The Gospels are filled with stories about Lord Jesus’ healing the sick. It is not simply their infirmities and suffering that draws his attention to them: it is their faith in the midst of infirmities and suffering that captures his notice.
He heals them, yes, but more importantly, he offers their human experience to the rest of us as an example of how to live with afflictions that affect our health. “Your faith has made you well (Luke 17: 19; Mark 5: 34; Luke 8: 48).”
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There is always a deeper, more profoundly spiritual purpose and meaning to the healing miracles of the Lord Jesus. He wants us to believe in him; to trust him; to hand our lives over to him; to let him make us whole.
The miracle stories in the Gospel are impressive, intriguing and inspirational, for sure. The blind, the deaf, the speechless, the invalids, the paralytics, the epileptics, the disfigured, the mentally ill: it didn’t matter to the Lord Jesus WHAT afflicted them, only THAT they were afflicted and that they sought out his healing touch and comforting words.
With all the miracles performed by the Lord Jesus and chronicled in the scriptures, we must also admit that there were many other people who were not healed. As fervently as they might pray for relief, for a restoration to health and for recovery, for some reason known only to God, their condition does not change.
The Lord Jesus does not love these others less than those he heals; he is simply offering them another path to wholeness, one that requires faith and endurance and suffering. The fact of life is that, for the believer, we have to accept infirmities and place ourselves in the hands of God. The “why” of suffering and the “why me” are questions that will only be answered when we meet the Lord in heaven one day.
If you are wondering what is prompting these reflections, I will admit that I was surprised recently to read the report of the Centers for Disease Control that one in every five Americans is living with a disability. As an amputee, I am one of them.
The data does not include people living in nursing homes, institutions or other healthcare facilities so results are probably underestimated. Those conducting the survey define “disability” as a self-reported difficulty in one of these areas: vision, cognition, mobility, self-care, independence. Almost one half-million people participated in this 2013 survey which can be accessed at www.census.gov.
Given the extent of the data reported, it is significant enough for all of us to reflect upon the results of this survey. Disabilities do not respect or differentiate among persons or religions so it is safe to conclude that many Catholics face disabling conditions. The CDC report does provide a breakdown of populations in several categories and locales that need not be repeated here.
As Bishop, I find myself looking at the Lord Jesus’ approach: it doesn’t matter WHAT the disabilities are or who has them or where they live. It does matter how we deal with them. From personal experience, I’d like to offer some advice:
1. Admit the disability and own it. If your situation is not changeable or curable, adjust your thinking, attitude and approach to life. No one else can do that for you.
2. Do what you can to enhance your life and strengthen your capabilities through available resources, therapies and self-help groups. No one else can do that for you.
3. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself, discouraged or depressed. “It is what it is,” as the saying goes. For the disabled, self-pity is always a terminal disease. Look at your disability as an opportunity, albeit challenging, to confirm all that is noble and worthwhile in being alive. No one else can do that for you.
4. Hand your life as it is – not as you wish it could be – over to the Lord Jesus. Take the healing stories of the Gospels to heart as encouragement, as a source for hope, as an incentive to faith. If physical change is not in the picture for you, work on emotional and spiritual change. No one else can do that for you.
5. Pray. Pray. Pray. Others can do that and do but, if you don’t, no one else can do that for you.
6. Take a look at all those who love you and want to help you – and let them. Acknowledge that you need others. Dependence is not defeat: it is human! Be grateful. No one else can do that for you.
7. Finally, find something meaningful to do, something meaningful to commit yourself to, despite your disability, on account of your disability, with your disability. Do it. No one else can do that for you.
As overwhelming as the statistics are about those with disabilities, I believe that there is a reason for everything in life. We may not know that reason but we have an obligation to live our lives as fully as possible because of it.
The Lord Jesus tells us “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10: 10).” Those words are addressed to everyone, including the one in five Americans who are disabled. Let’s take the Lord Jesus at his word.