JANUARY 17, 2008- SAINT ANTONY OF EGYPT: 1 SAMUEL 4–11; MARK 1:40–45
IF YOU WILL TO DO SO, YOU CAN CURE ME. I DO WILL IT. BE CURED. The power to give healing resided in Jesus’ word as well as in the touch of his body, as this text from today’s Gospel demonstrates. This power derives from the person of our Lord and is subject to his will, as he makes clear in the present instance: I DO WILL IT. BE CURED, he responded to the act of faith made by the leper. The healing effect of his word is a gift he possesses by virtue of his receiving all he says from the Father, including his very person. Behind the power-laden words of Jesus of Nazareth is the hidden activity of God the Father, exercised through love.
After his resurrection, the glorified Lord transmitted to chosen members of his Church this divine energy he had been given in an unsurpassed fullness upon rising from the dead. We do not read of any of his apostles working similar wonders of healing before the Lord’s resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit, who came in fulfillment of a word of promise and as a response to obedient faith in that word. As it is affirmed in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
the promise was first announced by the Lord himself, and is guaranteed to us by those who heard him; God himself confirmed their witness with signs and marvels and miracles of all kinds, and e freely giving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (2:3–4)
The power of the Lord’s inspired word remains latent in all of Scripture; it is activated when it meets with faith ready to respond and carry through in obedience. We see this process taking place in the beginning of Saint Antony’s first steps toward deepening his spiritual life and then, again, operative in setting him on the path of what grew into the monastic life as he acted upon the impulse given by the word of the Gospel Go, sell what you possess, give to the poor, you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me”.(Mt 19:21)
His biographer, Saint Athanasius, informs us that Antony heard the words of the Gospel as if directed to him personally.
This impression of being directly addressed by the Lord himself made all the difference. God is present in his word; this presence is not passive but rather actively inviting a response in faith that his power may be energized by our response. God’s enabling power respects our human freedom that willingly submits our person, with our whole life, to him, in an act of trusting surrender. The leper in today’s Gospel was placed in a desperate condition by the disease from which he suffered. His plea to Jesus, consequently, came from the depths of his person to which he had been introduced through the isolation and displacement consequent to his contagious disease. Rather than deepen his isolation in bitterness of heart, having heard of Jesus and his earlier healings, opened himself in faith, confident that this man could heal him. There are any number of ways of attaining to awareness of our need for a transcendent healing, that is to say, a remedy for our human condition, subject as it is to misery and finally death. Perhaps some form of loss and the suffering it entails is the most frequent, although it can also happen that discovering the limits of success can also open up to awareness of our need for nothing less than God himself.
I met with a striking instance of such an awakening some years ago that I encountered at the monastery in an interview with a young physician on retreat. He told me how he was converted to the spiritual life when employed at one of the most prestigious medical centers in this country. A few years prior to our talk, he had been awarded the gold medal in recognition of his remarkable research in his chosen field, thus rising to the heights of his career while still young. Rather than experience personal fulfillment having arrived at his cherished goal, he became depressed as he discovered that the success for which he had devoted his life and skill was empty as regarded his most personal self. He then turned to God in faith and found a happiness and peace that continued to sustain him in his life and work. As Saint Augustine had concluded after he had similar experiences time and again: “our heart is restless, O Lord, until it rests in you.” We are made for God, and becoming keenly aware of how deeply our need for him resides in the depths of our heart is a condition for turning wholly to him in faith and trust, and seeking him alone. Whether we arrive at such awareness by suffering or success, we must open our self to the limits of our human condition by the choice to turn to God alone as our hope and our goal. May the grace of this Eucharist obtain for us this determined faith that entrusts our whole self, body and soul, mind and heart, to him who comes to us to bring the fullness of eternal life that is the reward of those who follow him to glory.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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