So, what’s your story?
“But he said to them, ‘To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.’” Words from our Gospel today from the 4th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Ours is a broken world, plagued with much pain and suffering: shattered relationships, war, poverty, hunger, abuse, natural disasters, sicknesses, and death. Sometimes, especially when we are in the midst of trouble, we feel overwhelmed by it all. Everything can seem out of place, and we can feel trapped and defined by our situation. We can wonder, why is this happening to me? In our first reading we encounter the character, Job, a righteous and upright man before God and others, who was himself beset with much suffering in his life. In many ways, he represents us and he puts into words just how we feel as we face the struggles of this world, describing how, in our loss of wholeness, we are restless as we relate to God, to our own selves, to others, and to the world.
Sometime ago, the movie The Fault in Our Stars came out to theatres based on the real story of Esther a young girl who had cancer and died tragically at the age of 16. In the beginning of the movie, the main character was asked, “What’s your story?” To which she replied, “I got cancer when I was 13.” “No, no, no, not your cancer story; your real story… Your hobbies, your passions, your weird fetishes.” “Well, I am quite unextraordinary.” “I reject that out of hand.” Where am I going with this? So many times, in life, the hardships we face can end up defining us. We forget who we are and what we are about, as our reality is subsumed by the suffering we face. How often are there a million beautiful and good things happening all around us, but all we remember from that day as our head hits the pillow at night is that one negative thing, playing over and over again in our minds. Well, there is more to our life than our cancer story. There is more to life than Covid. There is more to life than our ailing bones and worn eyes or mental struggles or emotional difficulties. There is more to life than our suffering and sin. How does that one doctor put it on the radio, “I don’t treat feet; I treat patients with foot problems.” So, what’s your real story? Your hobbies, your passions, your weird fetishes. You are more than your illness. And God recognizes that. You are extraordinary, always, in his eyes. The love of God for you and the compassion of our heavenly father is on display in the cross, where God suffers with you as a parent suffers for their ailing child, but even that is not the whole story, is it?
The story doesn’t end with Jesus’ death, but continues with resurrection and life. He redefines sickness, suffering, evil, death. St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that the sufferings of the present time are nothing in comparison to the glory that awaits us. Though the sufferings of the present occupy and preoccupy us, there is more to our story than our present futilities. These things are a drop in the bucket to the hope that is in store. We come today to this healing Mass, to claim that hope, to claim our Christian story, to refocus ourselves on the reality of heaven, following in the footsteps of St. Mary, our patron, who was assumed Body and Soul into heaven.
In the Gospel, we heard how Jesus was an answer to people’s prayers amidst the many sufferings they were facing. He healed Simon’s Mother-in-law from her fever. He cast out several demons, and that he healed many from their diseases. It was a long day of ministry, and even Jesus needed a little R&R after taking care of so many. Sound familiar? After another 24-hour Day of Mercy, I could use a little R&R too. But the good news, the gospel, is that this ministry goes on. Jesus declares, “I must go to the surrounding towns and villages – for this purpose I have come.” He is not burned out. He is a man on a mission. He is as determined as ever to set things right in a world that is in chaos, opening up for us new chapters in the story of the human race: that the Kingdom of God is at hand. And so, he goes to the surrounding towns and villages, and heals people in Migdal and Bethsaida and Taghba and Chorozin. And, today he has come to Swormville, he has come to Clarence, to east Amherst, New York to usher in the Kingdom of God among us, to heal and cast out demons and set things right. The Kingdom of God is breaking into this world as we encounter Jesus and come to know of his healing grace. We discover as we make our way through life that our own stories are situated in the larger narrative of salvation, and as our stories continue to unfold, God invites us to write the next pages together with his grace. And so, the saga continues.
Every time we celebrate this Eucharist and every time we celebrate the anointing of the sick, we receive that pledge of hope and a down payment of grace that gives us the strength and courage to move forward realizing that we are not defined by the sufferings of this present age but are ultimately defined by our relationship with God and the heavenly kingdom we are called into. With his help we are going to get through it. We’re going to get through it. May our encounter with the compassion and healing of Christ today allow us to keep reading, keep writing, keep pressing forward in hope to the next chapter: our heavenly destiny, to which Mary our patron has gone before.