Praying for Healing - The Challenge
This book is dedicated to the many
On re-reading the first edition of my book, most of which I wrote about ten years
ago, I am grateful to find that I am very happy still with practically everything that I wrote. However, there
are some themes which I would now want to develop more fully, sometimes with a rather different emphasis. Chapter
eight on "Praying for Deliverance' has recently been expanded into a new book: I Saw Satan Fall, The Ways of Spiritual Warfare (New Life Publishing, 1997, £4.99). III were writing now the section on 'Resting in
the Spirit' in chapter six of my book on healing I would be more positive about praying for people standing up
in healing services. I think that wisdom and care are still needed in this matter. However, during the last ten
years this practice has become more widely accepted, for example in the powerful healing ministry of Father Peter
During the last ten years, healing services in the Catholic Church are increasingly
often becoming Eucharistic healing services. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed, and people are blessed with the
host as at Lourdes. At our monthly healing services at our Euston Day of Renewal (London), the exposition of the
Blessed Sacrament has led to a much greater atmosphere of recollection and worship. The emphasis is more on the
healing power of Jesus in the Eucharist and less on the healing gifts of individuals. However, I would like to
stress that the healing power of Jesus in the Eucharist is above all to be sought when people receive Jesus in
Holy Communion. Whenever people go to communion they can pray to Jesus for the healing, strengthening, and protecting
of spirit, mind, and body. The spiritual healing is of course the most important, but physical healings sometimes
happen when people receive Jesus in communion.
A cancer specialist in New Zealand was encouraging his patients to spend time envisaging
the white corpuscles in their bodies fighting the cancer cells, and this sometimes produced good results. We Christians
surely have something much more powerful when we envisage the spirit of Jesus or the healing light of Jesus healing
the sick parts of our body.
We are in general right to pray for physical healing, but against the background of accepting and offering up what is not or not yet healed. We who are involved in the healing ministry of prayer need to recognise honestly that really outstanding physical miracles are very much the exception, and that most of the people for whom we pray who are very seriously sick are going to need to do not a little accepting and offering up. We also have to recognise that sooner or later most of us will run into illnesses which are not healed in answer to prayer or in any other way. We may have benefited much, as I have, from prayer for physical healing, but we must not ignore the accepting and, offering-up side. And we need to be able sometimes - indeed often - to assure people that their sufferings can be very meaningful and redemptively fruitful for themselves and others through the grace of Christ, even when we continue to pray for physical healing and the relieving of pain and distress.
Then there is the reality of death, "sister death" as St. Francis of
Assisi called it. The perspective of the New Testament, which I call the 'heavenly
perspective', is that we are pilgrims on earth for a brief time, hopefully
moving by the grace of God towards our heavenly home, and looking forward to going home when we have finished our
work on earth. St. Paul, when he was in prison and uncertain whether or not he would be executed, wrote: "For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means
fruitful labour for me, and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart
and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more.necessary for you" (Philippians 1:21-24).
Living in the 'heavenly perspective' can, in my opinion, be very important for the healing of fears, anxieties, and depression. I think that the fear of death and the sufferings connected with it is the cause of much anxiety and depression - and those of us in the healing ministry of prayer know that fears and depression are probably the things for which we are most often asked to pray. Indeed much fear and depression will, I think, only be healed when we are seeking to live in the 'heavenly perspective'. Can we expect Jesus to heal our fears and depression if we are not trying to live in the way of the Gospel, the 'heavenly perspective'?
Benedict M. Heron OSB
But interest continues to occur in the whole area of healing as a ministry for which we are empowered. No longer are we content to compartmentalise sickness into physical and spiritual.
We know that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is for the healing of sinners (and not just for the forgiveness of sins) and that the Sacrament of Anointing is not 'the last rites' - a preliminary to summoning the undertaker.
But, in addition, we are discovering that 'ordinary
people' have a ministry of healing and that an assurance of prayer is far
more than a polite way of leaving a sick-bed or a conventional remark to someone who is suffering.
Rt. Revd Maurice Taylor STD
Morag Reeve continued to encourage warmly and to help me throughout the period of writing. So this book very much owes its existence to the initiative of the publishers. Special thanks must also be given to Jill Oakey, who generously typed the manuscript, deciphering my difficult scribble and making valuable suggestions. Thanks also to Jacquie Fox-Little for secretarial help in connection with the book.
Thanks are also due to three people who read through the manuscript and made helpful
comments and suggestions: my colleague, Fr Mark M. Schrum OSB, Fr Hubert Condron CP and Eileen Shaughnessy. Furthermore,
special thanks are due to the two medical doctors, Joseph and Dorothy Briffa, who generously looked after the healing
testimonies at the end of the book. Without their help, I could not have coped with that side of the book. Thanks
also to the people who kindly shared the testimony of their healing.
Benedict M. Heron OSB
Not that I have never experienced immediate healing. About thirteen years ago the cartilage in my right knee went. I was limping badly, and I could only walk downstairs by putting my right foot first. My knee was X-rayed in the hospital and the consultant said that an operation was necessary, so we fixed the date. A few weeks later an Anglican priest with a powerful ministry of healing, Colin Urquhart, laid hands on my knee and prayed. I had limped into his church, I ran when I got outside it. I walked up and down the stairs normally when I returned to the monastery. The hospital physiotherapist was astounded when she saw me the next day because I was not limping in the same way; the operation was cancelled, and I have never had to consult a doctor about my knee since then.
So I know from personal experience what it is to receive an immediate healing from the Lord Jesus. However, the most important healings I have received, including physical healing have been gradual, and that is normally how healing takes place in answer to prayer.
Having experienced the healing touch of the Lord myself, and having been used to bring his healing touch to others - at a modest level - I feel a burning desire to spread to others the good news that Jesus still heals today in answer to prayer. I have met many people who have received more important healing in answer to prayer than I have - I think of Ernest who the doctors said would die from cancer before last Christmas and is now free from cancer; I think of Vera who was (and still is) registered as blind, and who can now tell the time on her wrist-watch in the normal way, and who also received a very extraordinary healing of her back; I think of Sister Eleanor, who was dying from bronchiectasis, a sickness of the lungs, and who now rides a bicycle and leads the singing; I think of Margaret whose back condition was really desperate and dangerous, and who now travels about normally; I think of George who is no longer suicidal and who now copes with his job normally.
I have also met many Christians from different churches who certainly have much
more powerful healing ministries than I have. So what I am writing about in this book is not primarily my experience
of being healed and being used to heal, but about the wider renewal of the healing ministry as I have seen it and
experienced it, primarily in the Charismatic Renewal but also outside this renewal where God is also raising up
healing ministries. So I am largely writing on behalf of others who may not have the time or the ability to write
themselves but who are often more powerfully involved in the healing ministry than I am. I am writing about a collective
experience of a growing number of people who have received healing through Christian prayer and/or have been used
by Jesus to heal others through prayer.
I hope this book will be a real challenge to people, a challenge to pray for healing, a challenge to see whether the living Jesus still heals today. What is needed in the Church now, I think, is not primarily a very few people with great gifts of healing - although I am sure God wants to give an increasing number of people great gifts of healing. I think what is especially needed is to spread the ministry of healing, to encourage Christians in every congregation to pray for healing, to raise up ministries of healing in every parish. May this book be used by the Holy Spirit to forward this renewal of the healing ministry in the Church.
Chapter 1: Healing in the New Testament
Nearly one-fifth of the four Gospels is devoted to Jesus' healing ministry and discussions connected with it. This shows both how much of his public ministry was devoted to healing and how important this ministry was in the eyes of the four evangelists. Try to imagine what the Gospels would be like if all reference to Jesus' healing miracles were not there. The Gospels truncated in this way would simply not make sense
The crowds would not have gathered in such great numbers as they did to hear Jesus preach and teach if there had been no signs and wonders to confirm the message. And the miracles added authority to his teaching: 'And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes' (Mark 1:22).
What would have been the first thing that anordinary Jew living in Galilee at the time of Jesus would have heard about him? It would not usually have been his teaching that first of all attracted attention, but rather the healing miracles. People would probably have gone to him in the first place to be healed, or to take their family or friends to be healed, or to see people healed.
And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognised him, and ran about the whole neighbourhood and began to bring sick people on their palletts to any place where they heard he was. 'And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or count.zy, they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well (Mark 6:54-56).
Just imagine that in Hyde Park today someone was in one afternoon restoring sight to several blind people, healing people on stretchers and in wheelchairs, so that they got up and walked, praying for cancer cases so that the tumours disappeared. Police reinforcements and extra buses would be needed for the vast crowds! Indeed, special charter planes would be laid on!
The first impression that Jesus would have made on most people would surely have been that of an infinitely loving, compassionate man who cared very deeply for the sick and suffering and who was able to help and heal them. And this would have made an even deeper impression in an age when there was no modern medicine, no National Health Service and no-social security. 'As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick' (Matthew 14.14).
Most people surely first became interested in the preaching and teaching of Jesus because he was the great healer. Obviously everyone would be especially interested to hear what a great miracle worker had to say about life, about religion, about the problems of society. Much of the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount must have been hard for many Jews to accept, for example: 'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you' (Matthew 5.44) (cf. Matthew 5.10-12). Jesus' visible love and compassion and the miracles must have helped to pave the way for, the acceptance of his teaching.
The healing miracles of Jesus must have created a highiy emotional atmosphere. Tears of joy must have been flowing as people found they could walk again, as people saw their relatives and friends healed, as the crowd witnessed the healing of the blind. In healing services today we sometimes see tears flowing when people receive the healing touch of the Lord. How much more must tears have flowed and hearts been touched when Jesus was healing the sick in Galilee! 'And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the throng wondered, when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed whole the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel' (Matthew 15: 30-31)
Today when many Christians are too suspicious and frightened of the emotions it is good to remind ourselves that life with Jesus must have been at times extremely emotional for the disciples. Indeed they must have emotionally plumbed the heights and the depths ending up with Calvary followed by the Resurrection.
Furthermore, the memory of being healed by Jesus or seeing other people healed by him is not something which would have disappeared with time. For many people being healed by Jesus must have remained the great event of their lives, something never to be forgotten, something ever to be grateful for, something which transformed their lives. And it is not as though Jesus only performed a few healing miracles. 'That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick' (Matthew 8:16). That was just one evening! Thus we must surely reckon that many thousands of people in Israel had been healed by Jesus, or seen people healed by him, or known people healed by him.
All this is surely very different from the more formal and unemotional atmosphere in which many Christians feel at home today. They would tend to think that when searching for the truth the emotions need to be kept out of the way; they would perhaps suggest that signs and wonders should be kept out of intellectual discussions. Indeed, they would often thoroughly disapprove of a Christian meeting which began to resemble the emotional gatherings round Jesus in Galilee. Did Jesus get it wrong in performing miracles and touching the emotions? Or did the evangelists get it wrong by giving us a false picture of Jesus and his ministry? Or have many sophisticated Christians of the Western World sometimes got it wrong when they are frightened or wary of healing miracles and the stirring of the emotions? Obviously there can be false claims of miracles and emotionalism of the wrong kind. But if the New Testament remains the basic reference point for all future generations, then surely every Christian community should be open to healing miracles and the touching of the emotions.
Jesus during his public ministry went about healing the sick and casting out demons. He regarded sickness as an evil to be combated. 'And he stood over her and rebuked the fever and it left her' (Luke 4.39). Indeed he sometimes healed people by casting out demons (Cf. Matthew 9:32), and he referred to the woman 'bent over' as having 'a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years' and as 'a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years'(Luke 13:11). Nowhere is it suggested in the Gospels that Jesus welcomed sickness, or regarded it as something good, or referred to it as sent by God. This would appear to be in marked contrast to those Christians today who start by regarding sickness as a blessing sent by God, to be simply accepted and indeed welcomed. The fact that God brings good out of evil if we let him, that he sometimes brings much good out of sickness, does not mean that disease is not in itself and in general an evil. In heaven there will be no sickness!
Jesus healed people in the first place because he loved them, had compassion for
them, had pity on them. 'And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling
said to him, "If you will you can make me clean ". Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched
him, and said to him, "I will, be clean"'(Mark 1:40). However, Jesus' healing miracles were also a
sign of who he was, the Anointed One of God. Although at times Jesus asked people he had healed not to publicise
the healings (cf. Mark 7:36), he
nevertheless referred to the healing miracles as reasons for believing in him and his message: 'The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me' (John 10:25),' 'Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for' the
sake of the works themselves' (John
This is what we see happening when we read the history of the New Testament church in the Bible, especially in the Acts of the Apostles: they preached the Kingdom of God and healed the sick in the name of Jesus. 'And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen' (Mark 16:20).
Clearly the healing miracles played a key part in the spreading of the gospel. The disciples proclaimed the gospel, said that Jesus had risen from the dead. Then in the name of Jesus they healed people and it was surely then or especially then that people began to believe. Take, for example, the healing of the man born lame in Acts 3. The man is healed, the Jews are amazed and wonder how it happened, Peter says that the man was healed in the name of Jesus and proclaims the gospel, and many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of men came to about five thousand (Acts 4:4). The conversion of the five thousand was obviously directly linked with the man born lame.
The disciples themselves clearly expected healing miracles to follow the preaching of the gospel, as we see in their prayer after the release of Peter and John:
Paul also realised that healing miracles were a part of his ministry as an apostle. Writing to the Corinthians defending his ministry as an apostle, he says: 'The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works' (2 Corinthians 12:12). The Acts of the Apostles gives a number of examples of healing miracles linked with Paul, even to the point that 'God did extraordinazy miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them' (Acts 19:11).
Furthermore, Paul recognised that gifts of healing would normally be given to some people in the local church. Writing to the Corinthians he includes 'gifts of healings' and the 'gift of working miracles' in his list of gifts of the Spirit (cf 1 Corinthians 12).
In the Letter of James we find the text which is the main biblical basis for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick:
Here reference is made not to people with special gifts of healing as in 1 Corinthians 12, but to 'the elders of the church'. So it would seem that there were different levels of ministry to the sick. There were Christians who had special gifts of healings and there were others who prayed for the sick because they were elders in the Christian community - although of course some of the elders may also have had charismatic gifts of healings.
It would be a mistake of course to think that no one in the New Testament church
was ever ill, or that people were always healed or healed immediately in answer to prayer. Timothy was advised
to 'no longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your
stomach and your frequent ailments' (1
Timothy 5:23). So Timothy had 'frequent
ailments' which were not simply banished by prayer. Trophimus was 'left ill at Miletus' (2
Timothy 4:20). Paul wrote to the Galatians: 'You
know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was
a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me" (4:13). So there is no warrant in the New Testament for the
view that a Christian should never be ill! Nor is there New Testament backing for the view that Christians should
never use medical remedies, for the oil and wine mentioned above were seen as such in those days.
Not a few Christians today seem to look down on the whole subject of healing miracles and of signs and wonders. They would regard an interest in such things as a sign of immaturity, both human and religious. Such things, they might say, may be alright or necessary for simple uneducated peasants, but they are not for the mature educated Christian at the end of the twentieth century. We should not need such things to enliven our interest and strengthen our faith. Such a view is, I suspect, common in the declining liberal churches. It is of course not found in the growing Pentecostal churches. And this may explain in part why the former are declining and the latter growing.
A Catholic computer expert said to me recently that he had found the sight of a man confined to a wheelchair suddenly getting up and walking at a protestant healing service a very faith building experience. God chose healing miracles and signs and wonders as a means of building faith in the New Testament church. They are still building faith today in churches and groups which are open to receiving them. Let us not try to be more 'spiritual' or more 'mature' than the New Testament church!
Clearly Pope John Paul II is someone who believes that healing miracles, including those not officially authenticated by the church, are still very relevant today. It is appropriate to close this chapter with some wise words of the Pope addressed on Saturday 19th November 1988 to a symposium organised by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints:
This Version: 29th October 2001