Is 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25; Ps 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14; 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12
In light of recent events, I thought I’d use the story of the paralytic, which the liturgy invites us to contemplate today, to explain the Gospel roots of the Church’s opposition to the HHS Mandate—especially in the realm of health care. Speaking generally, one could say that all of Christ’s healing miracles serve as the “charter” for the Church’s involvement in health care. Jesus showed concern for both soul and body. And so the Church has tried to follow His example.
This being said, there are a couple features particular to Christ’s cure of the paralytic that help us to understand the Church’s distinctive vision of Health Care, and thus her opposition to the mandate.
1) The first feature is the indirect way in which faith plays a part in the healing. We know that Jesus heals those who themselves demonstrate faith. He often tells those who approach him that their faith has healed them (Mk 10:52). When he returns to his hometown of Nazareth, he is kept from working miracles by the lack of faith (Mk 6:4-6). But today we hear an interesting wrinkle: “Jesus saw their faith,” says the Gospel. Not the paralytic’s faith, but the faith of the four stretcher-bearers. In other words, though Jesus chooses to heal in the atmosphere of faith, he does not require the “patient” to have faith.
2) The second feature peculiar to today’s Gospel is the fact that Christ so clearly links physical healing and spiritual healing. Jesus explains his motive for healing the paralytic physically in this way: “That you may know, that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth …I stay to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (Mk 2:11). He presents physical healing as connected to spiritual healing in such a way that authority in one domain serves as evidence for authority in the other. In other words, He presents an integral vision of human salvation, health of body at the service of health of soul. As we know, He even entrusted the Church with a special sacrament, the Anointing of the Sick, to protect the faithful from the special spiritual dangers that accompany physical sickness.
The Church follows the example of Christ both these respects. First, she understands health care as an integral part of her evangelizing mission, a “religious” ministry—even when offered to non-Catholics. Almost as soon as Christianity was decriminalized in the 4th Century, the Church started setting up hospitals in every cathedral town, hospitals that served anyone in need. Second, she places physical healing at the service of spiritual healing. Hence, she is unwilling to minister in such a way as to become party to the spiritual harm of her patients and employees. She won’t set physical and spiritual health at odds.
As many of you know, the HHS Mandate—even in its so-called “accommodated” form—would require Catholic institutions to obscure one or another of the features of Christ’s own vision. They must attempt either to qualify for the “religious” exemption by limiting their scope primarily to the Catholic faithful, or to practice health care in such a way as to bankroll spiritual injury. This impasse results from the government’s attempt to define for Catholics what it means for an institution to be “religious,” what it means to promote salvation. U.S. Catholics could echo the words of the crowd in today’s Gospel, though in a very different sense, “We have never seen anything like this.”
This is a wake-up call. And not only a political wake-up call (though it’s that too). It’s a spiritual wake-up call. It’s no secret that government has chosen the particular points of contraception and sterilization to “test the waters,” because it knows that this teaching is unpopular—even among many church-goers. If all sixty million U.S. Catholics were united on this matter, the HHS Mandate would be political suicide. But we are not. And so the present administration can risk a fight, even in an election year.
Perhaps the hidden grace of the HHS Mandate, then, is that it provides an opportunity for examination of conscience—especially with regard to our understanding of sex and marriage. Is my thinking on this matter more in tune with the prevailing culture or with the Church? If more with the prevailing culture, do I seek the renewal of my mind from competent guides? And, most of all, do I have recourse to God in prayer? Humane Vitae foresaw that if Catholic couples were to live the fullness of Christian marriage in a hostile climate, they would need to “implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and … draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist” (HV 25). And should they fall, they would need to “have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance” (HV 25).
They would need to trust, in other words, that Jesus Christ is powerful to heal both body and spirit, no less today than in the day of the paralytic. To trust that he can renew our minds and strengthen our hearts. To trust that He can set us free. The Eucharist that we are celebrating appeals to us in countless words and gestures, saying, “He is; He can.”