It’s been somewhat fascinating to watch the Democratic-primary debates this cycle and some of the reactions to Marianne Williamson. Step away from the politics for a moment and just focus on the fact that she seems to really believe in the supernatural, to really believe that there is more to life than what we conventionally see, what’s in the news, and what our opinions are about it. I don’t share her politics or her spirituality, but we have common ground on the fact that there is more.
I call it a fact because I know of no other compelling explanation for some of the things I see and hear and experience, and for the remarkable sacrifices of love that people make for others to whom they have no connection other than knowledge that they were created by the same Creator who made everyone else, along with all that is good and true and beautiful. (Think: Mother Teresa.) For so many who truly try to live their Christian faith, as no small example, to meet another is to meet Christ Himself. And that belief changes things. It can make all the difference.
There’s a book by Mary Healy, a professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, called Healing: Bringing the Gift of God’s Mercy to the World. With the little opening Williamson provides for a political conversation stepping away from the horse race and knee-jerk assumptions that there must be automatic political reactions to everything bad that happens in the world, Healy’s book can help those thinking about what more they need in their lives and why. Healy’s book isn’t of the self-help genre, but it can help, especially because it’s rooted in the tradition and text of the Bible. A conversation with her here is just a starting point. Or: if Williamson is a starting point for some, Healy is a good next step.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: You write, “The more united we are to the Lord, the more freely he is able to act through us. So the first key to being a conduit of the Lord’s healing power is intimacy with him.” What does that look like? Intimacy with the Lord? It may sound very odd and off to modern ears. What does this have to do with healing?
Mary Healy: It does sound odd, but intimacy with God is exactly what the modern heart is thirsting for. We have come to think of God in abstract, intellectual terms, but the God of the Bible is a living God who is passionately interested in each one us. What intimacy looks like is spending time with him — even “wasting time” with Him, like you do with someone you love — in prayer, in reading the Bible, in adoration. As we get closer to God, we begin to identify with what is on His heart. And God gives us the power to do the things that are on His heart, which includes bringing healing to the lost, the broken, and the wounded.
Lopez: Off and on, when people buzz about the next potential Supreme Court vacancy, University of Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett’s name comes up. But she’s also been controversial because of a charismatic Catholic community she’s a part of. What is it about charismatic prayer that all Christians perhaps could afford to learn from or reflect on?
Healy: Charismatic prayer is prayer that is open to the full manifestation of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. Many Christians are nervous about it because it means not being in full control, and we tend to reject what we cannot control. But Scripture and Catholic teaching make clear that the charismatic dimension is not an option on a menu of spiritualities; it is constitutive of the very nature of the Church. It may look very different for different people, but being “charismatic” is part of what it means to be Christian.
Lopez: You’re a professor of Scripture. How did you get into this healing business?
Healy: It was a surprise of the Spirit. Six years ago, I experienced a clear prompting of the Holy Spirit to dig into this topic of healing. I had a sabbatical semester coming up and I was looking for a research topic, when I attended a conference on healing and the supernatural gifts of the Spirit led by Randy Clark, a non-denominational charismatic. It was an amazing, life-changing weekend, and I came away convinced that God wants this in the Catholic Church. So healing became the focus of my sabbatical, and I became more convinced than ever that the gifts of the Spirit are part of our apostolic heritage, and are absolutely essential for evangelization today.
Lopez: What is it about healing and baptism that Christians need to better appreciate — for all our sakes?
Healy: Baptism is far more powerful than we realize! One of the things I discovered is that for the first several centuries of the Church, it was taken for granted that at baptism (which back then was of course usually adult baptism) people would receive gifts of the Spirit that equipped them to share in the mission of the Church — gifts like prophecy, healing, and casting out demons. Baptism and confirmation empower us for a mission like that of Jesus himself: to proclaim the good news not only in words, but also in supernatural deeds that confirm the truth of the words.
Lopez: Do we need to reconsider what a miracle is?
Healy: Yes, we need to stop using David Hume’s definition of a miracle — a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature (which, by the way, Hume believed could never happen) — and return to thinking in biblical terms. Biblically, a miracle (the Greek word is dynamis) is a mighty deed by which God demonstrates His power.
Lopez: How do we better tap into the supernatural and better see it at work with the natural?
Healy: It’s not so much that we tap into the supernatural but that the Lord Jesus graciously “taps into” us to make us instruments of His grace and mercy in the lives of others. The more we know Him and the more we take risks in faith — not for own our advancement but for the good of others — the more we see His power at work in us in surprising ways.
Lopez: “The gift of healing has been present in the Church in every age, but is being poured out in remarkable abundance in our time,” you write in your book. Where do you see it? Why don’t more of us see it? Why isn’t it the stuff of headlines and wondrous celebration of thanksgiving?
Healy: It is truly strange how little attention the media give to miraculous healings. In some parts of the world, there are well-documented cases of the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, and the dead being raised. But those who choose not to believe that God acts in time and space will always look for a way to explain such things away, just as some highly educated religious leaders did in Jesus’ day. But perhaps it is also part of God’s plan to keep such things under the radar. There is always an aspect of hiddenness to the kingdom of God. It is a buried treasure, a seed in the ground, yeast hidden in dough. “You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to little children.”
Lopez: If that’s all true — the bit about healing being in some remarkable abundance — why don’t we see more of it? People have become sick and tired of hearing about “thoughts and prayers” in the face of suffering and evil. Why doesn’t God do more to alleviate it? People say Christ has won victory, but it doesn’t look that way in the world today.
Healy: We have to stop complaining that God isn’t doing what He has actually told us to do. “Why doesn’t God do more to alleviate poverty?” In fact, He has commanded us and given us the resources to do it! “Why doesn’t God do more to alleviate sickness?” In fact, He commanded us, “Heal the sick” and gave us the Holy Spirit’s power to do so. When Christians step out in faith to obey that command, suffering is alleviated and Christ’s victory is often manifested in remarkable ways.
Lopez: What gives you confidence this is real and orthodox and not the stuff of cult mentality or wishful thinking or silly “hocus pocus” muddy thinking (to use language I’ve heard in recent days on social media, for example in response to a simple prayer or image)?
Healy: Anyone concerned about orthodoxy should study what Scripture and tradition have to say about healings and reread the anathema of Vatican Council I: “If anyone says that all miracles are impossible, and that therefore all reports of them . . . are to be set aside as fables or myths . . . let him be anathema.” Certainly, there are charlatans and there are false claims of healing. But it is a logical fallacy to say that there are therefore no genuine healings. Wherever God is at work, the devil will also be at work to discredit what God is doing.
Lopez: Does a closer reading of Scripture help?
Healy: It not only helps, it is essential to the Christian life. Over time, our human tendency is always to veer away from the clear, bracing, and penetrating truths that God has revealed to us in His Word. So we need to constantly renew our minds, and renew theology, by returning to drink from the source. This includes reading with fresh eyes what Scripture says about healing, and discovering that healing is far more central to the Gospels and to the whole plan of God than we may have thought.
Lopez: You have a whole chapter on redemptive suffering. That’s a hard phrase, especially to people outside the Church, especially to someone in the midst of deep or chronic suffering. How can it be made more palatable than Christians lecturing people about how life is a valley of tears? Where’s the joy?
Healy: The phrase “valley of tears,” which appears in the prayer “Hail Holy Queen,” is from Psalm 84. But look at the complete sentence: “As they go through the valley of tears they make it a place of springs.” God’s people have an incredible privilege. It is not that they suffer any less, but their suffering, offered up in love, becomes a wellspring of life and hope and joy. Through faith, suffering is transformed into glory! But you’re absolutely right that we cannot just lecture people about it. Rather we need to be with them in their suffering, empathize with their pain, and then help them to meet Jesus, the one who suffered all for us.
Lopez: You wrote, “Times of greater trouble require a greater release of the Holy Spirit: greater zeal for the gospel, greater faith to move mountains, more healings, more joy, more courage in the face of persecution.” Does that mean we need the Holy Spirit now more than ever? How do we step up to the plate? What’s the first step? The next step? Is there always a next step?
Healy: “Need” is an understatement. As human beings, we were designed to be filled with the Holy Spirit; we cannot live fully without him. I’d say the first step is to desire more of the Holy Spirit. Then we need to “seek, ask, and knock” persistently, as Jesus taught and as the early Christians did. Then we need to be ready to have him turn our lives upside-down and to obey him without counting the cost.