Book Details 

Praying for Healing - The Challenge
by Benedict Heron OSB

Part 1

This book is dedicated to the many
kind people who have supported
the writing of it with their prayers.
Without their prayers it would certainly
never have been written.


The first edition of this book has circulated far more widely than I would have ever dared to hope, having been published in at least eight countries and six languages with, it seems, more to follow. This shows the great interest among Catholics and many other Christians in the renewal of the healing ministry of prayer. This renewal, which is not confined to Christians involved in the Charismatic movement is now, I think, more necessary than ever.

More and more people, including Catholics and other Christians, are seeking spiritual healing in the spreading New Age Movement, and this is not so infrequently leading to disasters and the loss of their Christian faith. I think of a woman who came to us for help after being very badly damaged by someone involved in healing through Tibetan magic. She was a Catholic extraordinary minister of communion, and doubtless only went elsewhere seeking healing because there was no serious ministry of prayer for healing in her own parish. People need to be able to see and experience that Jesus still heals in answer to prayer.

The Catholic Church in this country and in many others in the First World is going through a very real crisis - and we Catholics need to be courageous enough to recognise the fact. There is the serious shortage of clergy, the declining number of Catholics going to Sunday Mass, and especially the large scale lapsing of so many of the younger generation - the very generation which is so visibly present in the growing Charismatic Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, where there is a serious ministry of praying for healing with the laying on of hands. I am not suggesting that the weakness of our healing ministry is the only cause of our present troubles. However, I am convinced that the presence of an authentic and lively ministry of praying for healing in our parishes would make an important contribution to the overcoming of our present difficulties. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) asked that at the Sunday Masses in his parishes the healing miracles in answer to prayer should be publicly announced. How faith building such a practice must have been! How far away we are from anything like that today in our Catholic parishes! Are we right to leave practices like that to the Pentecostal and Evangelical Charismatic churches?

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 Rookey, OSM.

Eucharistic Healing Services (cf chapter three)

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.

I shall never forget the Eucharistic healing service held in the foothall stadium in Foggia (south Italy) in February 1996, when we had an international conference for Catholics involved in the healing ministry of prayer at San Giovanni Rotondo, the town of Padre Pio. The Archbishop of Foggia was the main celebrant of the Mass for over 25,000 people, and Father Emiliano Tardif prayed for healing with the Blessed Sacrament exposed. Would that such healing services were more common in the Catholic Church!

This section on the Eucharist and healing may be puzzling to some of my Christian friends in other churches - and I thank God that I have many such friends. However, I think that I must honestly record what is actually happening in the Catholic Church, and what is being found fruitful. In true ecumenism we are able to face the differences in love.

Praying for Your Own Healing

I would like to stress still further than I did at the beginning of chapter six, the importance of praying for your own healing, including physical healing. Now at the age of seventy six I am increasingly aware of my need for the healing of spirit, mind, and body. For example, my need for the healing of lack of faith, hope, and love is only too obvious to me - and, I can add, various forms of pride. I have already received much emotional healing, but there remains obvious areas of fear and anger. And my body is weak in a number of places, despite the fact that I am more active in my healing and teaching ministry than I have ever been and that people often tell me that I look younger than I am - and I do not thing they are only being kind!
Praying for one's spiritual healing is widely accepted. Emotional healing is closely linked with spiritual healing. So I want here to say more especially about praying for one's own physical healing!, in general the less important area but often the most neglected.

I certainly find that it helps me to prepare myself for facing the day if I spend some time each morning asking the Spirit of Jesus to fill me with His healing love, spirit, mind, and body. I think of His healing love flowing through me, including my body, especially the parts of it which are weak or ill. As I pray this I place my hands on the weaker parts of my body, at times praying in tongues, and sometimes in the name of Jesus I rebuke the sickness there. I also often envisage the healing light of Jesus filling my whole being, my whole body. When I come to my heart I think especially of spiritual healing, the spiritual transformation of my heart. And I will think of the healing light of Jesus filling my right shoulder and my right hip, which are somewhat arthritic, and my left ankle which was badly damaged in a car accident about fifty five years ago. Also, before going to bed, I briefly anoint the sick parts of my body with the sacramental of blessed oil, and when I go to communion I ask Jesus to heal me as stated above.

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.

Some Christians will regard this concern with one's own health as too self-centred. They will take the line that we should simply hand over to Jesus our health:
trust Him, praise Him, and leave Him to look after our health. I think that in the end we all have to do that, but I find it helps me to start by doing some specific praying for my health as outlined above. I have found that this has helped some other people also, so I have written down the last paragraphs in case more people find it fruitful to do more or less as I do. If you do not find what I have written above helpful, forget it. Perhaps God is leadingyou in another way.

I find support for praying for one's own healing in what is for me an important text in the official
'Pastoral Care of the Sick. Rites of Anointing and Viaticum. General Introduction.' Number 3:

"Part of the plan laid out by God's Providence is that we should fight strenuously against all sickness and carefully seek the blessings of good health, so that we may fulfil our role in human society and in the Church."

Redemptive Suffering, Death, and the 'Heavenly Perspective' (cf chapter four)

The quotation in the last paragraph continues:

"Yet we should always be prepared to fill up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings for the salvation of the world as we look Iorward to creation's being set free in the glory of the children of God (see Colossians 1:24, Romans 8:19-21).

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).

Part of our task in the healing ministry is to help people to live in this '
heavenly perspective'. Sometimes people are asking us to pray for physical miracles when in reality we should be praying for them to stop clinging on to life when the time has obviously come to go home.

Indeed we can ask ourselves how many Christians are in fact looking forward to going home when they have finished their task on earth? Many Christians seem to prefer to avoid thinking about death, just like most of the non-believers around them.

I think that God wants to do far more physical healing miracles in answer to prayer. I also think that we shall see more not fewer physical miracles when people are living in this '
heavenly perspective', because we shall be seeing things in the perspective of the New Testament. God always wants our "Yes" to the death (and suffering) which He wills for us, even when in a particular illness He is in fact going to heal us because we have not yet finished our task on earth. A friend of mine some thirty years ago was dying of terminal cancer of the liver when she was miraculously healed. She had been so looking forward to going to heaven that she was for a time sad that she had been healed. She went on to develop a powerful healing and apostolic ministry.

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'?

I not only pray daily for my healing of spirit, mind, and body. I also offer up my joys and my suffering, my life and my death, for certain intentions - none of us know when death will come. I try to say daily "
Yes" to the death and sufferings He wills for me. I increasingly think of myself as, by the grace of God, moving towards death and my heavenly home. I sometimes begin to look forward to dying, to going home - whatever further healing I may need in purgatory. Of course, when the time comes I may go through all sorts of crises, fears, and trials. I have not forgotten that the devil does not sleep! But I trust that Jesus, who has seen me through so far, will see me through to the end - that is to say, will see me through to a new, very wonderful beginning.

The time will come when our healing ministry on this earth comes to an end. But will that mean the end of our healing ministry? I do not think so. I think that by the grace of God our healing ministry will continue beyond this life, when our sins and weaknesses will no longer get in the way. It is not only the great saints, people like St. Therese of Lisieux and Padre Plo, who are called to pray for healing from above. Surely, all those who die in the Lord will have a healing role to play.

At the end of this preface to the second edition of this book, I must express my deep gratitude to Gerard and Toni Pomfret of
New Life Publishing. It was they who had the idea that there could be a second edition of this book, and without them it would not have come into being. Dedicated Christian publishers are a great blessing for the Church.

Benedict M. Heron OSB

September 1997


Some years ago an old priest, since dead, heard that I had collected quite a lot of new information on a certain subject and that I was unsure of the next step. '
Get it printed' was his advice, delivered in emphatic, even peremptory, tones. 'Too-much research never sees the light of day.'

It needs courage to follow that advice because to go into print is to leave yourself open to criticism. And you realise that you may never have the chance to respond to that criticism since you will not hear it.

I am particularly pleased that Father Benedict Heron has had the courage to write and publish this book. The first edition was so well received and so widely welcomed that a second edition has become necessary. Fr. Benedict is to be congratulated on the success of his initiative. He deserves thanks for the help he has brought to so many people.

His subject - praying for healing - is one of increasing prominence, at least among Catholics. To pray that God will heal us has always been an integral part of Catholic life and practice and we are all familiar with the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

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.

Father Benedict explores the subject of the ministry of healing and especially the place of prayer in it. What he writes may be new and surprising to some, but to all it will be an affirmation, in full accordance with the mind of the Catholic Church, of God's love for his people. Not only in our Father's readiness to heal his sick, weak and sometimes wilful children; but also in his desire that we should be associated with that work.

Rt. Revd Maurice Taylor STD
Bishop of Galloway

September 1997


It is customary for authors to thank publishers. However, in this case there are very special reasons for doing so. The idea of this book was born when Morag Reeve and Teresa de Bertodano of DLT visited our monastery and invited me to write a book on healing, insisting that I could and should write this book in the face of my hesitations and very serious doubts.

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.

Finally, I must thank our monks and nuns in Turvey and my sister, Joanna Wates, who kindly provided peaceful refuges to which I could go in order to get on with the writing. And thanks to my monastic brethren in Cockfosters for their encouragement and support.

Benedict M. Heron OSB

November 1988


It was seventeen years ago in 1972 when I first came across the ministry of Christian prayer for healing in the Charismatic Renewal. This marked a turning point in my life as a Christian and as a priest. At the time I was suffering from depression, and the present and future looked very bleak. Prayer for healing not only brought hope to me, but I found that through the ministry of healing prayer I was used to bring hope and healing to others. It would be nice to be able to say that my depression, fears and anxieties disappeared overnight, and that as soon as I began to lay hands on the blind they saw. But that is not what happened to me, although some people have had that kind of experience. Mine has been the path of a gradual continuing healing for myself and a gradual growth of my healing ministry for others - and the progress continues.

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.

Prayer for healing is primarily concerned with helping needy people - which is all of us in one way or another. Our main motive in praying for healing must be love for needy people, the desire to try to bring Jesus' healing love to someone or some group of people. However, the renewal of the healing ministry is not only important for the individuals prayed for. It is important also for the strengthening of the faith of Christians in general, and for the spread of the gospel. Jesus said to his disciples: '
You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth' (Acts 1:8). Many people do not see much spiritual power in most of our Christian congregations, so they wonder whether Christianity is really anything more than words. When the loving power of Jesus is seen in healings, then people will believe or believe more strongly in the Jesus who heals and in the Heavenly Father who sent him.

This book is written in the first place for Roman Catholics, although it is hoped that other Christians will also find it helpful. In recent years there have been so many good books on the Christian healing ministry of prayer by Anglicans and Christians of the reformed tradition and so few by Roman Catholics, at least on this side of the Atlantic, that it seems justifiable to write Primarily for Catholics.

The problems connected with the renewal of the healing ministry in the Catholic Church are somewhat different to those in other churches. Traditionally
Catholics have always believed in healing miracles. However, they usually do not expect them to happen in their own lives or in their parishes. Catholics need to believe that Jesus wants to heal in their parish, in their family. Not that Jesus wants to heal everyone physically in this life, but that he wants everyone to experience his healing touch in one way or another - and we need to remember that spiritual healing is always the most important area of healing - and we all need spiritual healing.

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

Jesus was clearly by far the greatest healer of all times. No other founder of a religion comes anywhere near him in this field. Jesus was and remains a unique inspirer and example as a healer.

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 14:11).

Jesus not only healed the sick himself. He commanded his disciples to heal in his name: '
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere' (Luke 9) (cf Luke 10:9 for the seventy). Jesus also promised that 'these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover' (Mark 16:17).

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:

'And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy senzants to speak the word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy servant Jesus' (Acts 4:29).

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:

Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he had committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous man has great power I Vi its effects. (James 5: 14-16)

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.

Life of course was far from easy in the New Testament church, for they had to face persecution of one kind or another. However, the miracles, which were mainly connected with healings, must have helped to bring joy and increase of faith. It must have been very exciting seeing a cripple getting up and walking. (Imagine that the blind were receiving their sight at Sunday morning Mass! The young would no longer complain of boredom and cease coming. The problem of dwindling congregations would vanish. Even parish finances would recover!)

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:

The healings, the extraordinary gifts, are numerous. They are not always known, and even less are they carefully verified in the framework of a serious evaluation and subsequently recognised as authentic by the Church. Yet these signs can be reminders, messages which show that God is Love. They have effected numerous conversions, they have motivated many persons to live a more sincere and generous gift of self, most often unknown to the world. (See the Osservatore Romano, English edition, 19th December 1988)

Copyright © 1989 Benedict M. Heron OSB

This Version: 29th October 2001


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