Friday, March 2, 2012

Bringing Our Loved Ones to Christ

A couple Sundays ago, the Gospel was Mark 2:1-12,
James Tissot,
The Paralyzed Man Let Down through the Roof (1894)
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home. Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them. 
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. 
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Child, your sins are forgiven." 
Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?" 
Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, "Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, pick up your mat and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth"-he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." 
He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."
What's remarkable is that there's no mention of the paralytic's faith at all. Rather, Scripture clearly says that Jesus looked upon their faith (that is, the faith of the paralytics' friends), and proceeded to provide both spiritual and physical healing for the paralytic.

This should be a source of great hope for us.  I think we all have friends or family whose spiritual well-being we're concerned about.  We may have tried explaining, arguing, and the rest, and come up short.  Jesus is showing us the solution to that problem here.  The paralyzed man's friends were completely incapable of healing his legs, or his soul.  But they didn't give up.  Instead, they took him to the One who they knew could heal him, the One who can heal each of us, and each of our loved ones.

Julio Romero de Torres, La Saeta (1918)
We should imitate this example.  We should bring our loved ones to Christ, and bring Christ to those around us.  We can do this in several ways: by bringing people with us to Mass, by proclaiming the Gospel in Word and Deed, and by prayer.  Maybe you can't physically get your friends or family through the doors of the Church: maybe they simply refuse to go.  If you can't get them through the doors, bring them with you spiritually by offering up intentions on their behalf when you're there.  That's how you can bring them through the roof, so to speak.  Let our prayers for them rise like incense (Revelation 5:8, 8:4; Psalm 141:2), and ascend with the angels and with the Holy Spirit to the Throne.

In the case of venial sin in particular, our prayers here are guaranteed to be efficacious.  As St. John says, in 1 John 5:16-17:
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.
In other words, there's mortal sin (the sin that leads to death), but there are also sins which don't lead to death -- what we Catholics call venial sins. A person can die with venial sins on his conscience, and still be saved. And we should pray for exactly that: for God's forgiveness of our neighbors' venial sins. As for mortal sins, St. John isn't suggesting we don't pray at all. Rather, our prayer should be for the conversion of the person sinning.

Ary Scheffer,
Saints Augustine and Monica (1846)
St. Monica had an abusive pagan husband, and felt the pain of watching her son fall away from the Catholic faith.  He became a Manichee, and carried on a long-term relationship with a local woman, who bore him a son out of wedlock.  Monica prayed for her son constantly, and poured her heart out to St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.  Ambrose's reply shows that he grasped this passage from Mark.  He calmed her by promising that “it is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”  St. Ambrose was right, and Monica's son came back to the Catholic faith, becoming one of her greatest saints.  This story is recounted by Evangelical pastor Chuck Colson.

When we see someone we love in spiritual turmoil, we should pull out all the stops.  We should have the faith of St. Ambrose, and the love of St. Monica, and the courage of the paralytics' friends.  And of course, keep hoping; don't despair if your own efforts seem futile.  Perhaps God is giving you a crowded door to make you use the roof, or perhaps He's simply showing you that their salvation comes from Him, not you.  Take the obstacles as opportunities to grow in faith, love, and hope.

3 comments:

  1. Joe, thanks for this. I had a really tough phone call with a friend this morning who is making some rather questionable decisions.

    "And of course, keep hoping; don't despair if your own efforts seem futile. Perhaps God is giving you a crowded door to make you use the roof, or perhaps He's simply showing you that their salvation comes from Him, not you"

    Amen.

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  2. Thank you so much for this post. It is very encouraging.

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