Tag Archives: healing

Preaching With His Life: Blessed Pierre Bonhomme

9 Sep

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35.5-6).

“Preach the Gospel at all times,” St. Francis is supposed to have said. “When necessary, use words.” There’s no hard evidence that the Troubadour of Assisi actually uttered this pithy phrase, but it’s the kind of thing you’d expect him to say, for Francis was all about putting faith into action.

But tradition also has it that Francis was ordained a deacon, which meant that he was trained to preach, and preach he did. He preached to the public, he preached to his followers, he even preached to the birds when nobody else would listen. Clearly St. Francis saw the value of preaching with words. He just matched those words with deeds.

Francis’s model for this, of course, was our Lord himself. Jesus spoke about healing and reconciliation, and he brought them about. It’s what we see in this Sunday’s readings. Isaiah had anticipated that the Messiah would do things like give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute – and Jesus proclaimed his fulfillment of Isaiah’s predictions (cf. Lk 4.21).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus backs up those claims with results. A deaf man with impaired speech is brought to the Lord for healing, Jesus responds decisively, and “immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly” (Mk 7.35). The Jewish crowd, well versed in messianic prophecy, caught the Isaiah associations immediately. “He has done all things well,” they started saying to each other. “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

There’s a deeper meaning here beyond the fulfillment of prophecy however. By restoring hearing and speech to the man, Jesus also presumably restored to him his place in the social order and his ability to be gainfully employed – that is, Jesus also healed the man’s dignity as a human person. Even deeper still, however, there’s this: The healing that the man in today’s Gospel received would allow him to hear the Good News and then respond by proclaiming it himself, and in that he is a model for us today. We, too, want to hear all that Jesus would have us hear in the Word, and we, too, want to be full-throated witnesses to that effect.

Such was also the ardent desire of Bl. Pierre Bonhomme, a French priest, evangelist, and founder whose feast is ordinarily observed today (September 9). Born and raised in Gramat in the Diocese of Cahors, Fr. Bonhomme returned to his hometown after his ordination in 1827. He was a devoted pastor and tireless preacher, but he also extended himself to those at the fringes of society, particularly the sick, the elderly, and the poor. He established charitable and educational institutions, and recruited others to assist him in these works. In time, he succeeded in founding a religious community of women dedicated to such efforts, the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Calvary.

So, here’s Bl. Pierre, following in the footsteps of his Lord and Master, striving to match word with deed, and suddenly he lost his voice – right in the middle of preaching a retreat. He prayed for relief through the intercession of Our Lady of Rocamdour, to whom he had a special devotion, and he received a miraculous cure – just like the man in today’s Gospel.

Yet later, in 1848, he lost his voice again, and this time no amount of prayer brought it back. He was “obliged to give up preaching,” reads the Vatican’s biography, but the “priest did not despair; he trusted in God’s providence and believed that this would afford him the opportunity to dedicate himself to the flourishing congregation he had founded.” That is, like the Franciscan aphorism, Fr. Bonhomme kept right on preaching, even though he’d been deprived of words. In fact, his experience gave him a special awareness of the needs of the disabled, which resulted in his fostering new institutions to serve the deaf-mute population.

Fr. Bonhomme died in 1861, and Pope St. John Paul II beatified him in 2003. The Congregation he founded still thrives today, with sisters serving communities around the world, and they look to Bl. Pierre as their patron. Additionally, and maybe ironically, he is also deemed a patron of preachers, despite the fact that he lost his voice – not once, but twice.

And here’s another irony: In between those two periods of involuntary silence, Bohomme sampled self-imposed speechlessness on retreat with the Trappists and then resolved to seek quiet seclusion as a way of life with the Carmelites. “However, the Bishop of Cahors did not accept this proposal,” according to his Vatican profile, “and encouraged him to continue his missionary activities.”

Cloistered communities dedicated to prayer, like the Trappists and Carmelites, are a great gift to the Church and certainly have their place – indeed, a privileged place. But most of us, like Bl. Pierre, are called to remain active in the world, preaching the Gospel daily, one way or another, loud and clear.
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A version of this reflection appeared in the bulletin of St. Joseph Church, Mishawaka, Indiana.

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Our Lady of the Overgrowth – Winter Edition

10 Jan

mary-in-the-snow

It’s nice to see Mary again.

Of course, she hasn’t gone anywhere since I positioned her in that nook out front a decade ago. She stands watch around the clock, poised and serene, although half the year she’s completely obscured by vegetation (we take a very minimalist approach to groundskeeping).

Then, a month or so ago, we got hit with a preliminary dose of that Polar Vortex we remember oh-so-well from last winter, and the overgrowth started to recede. And now we’re in the thick of wintry things – with sub-zero overnights and a base layer of snow everywhere – and Mary is back in plain sight.

I’m glad to see her as I drive past to and fro every day. It’s comforting and reassuring – like calling mom just to hear her voice. Yet, there’s an awkwardness as well: Seeing that statue of Mary reminds me that I haven’t exactly been faithful in my prayers, and that I’m overdue for making my resolution to say the rosary every day…again.

It was way easier to slack off when the overgrowth was thick.

Such was the story in the Gospel yesterday:

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

Note that Luke depicts the encounter between the Lord and the leper as something that just “happened” – a fluke, maybe, or a coincidence. The other Evangelists tell it differently: “A leper approached,” St. Matthew records, and St. Mark? “A leper came to him….” In their telling, the leper was assertive and motivated: He sought Jesus out for healing.

ChristCleansingNot so in Luke’s version. There, the diseased man is depicted as relatively content with his lot…until confronted by the sight of the Divine Physician. It was as if seeing the healer reminded the man that he even needed to be healed. This is all the more intriguing if we consider that Luke himself was a physician – could it be that he had patients like this? You bet, and we know them today: Nagging symptoms, pain and disability, but go see a doctor? Naah.

In any case, that sounds a lot like me and our Mary statue: Driving by in the spring, when the weeds are having a heyday, it’s all “la-de-da,” and “anything good on the radio?” and “what’s on my to-do list today?” Then, winter arrives, and Mary reappears: Have you said your rosary today? No! Do you have stuff to pray about? Yes! So, then do it – pray. Now! The radio and to-do list can wait!

We need the snow and the cold sometimes, miserable as it all is, to make the essential things plain. We need hardships and setbacks and disappointments to strip away everything that obscures our spiritual line of sight – how are we going to clear up the sin and mess in our lives if we’re able to blithely go about ignoring it?

Timothy Keller, pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, said pretty much the same thing in a recent interview:

“Cheer up, you’re worse than you think,” Rev. Timothy Keller says with a smile. He’s explaining that humans are more weak, more fallen, more warped than they “ever dare admit or even believe.” Then comes the good news: At the same time people are “more loved in Christ and more accepted than they could ever imagine or hope.”

That being the case, why wait for the chill of catastrophe and misfortune to clear away the weedy camouflage of our souls? Why not get out there and mow it all down, right?

No matter. If my spiritual sloth gets the best of me, I just have to wait: Winter is always right around the corner.

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A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

God’s Spit

16 Feb

He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue (Mark 7.33).

Let us consider the healing properties of spit.

It’s a lubricant for one thing, making that chunk of food you chewed up more slippery so it can get down your throat. Plus, staying with the digestion theme, spit is brimming with enzymes that help chemically break down that chunk, especially if it’s starchy.

But those are not really healing properties.

A little bit closer, perhaps, are the antibodies in saliva. They help keep in check all those tooth-decay critters, not to mention other kinds of infections in the oral cavity. Here again, however, we’re not talking about healing, but something closer to brushing and flossing – preventative action in other words.

So, how about some of the other attributes of spit – like acid-base buffering, for instance, and its role in helping us taste things. But, once again, we’re back to functional and prophylactic actions, not healing.

And licking wounds to help them heal quicker? Don’t buy the hype.

Then there’s Jesus’ spit.

The Gospel on Valentine’s Day was Mark’s depiction of Jesus healing a deaf man with a bad speech impediment – bad enough that tradition refers to him as mute. Keep in mind that the one doing the healing in this story is the God-man, the Logos, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. Plenty bartholomeus-breenbergh-jesus-healing-a-deaf-mute-1635-detailof times in the Gospels we see Jesus healing people by simply declaring it done – much like how creation itself was spoken into being: “Let there be light! Let there be water and earth! Let there be creatures and Man.” Obviously, Jesus was capable of healing by just giving the word. But that’s not how he did it this time.

Instead, He spits – presumably on His hand – and touches it to the guy’s tongue. This is after He puts His fingers in the deaf man’s ears. And, after ordering aloud that ears and mouth be opened, lo and behold, hearing is restored and the man speaks plainly! Miraculous spit!

No. I’m guessing it was ordinary spit – probably about 99% water, with a handful of trace elements and compounds thrown in to do all that other stuff I mentioned above. Plain, ordinary, human spit, just like yours and mine. Consequently, the scene Mark describes is a bit disgusting. The poor man seeks healing, and the healer spits on him. Some healer! And yet…it works.

We are God’s spit. We don’t have any inherent healing properties of our own, but God can still use us to bring healing in the lives of others. He doesn’t need us to do it that way, but He c486px-Tuam_Cathedral_of_the_Assumption_Our_Lady_of_Lourdes_Detail_2009_09_14hooses to do so from time to time, and for inscrutable reasons. We can’t understand it: Why would He want to use somebody like me? I’m no good; I have so many problems and doubts; I struggle with temptation and sin; I’m mean; I’m selfish; I’m broken. 

No matter. He uses us anyway, and, if we cooperate, wonder of wonders, miraculous things do happen. “When we draw near with tender love to those in need of care,” writes Pope Francis, “we bring hope and God’s smile to the contradictions of the world.”

See that? It got even weirder. We start out as God’s spit, and end up as His smile. Who can fathom the ways of this strange, Divine Physician?

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Versions of this story appeared on Oblation, a blog of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, and Catholic Exchange.

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