Homily for February 19, VII Sunday of OT, year B
It’s almost hard to believe, but Lent is right around the corner, with this Wednesday being Ash Wednesday. The readings for today are very appropriate as a Lenten lead-in, because they talk to us about what Easter is all about. Jesus died in reparation for the sins of humanity, that we may all be forgiven, and joined us to Himself in His resurrection, that we may rise to eternal life with Him in heaven, with our bodies restored and glorified like His. In short, Christ gave us the possibility of complete healing in body and spirit, a healing which will only be fully realized in heaven, but which starts here on earth.
This was promised through the prophets well before Jesus came, as we hear in the first reading. God had long planned to renew all creation through Christ’s work of redemption, which is God’s own initiative, done freely out of love.
It is true that these promises will only come to complete fruition on the Last Day, when all people rise from the dead and are judged. Those who died in God’s favor, because their sins were forgiven and they lived according to God’s law, loving God and neighbor, will be given the full reward promised by Jesus: everlasting life and happiness in heaven. Jesus also tells us that those who die without responding to God’s love sincerely at least at end of their lives, will be deprived of that reward, and consigned to eternal physical and spiritual suffering of hell with the devil and his angels.
Through the account of the paralytic and his friends, the Gospel today illustrates how we can already participate in our final reward here on earth. Jesus sees their faith, and grants the sick man healing of both body and spirit. It is not the definitive gift as in heaven; the man still will die a normal physical death, and will probably sin again and need to be forgiven, but God gives him the forgiveness, strength, and encouragement he needs to continue on his way.
Those blessings are also available to us, especially through the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. Both are sacraments of healing, although with a difference. Reconciliation focuses on spiritual healing and strength to avoid sin; Anointing of the Sick focuses on physical healing and on spiritual strength to bear the cross of physical suffering (although it also does forgive sins).
Lent is a particularly appropriate time to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation, the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross. Being forgiven and restored to God’s friendship is essential to receiving the gift of eternal life in heaven. Physical healing in this life does us little good if we end up in hell for all eternity after we die, whereas spiritual healing also guarantees the eventual glorious resurrection of our bodies. Thus, the sacrament of Reconciliation is a true and beautiful gift, and not something to fear. It is like the paralytic’s encounter with Jesus: through the power of the sacrament, Jesus is really present to us with His love and forgiveness. He sees our hearts and knows both our sins and our repentance. His forgiveness gives us peace and strength in this life, and eternal joy in the next.
There’s much more to say about this wonderful sacrament, but I’ll leave it for another day. May God help us all to start this Lent on Wednesday with profound gratitude to Jesus for the many gifts He brought to us, especially the gift of forgiveness. And let’s all remember to make room for the sacrament of Reconciliation sometime this Lent, whether at the ordinary time on Saturday, the special Wednesday evening times that will be published later in the bulletin, or at any other time when we need it and a priest is available. Please don’t be afraid to ask; I’ve heard people’s confessions in reconciliation rooms and on park benches, in church pews, in cars, and in living rooms. This sacrament is too great a gift to pass up.