Monday, December 6, 2010

Of priesthood and friendship (Reflections on the healing of a paralytic, Monday, 2nd Week of Advent, Lk. 5:17-26)

The most peculiar point of today’s gospel reading is found in v. 20: “When he saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘As for you, your sins are forgiven”.

The New Testament records a number of healing-miracles wrought by Jesus. Today’s reading, however, adds an interesting and important side-note to these healings: namely, the role that relationships and friendships play in being healed and being made whole.

Notice that it wasn’t the paralyzed man who came to Jesus; it was his friends who brought him. Their faith in Jesus, their love and care for him, became instruments by which he was healed.

One of the things I’ve come to realize throughout my many years in seminary is the importance and value of making and nurturing good and holy friendships. Never underestimate the power of the friendships and relationships you forge in seminary. They serve as our support and our source of strength in our vocation, our life, and our ministry.

Each time I look back and remember the moments of serious challenge and crisis I’ve encountered, both as a seminarian and as a priest, one thing has been constant, and that is the movement of God’s grace effected through the friends he has sent me along the way. I would not have made it to ordination if it weren’t for these friends. I would not have remained a priest had it not been for them.

Stephen Rossetti, in his book “Ten Steps to Priestly Holiness”, counts good friendships among the ten steps, putting it at number five. Let me just quote a little bit of what he says:

“In my study of priesthood, a solid 87.5 % of the 2441 priests said they had close priest friends, and 93.1 % said they had good lay friends who are an emotional support for them. A summary finding on the newly ordained, found that those who left the priesthood generally felt lonely, isolated, unappreciated, and disconnected. There is a very strong connection between solid friendships and healthy living for celibate priests”.

More than this, however, Rossetti adds that the presence of “good friendships” is strongly predictive of the quality of a priest’s relationship with God. “The truth is unmistakable”, he says, “if we want a deeper relationship with God, we must nurture deeper relationships with others”.

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven”.

The paralytic in today’s gospel reading was brought to Jesus, received forgiveness, was healed and made whole, because of the care, concern, and faith of those whom he called friends. It is, for us, both an encouragement and invitation, to develop and nourish, the same kind of bonds.

As the book of Sirach says:

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a certain treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a healing remedy, and he who fears God such friend shall find. (Sir 6:14-17)

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)