exchanged for depth. For today’s world, Pope Francis describes this as “the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” About us in this world he says, “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the other. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” Jesus still comes to heal this world.
What happens when the desire to do good for others fades, when we no longer recognize that there is good to be done, when we have become desensitized to the need and suffering of other people, when we do not care about their hunger or their nakedness, we do not care about the desolation and pain that comes with being unable to work or being unable to work sufficiently, when we think that the pursuit of our own good is sufficient content for human meaning, and the suffering and estrangement of others is not our business, not out concern? What happens when we cease to feel for a mother trying to nurse her baby and care for her children without access to clean water or sufficient rice or adequate shelter? What happens when we do not care that whole communities are excluded from the benefits of our economic and political mainstream? What happens when we are abandoned to our hearts covetous yet complacent, to our feverish pursuit of frivolity and to our blunted conscience?
What happens, I think, is that this desolate powerful vacuum within is filled with all manner of demons. They are demons of avarice, the compulsion to have more money, a compulsion only intensified with every satiation; they are demons of selfishness, the compulsion to have all and sundry for one’s self, to call attention to one’s self, to draw power to one’s self, to reject anything and everything that is not one’s self, to reject all otherness, all diversity, all those whose skins are different from one’s own, all those whose worship is of any being other than one’s own; they are then the ferocious demons of hatred of all those who challenge my avarice or threaten my selfish power, the hatred which begets hatred, hatred which turns to violence, violence which turns to war. I use the term “demons.” It is indifferent whether these are personal devils or powerful forces within. They possess us. Their ferocity and destructiveness is the same.
Jesus cast out demons
Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons…” The demons that enter our lives ultimately because of the depth of our estrangement from God, that is, the vastness of the chasm in our lives between ourselves and God because of the power of our avarice and the ferocity of our selfishness, he also came to expel. He did this by taking on the demons and taking our sin on himself, by taking sinful humanity and death on himself. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, …he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-7). “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame…” (Heb 12:35). He died for us, seeking to recover our joy, uttering the petition which was the heart of his mission, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
We know that though this was reported simply by the Gospels – “He cured the sick. He cast our demons” – it was ultimately not easy for him. Our Gospel reports Jesus habitually seeking a lonely place, even before the break of dawn, to pray, to enter into deep prayer, intimate conversation with his Father. We know that his obedience to his mission of healing was fulfilled not by the wave of a magical wand but at great personal cost. With his mission, Jesus too had to suffer, to sweat, to sweat blood: “My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39). The price of our healing was heavy.
Today, I suppose we are all one in asking our Father through Jesus to “heal our land, heal our broken land.” When Pope Francis was here, we sang this song with a certain amount of abandon. After the tragedy of Mamasapano, we sing it in near despair, feeling as if we have been abandoned by the gracious God who once touched our Mindanao with healing, who once brought Muslims and Lumads and Christians nationwide together in religious and cultural dialogue. Now we feel as if we have been abandoned even by our senses. Old wounds have been torn open, old prejudices resurrected, tearful cries for justice are mixed with hot emotions for vengeance, demands for justice melded, tragically, with cries for war, all out war – despite the children from Mamasapano who still walk for peace, still hope to be able everyday to walk to school. Through sin, the powers that are open to dialogue and an inter-faith embrace, are weakened, and powers that are devoted to extremism and war are strengthened. Cardinal Quevedo is saying that stopping the BBL discussions after Mamasapano is like throwing out the bathtub with the baby. The President, after being horrified at Humpty Dumpty’s great fall, is trying desperately to put the pieces back together again.
Heal our broken land
The Good News of today’s Gospel is that God has the power to cure our illness and to cast out our demons – in a way that escapes the ways of the medical doctors and the ways of the soldiers, militants and politicians. God has the power to cast out our demons, help us to accept truth, admit our shortcomings and guilt, beg for forgiveness, and move on. God helps us to combine the call for justice with a resolve to forgive and to allow ourselves to be forgiven. God himself works out justice for us in forgiving, sparing us the cold harshness of justice, and granting us the forgiveness we implore for transgressions we can never undo. We have only to ask him with genuine remorse and humility. As the Lord assures us:
If my people will humble themselves, / Humble themselves and pray, / If they seek my face and humble themselves / And turn from their wicked ways, / I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins; / I will hear from heaven and heal their land.
Humbly, then, let us pray:
Lord, heal our land! / Father, heal our land! / Hear our cry and turn our nation back to You. / Lord, heal our land! / Hear us, O Lord, and heal our land! /Forgive our sin and heal our broken land!*
*Lyrics of the song by Jamie Rivera