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God’s Desire for Healing

by Joan McKamey

A story that has made its way into my e-mail inbox is entitled “God’s Boxes.” In this story, God gives a person two boxes—a black one to hold life’s sorrows and a gold one to hold life’s joys. Over time, the gold box grows heavier while the black box remains the same. A look into the black box reveals a hole in the bottom. When God is shown the hole and is asked where the sorrows are, God replies, “My child, they’re all with me.” This story serves as a reminder of God’s tender love and mercy. God gives the gold box to help us count our blessings. The black box is a means of sharing our troubles with God and, in doing so, letting them go.

The sorrow of sin

One source of sorrow is our sinfulness. Whether it’s a pattern of sinful behaviors, an action left undone or a word left unsaid, a wrong we have committed or an attitude that separates us from God or others, our sin weighs heavily on us.

We read of God’s mercy and compassion in the pages of Scripture. It is God’s mercy that makes our repentance and the forgiveness of sins possible (see U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 235). Only God can forgive our sins, and the Church serves as an instrument of God’s forgiveness, particularly in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.


Personal challenge

My first teaching experience was as a college student, serving as a catechist in a parish religious education program. I accepted the position of mid-year replacement for a class of third-graders.

I soon learned that I’d be helping prepare the children to celebrate First Reconciliation and that I was taking on a class in which there had been discipline problems. The discipline concerns didn’t bother me nearly as much as did the charge to prepare these children to celebrate Reconciliation. This was not a sacrament with which I was at all comfortable at the time.

I had had a “bad experience” of this sacrament at a high school retreat. I’m sure that poor scheduling contributed to this since our Reconciliation service began after midnight. My confessor was a grumpy, elderly and (understandably) tired priest. The experience was far from the celebration of God’s love and forgiveness that I now had agreed to teach these children about.

Walking the walk

I had a personal challenge before me. It wasn’t so much what I’d be teaching—personally I knew of God’s great love and forgiveness. The hard part involved teaching how to celebrate and why we needed this sacrament I was uncomfortable with.

I was determined to “walk the walk”—so I committed to tackle my issues and move beyond that one bad experience. I spoke about my challenge to a campus priest, who walked me through a much more positive experience— a celebration of God’s desire for healing and reconciliation. I then felt good about helping my students to experience this sacrament as something to celebrate. I even went back to teach third grade again the next year!

God is at work

While our society downplays sin—consider the acceptance of immoral behavior in our movies, television shows and music—humans are wired to instinctively recognize it. Sin weakens our relationship with God and others. Sin also harms our inner life. It is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that God reaches out to us to reconcile us with him and the Church.

Our celebration of Reconciliation is more about God’s action (reconciliation) than it is about our own (confession), thus the move to using the word Reconciliation in recent years. There are some necessary actions and attitudes on our part though. These begin with conversion—a change of heart and change in action made possible by God’s grace.

Our actions and attitudes flow from our conversion. They are found in the common elements of the rites of this sacrament. These elements are 1) contrition—to be forgiven we must be sorry; 2) confession—by confessing our sins to a priest, who represents Christ and the Church, we face our failings more honestly and accept responsibility for them; 3) absolution—the priest, using the power of Christ entrusted to the Church, sets us free from sin; and 4) satisfaction or penance—we show our intention to change by repairing the damage our sin has caused.

Celebrating with others

My more recent experiences of Reconciliation are in communal services at my parish. I usually celebrate this sacrament during Lent. Our pastor invites several other priests to hear the individual confessions. It is a liturgy with songs, Scripture and group prayer. These services feel more like celebrations to me since other members of my community are present. Plus, it’s pretty powerful to join with other sinners, asking for God’s forgiveness and seeking reconciliation with God and the Church. After all, I know that my sin affects others, so it’s good to celebrate God’s forgiveness with others. It’s also good to realize that I’m not the only one in my community who is burdened by personal sin.

This sacrament, based in Jesus’ words and actions, is an important mission of the Church. It helps us stay close to the truth that we cannot live without God (USCCA, p. 243). Recognizing our need for God is a characteristic of those who are “poor in spirit.” Jesus calls those who are poor in spirit “blessed” in the first of the Beatitudes and adds, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).

The sorrow of sickness

We cannot live without God in our sinfulness, nor can we live without God in our suffering from illness. A second sacrament that celebrates God’s compassion and desire for healing is the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

This is another sacrament with which many people are uncomfortable— in large part because of its former use only at the time of death. When we look to Scripture to learn about Jesus’ healing ministry, we find many examples of Jesus healing people who weren’t dying from their afflictions. The Church has changed this sacrament to better reflect God’s desire for our physical and spiritual healing whenever we are suffering. Jesus came to heal the whole person—body and soul—and this sacrament expresses that. It is best celebrated within the community of parish or family since no one should face infirmity without the consolation and care of others.

God’s presence, care

Before surgery a few years ago, I asked to celebrate this sacrament. The rite was beautiful and meaningful in its simplicity. The priest laid his hands on my head, generously anointed my palms and forehead with the oil of the sick and prayed for my healing. The experience enabled me to face my upcoming surgery with the confidence of God’s presence and care. We often praise God for his mercy. The Latin word for mercy is misericordia, a combination of miseria (misery) and cor (heart). It literally means a “heart filled with misery.” God’s desire for healing undoubtedly comes from his great mercy as he joins in our misery.

We are merciful when we join in the misery of another. Whether we care for a sick loved one, serve as a health-care worker, ask for forgiveness from someone we have wronged or offer forgiveness to those who have harmed us, we share in the healing ministry of Christ as members of his body. May God be praised for his great kindness and mercy!

The theme of this article is drawn from Ch. 18 and 19 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (pp. 233-259).

Joan McKamey worked professionally as a catechist and DRE before joining the staff at St. Anthony Messenger Press. She holds a master’s in Religious Studies/Pastoral Family Studies from the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati.

Next: Christ’s Love and God’s Law



• The article “God’s Desire for Healing” makes a statement about God that
some people have difficulty reconciling with the realities of their lives
and the larger world situation. What experiences of God’s healing have you
had? How do you see God’s desire for healing at work in the world?

• When have you been challenged to “walk the walk” of your Christian
discipleship? What was required of you? How did your faith grow?

• How do you and your community participate in the healing ministry of
Christ and the Church? What more can you do?




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