July 9, 2011 by Nicole
Part of our itinerary while at Lourdes was to attend daily mass, and on the second to last day of our time at Lourdes, we had the opportunity to celebrate mass with a priest from Kansas City. The homily he gave was unlike any other message I have ever heard, and the message was one I had been longing to hear for some time. I think for the first time in my life, God actually answered my “Why?” question.
As a person who suffers from depression, I often wonder from time to time why I have this disease, but more frequently, the nature of my illness causes me to wonder why life is so difficult, so dark, so lonely, and so acutely painful on the days when I find myself struggling to get past what’s bothering me, or to wonder if God is actually up there with me as He promised he would be.
At this particular mass, however, I experienced one of the most powerful moments of my whole pilgrimage. As I said earlier, we were joined by a priest from Kansas City, who gave the homily. Now, to understand why this particular homily stood out, you need to know that the previous evening, I had been thinking a good deal about whether I would be cured at Lourdes, and had been walking around singing the Taize version of “Ubi Caritas” on my way back to the hotel to go to bed, trying to remember exactly what the English translation was (“Where charity and love are, God is there,” if you’re curious.)
The next morning, we gathered at St Joseph’s Chapel. One thing that struck me as a bit odd is that all week long, we had had a cantor to sing the hymns and the psalms at mass, but for this particular mass, we did not. In fact, the entire mass was spoken–even the psalm. Mass began, and one of our priests, Fr. Ed, opened the mass by telling us about how the Lord always promises healing, but not always a cure. That was to be the focus of mass, which grabbed my attention right away.
It was during the homily, though, that I was really taken aback. The priest from Kansas City described how he had once been working at another shrine where many healings were taking place, and he found himself asking God to cure him from his weaknesses, his pain, and so on. Why others and not him? From the tone of his voice, it was very obvious that he was a person who had really been there. He said that he prayed about it many times while he was there, but God’s answer to his prayer was always “no.” God would heal him, he said, but not cure him.
He said that he discovered something very important from this ongoing conversation with God; he said that sometimes those things from which we ask to be cured are not cured because they serve a very important purpose: they are God’s connection to our heart. He said that it is in our weakness and in our sin that God has the greatest opportunity to express his love the most. When we do penance and seek true conversion of heart, it is in those moments that we experience the fullness of God’s love and mercy.
God works, he explained, through our weakness and sin–it provides the doorway through which God enters the heart and expresses his love. In these moments of weakness, pain,, sin, and failure, God shares a loving relationship with us and we see how good God’s love is. Sometimes the answer to a prayer for a cure is no for a very important reason. To be cured, as the priest explained, would close that doorway. “Jesus loves you so much–too much,” he said, “to want to lose that doorway through which He connects with you.” To lose that doorway–that connection to God–would close off the avenue that binds a person to Him. To lose touch with God’s healing, his mercy, his Grace, and the close intimacy with Love that we all hunger after.
It occurs to me that because of our human nature, which is flawed, broken, and marred by sin–that we stray from God; but because of that same fallen nature that makes us human is also what allows God to love us, to shape us, and to help us grow into the person that God ultimately wants us to become. We are, after all, made perfect in His Love.
But even more importantly, listening to this particular message went even deeper. It’s hard to describe, but on one hand, yes, I was sitting there seeing a priest, but it was as though the voice was from somewhere else–as though Jesus was right there in that chapel talking face to face, right to me. I remember so vividly hearing that priest say how much Jesus loves me, but the way I heard it made me swear there was someone else in that chapel behind the pulpit–using and speaking through that priest from Kansas City right to me personally. I remember feeling so much love, so much relief, so much comfort that I started crying.
As I said, there was no cantor that day, and the whole mass had been spoken. No opening hymn, no chanted psalm, no offertory song, and no closing song. The only song that was sung that mass was by that priest from Kansas City, spontaneously right after receiving Holy Communion, and it was a Taize hymn: “Ubi caritas.”