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It Takes Guts to Be Healed: A Meditation on the Difference Between Healing and Relief

September 6, 2011

I recently came across the following dialogue. I do not know the source, though it is in the form of the sayings of the desert Fathers:

To a distressed person who came to him for help the Abbot said, “Do you really want a cure?” And the man replied, “If I did not, would I bother to come to you?” “Oh yes” said the Abbot, “Most people do.” “If not for a cure, then for what do they come?” asked the distressed man. And the Abbot said, “They come not for a cure, that’s painful. They come for for relief.”

Yes, real cures, and substantial healing are not easy. Often true healing comes only after lengthy surgery, whether physical or spiritual. And those who have sought true healing know, and have come to experience, that it takes guts to be healed.

True spiritual and moral healing requires that we accept significant change and be willing to have our thinking and habitual practices challenged and replaced. In confronting what ails us, we often come to discover that its cause is far deeper than we thought, and that its remedies are far more sweeping and paradoxical than we had imagined.

Once, in the aftermath of a nervous breakdown, that saw me hospitalized for a week and ordered to take a month off to recuperate, I went to a priest and spiritual director who specialized in the care of priests in need of psycho-therapeutic counseling. I explained to him that I had frozen in fear, and panic, and I felt my life had gone out of control. “I never want my life to go out of control again,” I said. He said, “Until you let go of your need to be in control, you will never be well.”

Paradoxical indeed, and scary too. But I have discovered through the years how right he was. My only way “out” of my anxiety was to journey deeper toward its center and find the Lord waiting for me there. Yes, it took guts to be healed. And I’m glad the Lord didn’t let me run somewhere else for mere relief. Healing was harder than relief, but better and lasting.

The Lord Jesus was journeying one day through Jericho (cf Luke 18:35ff) and a certain blind man kept calling out, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!” Finally the Lord stopped and asked this blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” A strange question, perhaps, to ask of a blind man. But consider that this man’s life will be totally changed if Jesus heals him. More will be expected of him and it will no longer be tolerated that he should sit and beg of others. All that he has known will vanish as a new world, and new expectations dawns on him. So Jesus asks what he really wants, healing or relief? “Lord I want to see!” And he not only saw, but proceeded to follow Jesus up the road. A new vision, a new path, a new destination, a new life. It takes guts to be healed.

And so Jesus asks you and me too, “What do you want me to do for you?” Careful how you answer. Remember, it takes guts to be healed. Too many want mere relief and not real healing. They want comfort rather than true change.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

As you view this video, I ask your prayers for a young man (in his late 20s) who visited the parish this week. He came back to the church of his childhood, remembering a more innocent and simple time in his life. And now that his life has become hell though drugs and other bad choices, he has a decision to make. Pray that he has the guts to accept the long healing he will need to come forth from his hell on earth. As I heard his story I thought of this song:

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  1. Bill Robberson says:

    Father, your vulnerability is magnetic.

    Thank you for being you.

  2. Nguyen Thuong Minh says:

    Epistle 251
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope preached Gospel according to Matthew 20:29-34.
    Gut of the Gospel is two blind men receive sight.
    Secondly, now permit me to discuss some matters to relate to the homily hereafter:
    My Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, has around ten millions of people, in which around five millions of people are residents (local people). The rest are non-residents.
    We, Catholics of Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, don’t know how to build our city because we are blind Catholics.
    Therefore, we want our sight here below:
    It needs to establish direct and comprehensive relations between Archdiocese of Washington and Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City.
    It needs to establish direct and comprehensive relations between Washington, D.C. and Ho Chi Minh City.
    Washington, D.C. is a future model of Ho Chi Minh City.
    Population pressure is our problems, while we are blind people.
    Hence, we may invite Msgr. Charles Pope and Cardinal-Archbishop of Archdiocese of Washington to come our city in order to give us a vision.
    We expect Msgr. Charles Pope and Cardinal-Archbishop of Archdiocese of Washington to come here as soon as possible./.

  3. Matt says:

    Thanks for this blog post. It’s very timely indeed. I just heard some words from the priest in the confessional that shook me up and will hopefully get me out of the spiritual doldrums I’ve been experiencing lately. Your post reinforces that message. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit screams at you sometimes. I just wish my ears could be more open so that I could better appreciate His message.

  4. Pegofmar1 says:

    Oh, dear, Father, will you accept his invitation? What a beautiful reflection that I needed to hear today. Healing or relief. Thank you.

  5. Pegofmar1 says:

    Monsignor, would you mind giving the name of the artist who did the beautiful painting, please. My husband Tim is having bad vision problems as the result of chemo for cancer in his foot. Thank God the cancer is gone but now he cannot drive and has problems with depth perception and the sun is particularly hard for him even wearing sunglasses. Thank you. Peg in Denver, CO

  6. Janet says:

    Thank you for this challenging blog! Pray for me that I will take the plunge and be healed.

  7. Rebecca says:

    Monsignor Pope:

    Thank you, Thank you, because of your ability to be completely open and share the depth of your faith-I have been stronger as I follow your example to move towards deep healing rather than merely needing comfort and relief.

    My prayer for the young man to came to the parish and spoke with you is sincere as I pray for all those suffering and in need of healing.


  8. Achilles says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope, this is very beautiful and terrifyingly true! Pax Christi vobiscum!

  9. Daniel Vincent Andrews says:

    Oil Painting by Brian Jekel, link below:

    …following the Way…

  10. Katherine G ERT says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It has made me see that when we are in the helping professions (fire, EMS, ER, police, priesthood, etc) that it is easy to get overwhelmed, burnt out, or need help at times. I have not been so strong in my faith lately, and it helps to see that the priests I may turn to have struggled at times as well. True healing can take a long time, and it can be hard to have strong faith with the tough stuff.

  11. Rehana says:

    Thank you Father Pope for sharing this beautiful message. Precious gifts and gems you have given us from the Lord–may He be praised and blessed forever in heaven! And may He have mercy upon us in most need of His mercy and healing.

    In listening to the beautiful song in the clip and the words, ‘So breathe in me, I need you can breathe new life in me again’ the Lord put it in my heart to see that each gift we give to others, we must first snuggle to our bosom to kiss and love and caress, to breathe in its sweetness, and then– to offer and set free for the Beloved. Thank you truly again Father.

  12. Vijaya says:

    Healing or relief? I confess that most of the time I have prayed for relief, but I have asked for healing and recieved it. I did not expect my thinking to be “healed” too, but the two are linked. I have also learned to accept suffering as a cross to bear, to become closer to our blessed and merciful Lord.

    Prayers for the young man, and for our sick family and friends.
    God bless you.

  13. Jim says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope. I’m reminded of how the truth of the healing process (most often slow, steady, painful) runs counter to our culture. Where the culture grasps for material (sensual) things for immediate help, the ultimate answers are most often spiritual and total gifts. Thank you for your service to all of us and being a witness to the Truth…. Cheers, Jim

  14. Susan says:

    Thank you Father for this beautiful post. I take this to heart and will be sharing it.

  15. Don Johnston says:

    I have an uncle who is struggling with cancer and while he hasn’t been told it’s incurable, it doesn’t look good. He is an athiest, however he has lots of friends and family members praying for his healing. Our parish priest gave a homily not long ago and said something that will always stay with me. “God does heal people upon His own choosing and for His reasons which we may never understand, however he who is healed will eventually still die. God is in the business of healing souls more than he is in the business of healing bodies.”

    Blessings to you!

  16. John W. says:

    Monsignor, I would like to meet you please some time to talk? I will see you at Mass and maybe after on Sunday at 5pm at Old St. Mary’s. I need to travel the road you’ve gone….

  17. Rebecca says:

    How very timely–thank you, Holy Spirit. Thank you for being His vessel, Monsignor.

  18. Jean says:

    Monsignor Pope,

    I have suffered from anxiety all my life. Two years ago during a very difficult period, I, too, had a nervous breakdown. (My mother had to take care of my children, I couldn’t get out of bed, I stopped eating, I shook so bad I couldn’t even write.) But it was during this time that I truly came back to the faith (and that surprised me–I was angry at God that I was going through this but felt a pull nevertheless. Something kept telling me to hang on to God.)

    I had flirted with returning to the faith of my childhood for the past several years. But God finally got my attention with this last anxiety episode and I had to make a choice once and for all: Do I want healing or relief? (Plenty of doctors were willing to load me up on medication to zone me out to get some “relief.”)

    My healing came when I let go of the need to be in control and accepted that God would put me where I needed to be to do his will. I no longer pray for specific things but for the strength to do God’s will in whatever circumstances I find myself in.

    God bless you for this post!

  19. Paula says:

    I’ve been experiencing severe anxiety and keep praying to the Lord for help, your article made me realize that I have been looking for relief, a return to what feels normal/comfortable vs healing. Thank you for this truth.
    God bless.

  20. Cheryl says:

    May God hold you always in His Heart. I pray for the young man, and I bring my own addiction to the foot of the cross…for HEALING. It is frightening to ask for that, but I must.