FR. BEN’S HOMILY FOR THE 13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B
THEME: THE SPIRITUALITY OF SICK CALLS
BY: Fr. Benedict Agbo
HOMILY: * Wis 1 : 13 – 24, 2 Cor 8 : 7 – 15, Mk 5 : 21 – 43.
We have two big challenges in modern day Christianity; the need for the conservation of the right structures and the need for practical relevance. The conservatives (traditionalists) are crying wolf that Christianity is spoiling – that the proper doctrines and teachings of Christ are gradually eroding away while the progressives ( charismatics) are insisting that Christianity must meet the practical needs of the people; provide prosperity for them in the midst of poverty, pray down healing for them in their moments of sicknesses, etc.
The ingredients of pastoral care remain the same; The Ministry of the Word and Sacraments. Through the preachings, talks and seminars, the Church continues to propagate and realize the teaching ministry of Christ. Through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, the Church initiates her members into proper fellowship. Through the sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders, the Church brings her members into adulthood and vocational responsibility. Through the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the sick, the Church ministers to her sick people in their special moments of need. I want to discuss this last one in detail in today’s homily.
B. A LARGE CROWD GATHERED AROUND HIM
Why do large crowds often gather around a man of God? Our people say : ‘Onye vu igu bu ewu na -eso’ – Goats follow the man who carries the fodder. (i)They want to be fed because they are hungry. (ii)They want to be healed because they are sick. (iii) They want to be secure because they are afraid. (iv) They want to be holy and want to go to heaven when they die. You may be surprised that whenever a large crowd gathers around a man of God, the people who have the last mentioned intention (which is the most spiritual one) may be the fewest in number. That was why Jesus confronted the big crowd that gathered around him at the Sea of Tiberias with a major theological paradigm shift : ‘In truth I tell you, you are looking for me not because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for the food that goes bad but work for food that endures for eternal life’, Jn 6 : 22 – 72. Christ not only protected the true structures of Christian teaching but also met the practical demands of relevance in working the requisite miracles for their provision and healing.
C. WHY SICK CALLS?
Why do people call the attention of priests at the behest of their sick relatives? Some call the priest to pray for the healing/ restoration of health of their sick relatives; a good number call the priest when there is danger of death to help prepare the dying man for heaven (extreme unction); but unfortunately many nowadays call the sick as part of their burial arrangements, to guarantee the Parish Priest’s acceptance to bury the person whenever he/she eventually dies. Our people seem to care more nowadays for the dead than the living. As soon as somebody is critically sick, his children and relations begin to save money for his / her burial ceremonies. They look for the priests most times in order to make the clearance easier by making the priest acquainted with the credentials of the dying man. Is this not ridiculous but incredible? There is a growing lack of charity towards the sick.
*A particular man in one of the Parishes I have worked was critically sick and needed surgery in order to survive. When he saw that his children and in-laws were not forth coming with the financial aid he needed, he just came back from the hospital with the last drop of energy he had and sold his landed property, did the surgery and came home healthy.
D. WHO TOUCHED MY CLOTHES?
Practical faith is not exactly the same as dogmatic faith. One may perfectly believe in God, in the Trinity, in the Blessed Virgin Mary, etc but may find it difficult to pray and believe in God’s healing powers when he/ she is very sick. One Charismatic brother said that ‘Many Christians are suffering because they believe in God but fail to believe in what God can do’.
* A CWO lady once advised her sick friend to begin “shifting her legs (igbati ukwu) because this sickness is no longer what mere prayer can heal”.
In today’s gospel, we have a beautiful story of powerful faith demonstrated by the woman of hemorrhage : ‘If I can touch even his clothes, I shall be well again’. Next Jesus begins to ask the theological question : ‘Who touched my clothes?’ The disciples thought he was asking a mere scientific question. Yeah! Many were touching him but only one person had the real faith to receive her healing. In Sacramental theology, we learn that the validity of the sacraments is “ex opera operatum” – inspite of the state of the recipients but the efficacy of the sacraments is “ex opera operantis dei” – according to the faith of the recipients. So when Jesus discovered that the only beneficiary of his healing bonanza that evening was the woman of haemorrhage, he said to her : ‘My daughter, your faith has made you well’. I like to hear Jesus, a 33 year old man, refer to a woman of not less than 40 years old as “My daughter”.Yes, every priest is our ‘father’ in faith irrespective of his age.
The operative word for today’s homily is : ‘Do not be afraid ; only have faith’. I have stated elsewhere that ‘Faith means drawing strength from God. It is the beginning, the centre and the end of the spiritual life. God cannot simply do anything for somebody that does not give him the chance. We give God this chance through our faith’. This summarizes our theology of faith. In that gospel scenario, Jesus taught us a lot of lessons about the theology of death and faith. He told them point black that the little girl was not dead but asleep and they began to laugh at him. But he needed to demonstrate that important teaching about Christian life and death. He had to turn out the crowd with all their negative confessions and utterances and in the presence of only 3 mega apostles and the 2 parents of the dead girl, began his brief ministration : ‘Talitha kumi’ – Little girl, I command you to get up!’.
The Bible says : ‘Is there no balm in Gilead anymore? Is there no doctor there? Why is there no progress in the cure of the daughter of my people?’, Jer 8 : 22. Nothing has changed, I can tell you, except us. ‘Miracles still happen’, Bridge McKenna would say. The problem is with us. We hardly believe again and we don’t also make the appropriate sick call in faith. We need to be PRO LIFE in Nigeria and not PRO DEATH. Nigerians are gradually getting so used to dead bodies that they don’t trouble anybody including Jesus when a sick person is dying. We must be sensitive about the need for sick calls ; our sick people call for our attention even more when they are alife than when they are dead. They need the prayer and healing touch (anointing) of a man of God either to help them live again or to help them die well in the Lord. Nigerians are gradually getting used to the slaughtering of human beings as equivalent to the slaughtering of Fulani cows. We are gradually getting intimidated from public demonstrations. Even our Legislators and Governors are gradually forgetting their bounden duty of checkmating a lawless Chief executive who has no respect for human lives. Both the dying and the dead in Nigeria call for our attention.
Happy Sunday dear friends!
FR BEN AGBO