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Praying for Healing - The Challenge
by Benedict Heron OSB

Part 5

Chapter 9: Gifts of Healing and Healing Teams

All Christians are called to pray for healing. All Catholics pray for healing when they participate in the prayers of the Mass which ask for healing, including physical healing - see Chapter Three on 'Praying for Healing and the Sacraments'. Jesus is saying to all Christians: '
Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you' (Luke 11:9). All authentic prayer is answered and makes a difference, even if it is not in the way we first hoped. Praying for the healing of spirits, minds, and bodies should be a normal part of the prayer life of every Christian.

However, some Christians, according to St. Paul, have gifts of healing: 'To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit' (1 Corinthians 12:7) - the Greek text actually speaks of 'gifts of healings'. There are also two further references to this gift at the end of Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians. So while all Christians should pray for healing and God will use their prayers to heal, some have special gifts and special ministries in this field and are used more often and more powerfully than others to heal through prayer.

St. Paul's teaching on this subject is confirmed by experience in our prayer groups. We find that just as some members of the prayer groups have gifts of teaching, others have gifts for the music ministry, and others are gifted in administration, so some members of our prayer groups are gifted in the healing ministry. (Of course, people often have more than one gift.)

If people would look upon the gift of healing in the same way that they do other gifts of the Spirit like teaching and administration, then many of the difficulties regarding the ministry of healing would disappear. A main source of difficulty is the tendency among many Catholics to link gifts of healing with sanctity in a way they would not, for example, link the gifts of teaching and administration with it. So if someone exercises a special ministry of healing, he must be a saint or be claiming to be a saint. There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that one needs to be more of a saint to exercise the gift of healing than to use gifts of teaching or administration. The exercise of all the gifts of the Spirit will in fact go wrong if we are not seeking sanctity. But God does not wait for Christians to be saints before he uses them to teach or administer - and the same applies to healing. There are holy priests who do not have gifts of teaching and preaching, and there are less holy priests who do have these gifts. In the same way, there are holy Christians who do not have a gift of healing, and less holy Christians who do. However, our gifts will flourish more as through the grace of God we grow in holiness - or become less unholy! And the exercise of every ministry, healing like the others, should be a stimulant to seek to grow in holiness. So let us try to apply the same Christian common sense to healing that we apply to the other gifts of the Spirit.

Since 1972 I must have met well over a hundred Catholics who have received and are exercising gifts of healing - and I have also met many Christians in other churches of whom this is true. Most of these Christians have certainly not got very powerful gifts of healing - but usually they are growing gifts. The great majority of these Christians came into the healing ministry through involvement in the Charismatic Renewal, where there is a greater awareness and encouragement of the gift of healing. However, I also know Christians whose reception of the gift of healing was not via the Charismatic Renewal - I think of a Catholic lady who was the headmistress of a school. She was made an extraordinary minister of communion, and she found that when she prayed for sick people to whom she was giving communion, hea]ings started to happen. She has now retired early from being headmistress and has started a house of prayer, where she exercises a powerful ministry of healing.

Perhaps an analogy will help here, an analogy between praying for healing and singing. Everyone -or nearly everyone - can sing, and every Christian can pray for healin~. Some people have special gifts of singing and some Christians have special gifts of praying for healing. Some people have outstanding gifts of singing, and some Christians have outstandingly powerful gifts or ministries of healing, like Monsignor Michael Buckley and Ian Andrews in England.

In general we should, I think, do far more to encourage all Christians to pray for healing, including physical healing. There are in our churches some Christians who simply do not believe in praying for healing, at least physical healing; there are other Christians who do not pray for healing because they think that their own prayers are not powerful enough to make any difference; and there are others who do not pray for healing because they think that they are not worthy to do so, that they are too big a sinner to ask God for anybody's healing. All these Christians need to understand that people are healed in answer to prayer not because we are worthy but because Jesus is worthy, not because our prayers are powerful but because Jesus' love is powerful. John Wimber is surely right in encouraging all Christians to step out in faith and pray for healing.

Only two days ago I witnessed the surprise and joy of a Catholic extraordinary minister of communion who a few days earlier had visited a woman in hospital suffering much from spinal trouble. She was depressed and had said 'No' to the offer of Holy Communion, but she allowed the extraordinary minister of communion to say a prayer over her for healing, a practice to which he was new. When he returned to the ward a few days later he was very surprised to see the woman with a big smile on her face and lying very much more comfortably in her bed. She told him that a few hours after his previous visit she was suddenly filled with peace, and then she found that her back was much better. This time the woman accepted Holy Communion. I think that Jesus wants this sort of thing to happen far more often and through the prayers of far more Christians. So,I would, in general, encourage Christians to step out in faith and pray for healing in a simple way, especially within their family and among friends.

Not every Christian however is called to a special ministry of healing, not every Christian is called to join the healing team of the prayer group or of the parish. The analogy with singing may help again. All Christians should be encouraged to sing in church, but not all are called to join the church choir. We have to recognise that the presence of some people on a healing team will not be helpful, indeed will be harmful. There can be several reasons for this: they may lack discretion and discernment; they may be too much in need of healing themselves; they may be too mentally or emotionally disturbed; they may, so to speak, pass on 'negative vibes' if they lay hands on people; or they may simply not be gifted in praying for healing.

The leaders of a prayer group, or healing team, or the clergy have both the duty of encouraging suitable people to join the healing team and of preventing unsuitable individuals from becoming involved. I find that in practice this is the most difficult side of leadership of a healing team - just as it can be to decide who should join the parish catechetical team or finance committee. I think that normally a leadership team needs to meet and pray together to try to discern God's will concerning membership of a healing team; I believe that it is normally better to have collective rather than individual discernment, and a collective decision makes it all less personal.

Inevitably there will be times when we have to say 'No' to someone who asks to join the healing team, and unavoidably people will sometimes be very hurt by this - just as people are very disappointed sometimes when they are not accepted for the parish catechetical team or finance committee.

We have to accept the important principles that no one is the final discerner of their own gifts, and that everyone needs to exercise their gifts under submission. We may be convinced that God is calling us to this or that ministry and it may be right to inform the leadership of the prayer group or the parish clergy of our conviction. However, we have to accept their decision in this and similar matters. Eventually, of course, final discernment is with the bishop for the diocese.

Decisions concerning the membership of healing teams and the healing ministry in general are obviously not infallible, and inevitably human factors such as ignorance, prejudice, fear, pride, or even jealousy will sometimes play their part. However, we have to accept the decisions of the competent authority. The alternative to this is chaos, in which people claiming to have hot lines to God go round doing their own thing and causing harm - and bringing the healing ministry into disrepute. We must believe that Jesus is Lord of the situation, and that even when a mistaken decision has been made, God wifi bring good out of evil if we let him. For instance, it may be that if someone is mistakenly not accepted onto the healing team of one prayer group. God will arrange for them to minister in another prayer group. We must trust that if God has given someone a gift and wants them to use it, then he will open a door to make that possible. However, in my experience, healing teams do not often make mistakes about membership.

Every ministry, whether it be teaching administration, or healing, can start going off the rails. Ministering under submission provides a necessary check. It can be a wonderful blessing for the person with a gift of healing - and especially for someone with a great gift - in protecting them from, amongst other things, too many demands on their ministry, which can lead to 'burn-out'. Everyone in the healing ministry has to learn to say 'No' at times to requests for ministry, otherwise they may well crack up from exhaustion. It can make it much easier to say 'No' when it is done out of obedience to someone with some kind of authority - the leader of a healing team, a parish priest, a religious superior, or a spiritual guide. I sometimes think that if the devil cannot stop someone getting involved in the healing ministry he will often try to drown them in it!

Belonging to a healing team has many advantages over being a loner. Members of a healing team can encourage each other, support each other, pray for each other's ministries, and pray for healing for each other. I personally have been wonderfully supported and helped both in myself and in my ministry by other members of our healing teams in the last fifteen years or so - and I know of many other people who would say the same thing.

It is good for members of a healing team to meet together regularly on their own for prayer, sharing, teaching, discussion, and for ministry. The members of a London prayer group healing team have been meeting together for a day every few months for years now, and this has been a source of real blessing. The getting in, sometimes, of an outside speaker on these occasions has helped us to widen our horizons and take stock of our ministry.

When actually praying with sick or needy people there are advantages in praying in twos or threes or even sometimes in larger groups if this is possible. The discernment, prayers, and gifts of a group are usually more powerful than those of a single individual. A complementarity of gifts and experience can come into play. One member of a team may be more gifted in praying for physical healing, another member for inner healing. I often prefer to leave a married person to lead the praying over people with marriage problems, since they will probably understand the situation better than I do. And there are obviously times when it is more suitable for a man to minister to a man and a woman to a woman.

At times we have to minister on our own because no one else is available or for reasons of discretion - often I pray alone with a person after hearing their confession. However, sometimes it is better to delay or postpone the ministry until someone else can join us in it. I myself will sometimes refuse to pray other than very briefly over a disturbed woman unless another woman member of our healing team can be present to minister with me.

May I now make a plea to Christians involved in the healing ministry? Please be careful about criticising each other's ministries. Obviously there are times when we have to be critical, when we may have to say that we think someone's healing ministry is lacking in one direction or another, or needs to be looked into, or even that we think someone should stop ministering. But all too easily, too, human motives can enter into our criticism. After all, we are sinners like other people and we suffer from pride, ambition, envy, jealousy, and self-seeking like everybody else - our motives for being in the healing ministry are never one hundred per cent perfect. I have had to fight feelings of envy and jealousy in myself in connection with the healing ministry. We need to recognise the less worthy motives which may be influencing us. Indeed, I would be worried about someone in the healing ministry who thought that their motives for being involved in it were entirely perfect - that would merely show that they did not truly know themselves. It is easier to deal with our weaknesses if we recognise them.

For a number of years now I have been recommending to members of healing ministry teams that they should pray daily for the gift of humility in connection with the healing ministry. Greater humility would lead to greater unity and harmony in the healing ministry. It would also allow God to give us greater gifts of healing, for the more humble we are the more we will give the glory to God. (I think God may sometimes be saying to himself: 'I would like to give Benedict greater gifts of healing, but I cannot do so at present because his head would burst with pride!') We have to recognise that 'successes' in the healing ministry can be heady stuff for us poor sinners. I remember the case of a woman who came with her husband from a distance to me for prayer for depression. After the prayer she insisted on kissing my hands fervently, saying that: 'These have been the hands of Jesus Christ for me tonight.' I never heard from her again. Perhaps a week later she was saying that the visit to Dom Benedict had been a complete waste of time: we need to take the praise with a pinch of salt - and in any case give the glory to God!

Perhaps a 'code of humility' could be drawn up for those of us in the healing ministry:

(1) Be willing to accept the discernment and guidance of other suitable people concerning your healing ministry.

(2) Other things being equal, let the other person lead the healing prayer and be in the limelight.

(3) Remember and talk about not only your 'successes' but also your 'failures' in the healing ministry.

(4) Talk not only about your 'successes' but also about the 'successes' of others in the healing ministry - indeed, preferably talk about the 'successes' of others.

(5) Seek not only to exercise the healing ministry but also to spread it.

(6) It can be good to pray that the Holy Spirit will empower you more strongly in the healing ministry - but do not only pray this prayer for yourself.

(7) Rejoice at the 'successes' of others and when others are more gifted than yourself in the healing ministry.

If I have stressed the importance of humility in the healing ministry, my intention is in no way to discourage suitable people from entering it, but rather to safeguard it. As I shall explain in the next chapter, I believe God wants more and more suitable people to enter the healing ministry. And if this ministry can be a tiring one, it can also be a very rewarding one, bringing with it true joy. As we seek in humility to be authentic channels of Jesus' healing love - for, of course, it is not we who heal - we shall find that we ourselves are increasingly healed, are increasingly made whole.

Chapter 10: The Healing Challenge and Evangelism

Praying for healing miracles is part of the historical tradition of the Catholic Church and of the Eastern Orthodox and other Eastern churches. There never has been a time when members of these churches were not praying for healing miracles and when people were not being healed in answer to prayer. Doubtless the ministry of praying for healing has flourished more at certain periods of the Church's history than at others, and in some places more than in others. But praying for healing miracles has been a constant strand in the life of the Catholic and Eastern churches.

The tradition of the Protestant Reformation has been otherwise. Its two main founding fathers, Martin Luther (c. 1483-1546) and John Calvin (c. 1509-64), basically accepted the doctrine called Dispensationalism, which regarded healing miracles and the exercise of the gift of healing as being only intended for the first generation of Christians. However, in the history of Protestantism there have been people like George Fox (c. 1624-91), the founder of the Quakers, and John Wesley (C. 1703-91), the father of Methodism, who went directly to the New Testament in their attitude to healing and who were used to perform healing miracles.

Given the unbroken Catholic tradition of praying for healing miracles and the absence of that tradition in so much Protestant history, it is ecumenically paradoxical that today there is often in practice more openness to praying for healing miracles in churches descended from or connected with the Protestant Reformation than in the Catholic Church. In England today there is more praying for healing, especially physical healing, in the Pentecostal and charismatic churches than in most Catholic parishes. And the Anglican Communion often also seems to be ahead of us in this field. The Lambeth conferences of Anglican bishops have been considering positively, the healing ministry of prayer since as far back as 1908. In 1958 a commission set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York produced a lengthy and remarkable report 'The Church's Ministry of Healing', which was approved by the Lambeth Conference of that year, and which did much to encourage and guide the healing ministry of prayer. The 1978 Lambeth Conference affirmed:

(I) 'that the healing of the sick in his Name is as much part of the proclamation of the Kingdom as the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ'

(2) 'that to neglect this aspect of ministry is to diminish our part in Christ's total redemptive activity'.

Furthermore, the seriousness with which the Church of England is taking the healing ministry of prayer is shown by the fact that an Anglican bishop personally involved full-time in the healing ministry, Morris Maddocks, has been appointed '
Adviser for the Ministry of Health and Healing to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York'.

May I express the hope that soon the healing ministry of prayer is going to be taken equally seriously and positively at the official level in the Catholic Church? And also that we are going to see before long an official Catholic statement as serious as the eighty-five page 1958 Lambeth conference report? In October 1985 Rome did in fact publish a report on 'Sects or New Religious Movements: Pastoral Challenge', produced by the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, the Secretariat for Non-Christians, the Secretariat for Non-Believers and the Pontifical Council for Culture, in which we read: 'Special attention should be paid to the experiential dimension, i.e. discovering Christ personally through prayer and dedication (e.g. charismatic and 'born again' movements). Many Christians live as if they had never been born at all! Special attention must be given to the healing ministry through prayers, reconciliation, fellowship, and care' (section 3, paragraph 3. See the English edition of the Osservatore Romano, 19th May 1986, page 6). May this brief encouraging reference to the healing ministry of prayer be followed by fuller statements before long.

In quite a few countries an increasing number of Catholics seem to be going elsewhere in search of healing through prayer and other spiritual means - and they are seeking elsewhere among non-Catholics because they are not in practice being offered much in the way of prayer for healing in their Catholic parishes. If one goes to a public healing service run by a Pentecostal evangelist like Steve Ryder, one will find a considerable number of Catholics there seeking healing. In an ecumenical age this is not surprising. The healing ministry of prayer crosses the frontiers between the churches and can make a real contribution to the cause of Christian unity. When God uses a Protestant to heal a Catholic and a Catholic to heal a Protestant, then some healing has also taken place in the divisions between the churches. Indeed, I think we should encourage ecumenical healing services. But can a Catholic feel entirely happy that it is much more often a question of Catholics seeking healing from Evangelicals and Pentecostals, and not often the other way round - although I know a Methodist who on one of our pilgrimages to Lourdes received remarkable physical healings?

The relative absence of opportunities of being prayed with for healing in Catholic parishes is leading to something really dangerous in another direction. Far more Catholics than commonly realised are going to spiritualists and non-Christian healers in search of healing, sometimes with disastrous results. I know of the case of a Catholic man who went to an Eastern guru in London for healing. The Catholic man paid a large sum of money for an object of Eastern piety which, it was said, would help his healing, and after this he felt he was caught up in some spiritual bondage. I think of the Catholic woman who suffered much from her back and went to spiritualists for healing. She stopped practising as a Catholic, became deeply involved in Spiritualism, and by the time she came to see me ten years later, her main problems had become mental instability and strong suicidal tendencies - the back was still bad. And in case anyone should think it is only fringe Catholics who go to spiritualist and similar healers, I will mention the lady who was a pillar of the catechetical work in her parish, and who on becoming seriously ill went several times to a spiritualist healer, under pressure from a kind neighbour.

All these Catholics went elsewhere seeking healing because they did not think they could find it in the Catholic Church. Here is a challenge. We are living at a time when non-Christian faith healing is increasing and receiving more and more publicity and attention. If we do not renew the healing ministry of prayer in the Catholic Church, in fidelity to the New Testament and to the tradition of the Catholic Church, then certainly more and more Catholics will go elsewhere seeking healing, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Being aware of and renewing the healing dimension of the sacraments is probably not going to cause difficulties for the majority of Catholics - indeed, I think most will welcome it with joy (see Chapter Three). Doubtless the sacramental side of the healing ministry is a special contribution which the Catholic Church can make to the ecumenical dialogue on the healing ministry. Here I think the Evangelicals and Pentecostals have something important to learn from us. It was, I think, significant that when an evangelical lady was reading the earlier chapters of this book, she was particularly interested in the chapter on the sacraments, for this was something relatively new to her.

However, we Catholics may not stop at renewing the sacramental side of the healing ministry, for if we did there would still be some things lacking. We have to encourage in general Catholics everywhere to pray more for healing - and to pray with a more expectant faith. And we have to face up to the fact that God wants to give and indeed does give some Christians gifts of healing, a special ministry of praying for healing. It is this last point which seems to be difficult for many Catholics, partly because they tend to identify gifts of healing with sanctity, as I explained in the last chapter. So they think that someone who exercises a ministry of healing prayer is claiming to be a saint! Or they may simply feel threatened by someone exercising a healing ministry.

There is no doubt that Catholics who develop a healing ministry of prayer do tend to run into quite a lot of opposition, especially if their healing ministry is powerful. I myself have been fortunate in this matter. The late Dom Edmund M. Jones OSB, who was my prior for many years, gave me real support in my growing healing ministry, and then my colleagues elected me as prior after his death. In our community we have a tradition of freedom and tolerance. However, I think that women religious who have gifts of healing tend to have a more difficult time, although I know of one sister with a powerful gift of healing whose mother general recommends sick sisters to go to her for healing prayer - and there is the outstanding example of Sr. Briege McKenna OSC. It is probably especially difficult for a sister in most contemplative communities to develop a ministry of healing prayer with the laying on of hands, but I know of one abbess who does in fact exercise a powerful healing ministry of this kind, and I know a guest-mistress who frequently prays with her guests. (May I make a plea to mother superiors to be open-minded and not too fearful with regard to this ministry?)

Great gifts of healing do, however, seem to attract strong opposition in the Catholic church. Father Emilien Tardif, a French-speaking Canadian missionary in the Dominican Republic, describes in his book, Jesus is Alive (Inter. Montreal, 1985), some of the opposition he had to face. He had the support of not only his bishop, but also of the episcopal conference. However, the Secretary of State for Health accused him on the television of being a charlatan and misleading the people. Others said that the healing miracles would lead people into witchcraft and spiritism. Others talked of mass hysteria and emotionalism, and suggested that he was insane. The devil certainly does not like the healing ministry of prayer and raises up opposition!

In 1 John 4:1 we read: 'Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.' Obviously gifts and ministries of healing need to be tested, as do other gifts. But gifts of healing should be treated in the same open-minded and serene way as gifts of teaching and administration. I fear that in some instances in the Catholic Church gifts of healing are approached with a presupposition that this is almost certainly something false and dangerous which needs to be suppressed. There can also be the attitude of playing-safe-at-any-price. Of course if no one exercises the gilt of healing prayer there will be no danger of anything going wrong with it, just as, if no one sings in church, there is no danger of the singing going wrong. But in both cases there would be a real impoverishment of what should be there.

A further element working against the acceptance of gifts of healing in the Catholic Church is, I think, the influence of secular thought and of unbelief in the Catholic Church today. I also believe that in the ecumenical dialogue some Catholics have been over-influenced by Liberal Protestantism and insufficiently influenced by the Eastern churches, the Evangelicals, and the Pentecostals. So some Catholics, including a few priests, despite the official teaching of the Church, would not believe in or at any rate would doubt the historical reality of the healing miracles of Jesus. Obviously, if someone does not think that Jesus healed the sick, it is logical not to accept that prayer to Jesus today is doing that very thing. Obviously again, someone taking this view will be very sceptical about the whole healing ministry of prayer, including gifts of healing.

There are some Catholics who would admit that people are being helped and healed in our prayer groups, but they would explain this entirely in psychological terms, not as Jesus or God answering prayer. They would say that the warm, friendly, emotional atmosphere helps some people to feel better, indeed to get better. They might even say that some people have purely natural gifts of healing, which science needs to investigate. But they would refuse to link these gifts with the 'gifts of healing' St. Paul wrote about in I Corinthians 12. Obviously, an approach which is largely dominated by secularist thought, rationalism and seeing everything in psychological terms is not going to have much time for gifts of healing and the healing ministry of prayer as a whole.

Personally I do not think that God wants to be less generous with his gifts of healing towards Catholics than he is towards Pentecostals and members of other charismatic churches. At the moment, however, these gifts seem to be flourishing much more among these churches than among Catholics. The reason for this is surely that Catholics are in general so much less open to these gifts and to their being exercised in the Christian community. Let us reflect on the words of Cardinal Suenens in his book, A Controversial Phenomenon. Resting in the Spirit (Veritas, 1987):

'Christ the Saviour of man is also he who heals man's wounds. His Church has the duty to continue his ministry of healing, to pursue the combat against the Powers of Evil, and to recognise, authenticate, and encourage the development of the charism of healing by charting safe roads for it' (page 80).

'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' (Luke 9:1). We are increasingly aware in the Catholic Church that many of us have frequently been neglecting the command 'to preach the kingdom of God'. Indeed, one can say, I think, that the Catholic church is now trying to give top priority to the work of evangelism.

The renewal of the healing ministry is very important from the point of view of the work of evangelism in the Catholic Church. In the quotation from St. Luke above, the preaching of the Kingdom of God and the healing in the name of Jesus go together, as they do also in Luke 10: 'Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you" '(8ff).

Indeed, in the New Testament church we see in practice the preaching of the good news and the healing of the sick going together. '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) - the signs being mainly healing, as we can read in the Acts of the Apostles. It is obvious from the Acts of the Apostles that the healing miracles played a key role in the spreading of the gospel and in the early church. To take one example, in Acts 3 we read about the miraculous healing of a man who was lame from birth: seeing this man 'walking and leaping and praising God' the crowd gathered round wanting to know how the miracle had happened; this was the opportunity for Peter to preach the gospel; and 'many of those who heard the word believed; and the numbers of the men came to about five thousand'. Clearly there was a direct link between the healing miracle and the believing of the five thousand: without the healing miracle the crowd would not have been interested in what Peter had to say, and there would have been no five thousand believers.

Indeed, the disciples were so convinced that the preaching and the healing belonged together that they prayed: 'And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus' (Acts 4:29). The Lord obviously approved of this prayer, for the text continues: 'And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.'

Does the New Testament practice of closely linking the preaching of the gospel and praying for healing still work in the twentieth century? Well, some Christians have found that it still does. In the Pentecostal churches and in the charismatic fellowships there is a tradition of evangelists with a ministry of healing. If one reads, for instance, the lives of Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947) and Stephen Jeffreys (1876-1943), it is difficult not to believe that they were both used powerfully by God in our own country and elsewhere to heal the sick and to convert many non-believers to Christ. It also seems clear that their evangelism would have been nothing like as successful without the healing dimension (see
Seven Pentecostal Pioneers by Cohn Whittaker, Marshalls, 1983). Or to take the example of someone who is still living and ministering today, Ian Andrews' healing services lead to a considerable number of conversions. I remember him saying once after describing a particularly dramatic physical healing: 'Seventeen people came to Christ as a result of that healing' (see his book: God Can do it Again, Marshalls, 1982).

Then there is John Wimber and the rapidly expanding Vineyard Fellowship which he has founded in America. Healings have obviously played an important part in this expansion. Again, there is the example of the German Pentecostal missionary, Reinhard Bonnke, who has been especially active in Africa. A tent which holds 34,000 people has been made for his ministry. At the start of a mission there is often only a small number of people at the front of the tent. But as the news of the healings spread, the tent rapidly fills up on the following evenings. After one campalgn of twenty days they planted a new church with a baptised membership of over 600 people. We are now seeing Reinhard Bonnke ministering increasingly often in England, where there are also healings and conversions at his meetings.

Finally, on the Catholic side there is the example of the healing ministry of Monsignor Michael Buckley in this country. His healing services lead not only to many lapsed Catholics coming back to the practice of their religion, but also non-Christians becoming Catholics. Indeed, there have been Moslems and Buddhists becoming Catholics as a result of attending his healing services.

However, it is not only a question of evangelists with outstanding healing ministries. In England today the churches which are expanding, and sometimes rapidly, are in general the Pentecostal churches and the charismatic fellowships, while the Catholic Church, along with most other churches, is apparently decreasing in numbers. This is, in my opinion, partly connected with the fact that praying for healing, including physical healing, normally has an important place in the Pentecostal churches and charismatic fellowships, while in the Catholic Church and in general in most other churches it does not.

Jesus promised spiritual power to his disciples: 'But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samana and to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8). I think that an important reason for the lack of growth in many churches and for the weakness of their evangelism is that people do not see or experience much spiritual power in them. Spiritual power is not, of course, only seen in healing miracles, but a truly thriving healing ministry of prayer is a very obvious manifesting of the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christianity is to be considered more than words and people are to believe, then they need to see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in one way or another.

The renewal of the healing ministry of prayer in the Catholic Church, I think, is in the first place a question of fidelity to Jesus, to the New Testament, and to the authentic Catholic tradition. However, we can be helped in this fidelity by the example of what the Holy Spirit is doing in other churches. The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council states: 'Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a more perfect realisation of the very mystery of Christ and the Church' (Chapter 1, number 4). May I suggest that the example of the healing ministry of prayer among Pentecostals and other Christians can contribute to the spiritual renewal of the Catholic Church and to fts outreach in evangelism?

Some Catholics may find what I have written here too Pentecostal, too charismatic for their liking. Perhaps it may not be out of place here to quote from Pope John Paul II's address to the International Leaders' Conference of Catholic Charismatics on 7th May 1981, quoting Pope Paul VI: 'Pope Paul described the movement for renewal in the Spirit as "A chance for the church and for the world", and the six years since that Congress have borne out the hope that inspired that vision.' Pope John Paul II also said in that address: 'The priest, for his part, cannot exercise his service on behalf of the Renewal unless and until he adopts a welcoming attitude towards it, based on the desire he shares with every Christian by baptism to grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.' However, when I am reflecting upon the renewal of the healing ministry in the Catholic Church I am thinking of something much wider than the Charismatic Renewal, although this movement is, I think, largely spear-heading the wider renewal of the healing ministry. One can pray, and pray powerfully, for healing without attending charismatic prayer meetings.

Cardinal Hume has had a few public 'dreams'. Perhaps I may also be permitted to have a 'dream' about the future? I dream of a time, I hope not too far ahead, when there will be praying for healing with the laying on of hands in every Christian family and among Christian friends. I dream of a time when every parish will have its healing team, working with and under the parish clergy. I dream of a time when medical doctors and psychiatrists will send their patients to the parish healing team for prayer, just as the parish healing team refers people to the medical profession. I dream of a time when after Mass on Sunday it will be possible to go forward to have hands laid on for healing prayer for the sickness of spirit, mind, or body. I dream of a time when non-Christians will come to the Christian community seeking healing, as they often did in the early church and when the healings that take place will lead to conversions to Christ. I dream of a time when Christians everywhere will have a great devotion to Christ the Healer.

My dream has been strengthened by my annual visits to Lourdes these last four years, where I have been as the chaplain to charismatic pilgrimages. Lourdes is a place which is very dear to me, for every time I go there my faith in the healing power of Jesus is increased. As I look at the many plaques in the upper basilica giving thanks for healings and as I look at the photographs in the Medical Bureau of the people who have been miraculously healed in Lourdes, I am reminded that praying for healing is an important part of Catholic tradition. So my dream includes the hope that the healing tradition of Lourdes will spread everywhere among Catholics.

Understandably many Evangelicals are puzzled by Lourdes where, since Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858, Jesus has done many healing miracles. Evangelicals may find it interesting to study the history of the healing miracles in Lourdes, where the Medical Bureau makes, I think, a more careful and rigorous scientific examination of alleged cures than any other place in the world. By 1986 2,500 serious cures had been confirmed by the doctors. Anyone wishing further information can write to: Bureau Medical de Notre-Dame de Lourdes. P65100 Lourdes, France. Good books on Lourdes are: Bernadette of Lourdes, by René Laurentin (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1979). and Lourdes - a Modern Pilgrimage, by Patrick Marnham (Heinemann, 1980).


At the end of this book I realise that I have written nothing or practically nothing about praying for the wider healing: healing disunity in families, in parishes, in neighbourhoods, in countries, between the sexes, classes, races, nations, between divided Christians. Christ's work of redemption can be seen as a great work of healing, in which we are all called to participate. However, it is a mistake to try to cover too much in one book. I will only say that as people become more healed in themselves they will contribute more through prayer and work to the wider healing. Those people who have experienced the healing touch of Jesus in themselves will normally be instruments of healing in the wider world.

My hope and prayer is that this book will encourage and help Christians, especially Catholics, to pray for healing. I hope and pray that some readers will step out in faith with a new confidence in praying for their own healing and that of other people. I hope and pray also that some readers will feel called to a wider ministry of healing prayer. And I also hope and pray that this book will help to curb any exaggerations in the healing ministry.

Members of our prayer groups are praying for those. who will read this book - so, dear reader, you have already been prayed for, that the Holy Spirit will be with you in your reading and in your praying for healing. May I invite any readers who feel so called to join with us in our prayer for the renewal of the healing ministry in the Church?

May I make a plea? May I ask readers not to get in touch with me to ask me to pray for their healing? This may seem an ungracious request. But, apart from the fact that there are a considerable number of Christians about, who are more gifted than I am in the healing ministry, I am already overwhelmed with requests for healing prayer, and my conscience is already bad enough about the unanswered letters seeking healing ministry which lie on my desk. However, there is also another reason. The whole thrust of this book is to spread the healing ministry, to get more Christians involved in it. So please try praying for healing yourselves, ask your family or Christian friends to pray with you for healing, ask your parish clergy to pray with you, see whether there is a prayer group in your parish or near you and ask them to pray with you, make enquiries as to where suitable Christian healing services are being held in the district where you live.

To help people locate suitable paces where they can receive healing prayer, I will give the addresses of two centres in London which have information:

The National Service Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Allen Hall, 28 Beaufort Street, London, SW3 5AA. Tel: 0207 352 5298.

(2) St. Marylebone Centre for Healing and Counselling, 17 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LT. Tel: 0207 935 6374

One final point: some writing on healing would be discredited if the author's health collapsed soon after writing. Not so with this book. The truth of what I have written would not be affected by what may happen to my health. Before this book appears in six months' time I may have died of cancer or a heart attack. I may have gone blind or deaf, I may have contracted Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, or have become paralysed. Not, I hasten to add, that I am showing signs of a collapse in health. But anybody's health can fall at any time, without anything having gone wrong with God's loving providence - and at the age of sixty-seven no one could be surprised at difficulties with health. However, because I pray for my own health and ask other people to pray for it, I think that in fact it is considerably less likely to collapse than would otherwise be the case. But all that is in the hands of God. '
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'

Against this background of acceptance, let us pray with all our heart, mind, and strength, for ourselves and others: 'Come, Holy Spirit, with all your healing light and love and power. Amen.'

Copyright © 1989 Benedict M. Heron OSB

This Version: 4th November 2001


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