Monday, September 26, 2011

How are we answering the call to heal?

I once learned that the words “heal” and “cure” mean different things in the New Testament.  Though today’s speech interchanges these terms as synonyms, they meant distinctly different things in Jesus’ time.   People who were “cured” got rid of their physical afflictions.  People who were “healed” became at peace about their physical or mental afflictions. 

A person can be both healed and cured of something.  But some people are physically cured without being healed such as those cured of tragic illnesses who forever carry bitterness about the ordeal.   Also, people can be healed without being physically cured such as someone who dies from a horrific illness but does so with internal peace. 

Some people are never cured or healed.   For example, sexual abuse victims’ physical violations cannot be undone.  Therefore, victims cannot be “cured” from their physical experience.  Many never experience healing from the traumatic emotional violation either.  Likewise, alcoholics are never cured of their physical addiction even if they stop drinking.  Active and recovering alcoholics who never come to peace with their underlying self-esteem and insecurity issues are also never cured or healed.

Jesus both cured and healed people, and he instructed his apostles to do likewise (MT 10:5-8).  In Luke 9:49 we see scriptural evidence that the apostles misplaced the emphasis of this commissioning, mistaking it as an exclusive right.  In this passage John proudly reports to Jesus that he and the other apostles have stopped another from casting out demons (i.e., healing) because the person doing the healing was not of their ilk.  Jesus’ response rebuking the apostles indicates Jesus was less fixated on the “who” than the “what” when it comes to healing.  Perhaps one can take from this incident that all disciples carry a responsibility to heal.  It is far more important that acts of healing occur than who performs them.

We sit at a troublesome intersection in the church.  The world and church are in need of much healing.  World and church populations continue to grow while numbers of apostles (ordained church leaders) shrink.  In business terms, healing demand is high; supply of apostolic healers is low.  Further complicating the imbalance are some underlying circumstances that impair apostles’ healing ministry.  Finally, church leaders try to prevent unapproved healers from filling the gap.

One such underlying circumstance impacting apostolic healing ministry is apostles’ far higher than average alcoholism rate.  Some of these incurable alcoholics have healed by successfully addressing their base insecurities and unhappiness.  Many have not, including some who incorrectly think they have.  They are wounded and broken.  Their addiction propagates additional deep wounds through unhealthy addictive behaviors and breeding rampant codependency.   Codependency inflicts even more wounds.   Though alcoholic apostles help some individuals heal, as a whole culture, apostles’ alcoholic wounds are breeding more wounds than healing.  This is because the culture remains unacknowledged and unaddressed in favor of secretly addressing some individual instances.    

Some apostles have sexually molested seminarians, teens or children.   They have inflicted extremely difficult to heal wounds upon their victims, the church-at-large, and society.  Though some apostles like Fr. Thomas Doyle passionately try to heal wounds inflicted by apostles via abuse, most in their guilt or enabling codependency deepen the wounds.  Almost daily reports indicate this issue too remains unaddressed despite lip service to the contrary.  

The church is afflicted with wounded and broken apostles who in turn wound and afflict.  Yet, the church looks to these same people to heal.  Is this possible?

Fr. Henri Nouwen wrote a book about the value of a “Wounded Healer” claiming a wounded healer has more compassion and, therefore, is a more effective healer.   I think a premise of Nouwen’s statement is that wounded healers acknowledge their brokenness.  By openly admitting and addressing their brokenness, wounded healers more peacefully interact with truth, a required element of authentic healing versus inauthentic whitewashing or outright denial. 

Benedict XVI does not seem to be a healer, wounded or otherwise.  He has done much to contribute to the affliction of clergy sexual abuse and little if anything to contribute to its healing.  He has done little to nothing to address the enabling culture in an effective way.  Occasionally he has met with clergy sex abuse victims presumably towards healing but he still seems more focused on moving beyond the scandal than on healing or addressing systemic causes.  Some days I half expect him to issue a papal decree declaring the issue resolved and barring further discussion of the topic, much like he has done for the unhealed wound of sexual inequality in the church. However, healing and forgiveness occur at the pace of the victim, not at the dictates of a hierarchy impatient to move beyond unpleasant issues.

I am unaware of Benedict XVI acknowledging or meeting with victims of clergy substance or power abuses.  These abuses mostly go unacknowledged and unaddressed, or are outright defended as the right of apostles to behave thusly.  There seems to be greater focus on preventing the wrong type of “who” from ministering than on ministry, leaving people wanting rather than ordain women or married men and blocking unapproved laity from ministry. 

This mindset propagates throughout the hierarchy.  I see little evidence of individual or systemic acknowledgement of the brokenness caused by clergy who abuse substances, people, or power.  I see a desire by ordained and laity to ignore rather than acknowledge.  I see avoidance of unpleasant truths.  I see token gestures towards healing only when every route to escape truth is blocked. 

Yet Jesus instructs us to heal.  If the apostles are too wounded to lead the church through healing, what is the responsibility of the laity in this regard?  Is it possible for the church to heal without sustained, truthful, open acknowledgement of abuses by ordained and laity?  Do we contribute to healing or to inflicting wounds?  Are clergy and laity capable of being wounded healers?  

Quite simply, Jesus calls us all to the action of healing.  How are we answering the call?

Side note:  Sorry for the lag in publishing.  I've been doing a lot of international travel for work.  I'll try to be more timely.

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