We have all seen the religious fraudsters on TV pretending to heal people. Over the last few decades, their demonstrations have been mostly staged, of course. There’s big money in the health and wealth Gospel these days. Healing people brings in big money, you know.
These charismatic con-men, however, have given the legitimate healers a bad name.
Yes, there are legitimate and authentic healers. The Catholic Church is usually not thought of as having “healing ministers”, but the Church does indeed recognize that God does award healing powers through certain people. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church.” (CCC, 1508)
I know one of these men personally and have known him since his seminary days at my home parish at St. Maurice Church. That was when he couldn’t keep a meal schedule straight for the rest of his seminarian brothers. Today, the Companions of the Cross, the Order he belongs to, don’t put him in charge of administrative duties. Why would they, when this man has a remarkable gift to heal people? I am speaking, of course, of Father Fernando Suarez whose gift is really something to behold.
I’ve been at many of his healing masses over the years at St. Maurice. Although he travels the world transforming people’s lives, he still does 2 healing masses a year (once in May and once in September) at St. Maurice, his “home parish” so to speak. (He jokes that he has a 25-year healing contract with the parish that one of the prayer groups was able to secure for us). Of course, the healing does not come from him personally. He is merely an instrument of God. That’s why some people get healed and others don’t. The Holy Spirit moves as He does according to people’s Faith and His Divine will.
Thursday night at St. Maurice, Father Fernando was in fine form…or should I say the Holy Spirit was. There were multiple healings. Some of the healings cannot really be verified since they are personal aches and pains. That’s not to say they did not happen. They happened for the people who felt relief. But, insofar as real proof for the skeptics, there needs to be “hard evidence”. And there are plenty of those too, the remarkable and medically unexplainable ones. People walking. Liver cancer cured. Terminal illnesses that suddenly disappear. Those latter ones are “where the rubber hits the road”, as they say, since neither medical science nor the non-believers can explain them. Those are the kinds of miracles that would count for “official miracle” material for canonizations.
Many times when people are especially blessed, they gently fall backwards when Fr. Fernando touches them. It’s a kind of peaceful and spiritual sleep that overcomes the person and where God presumably heals them in some spiritual way. I know this phenomenon since I have experienced it many times. It’s sometimes called being “slain in the spirit”. People who know me, know that I am not prone to this kind of stuff since I prefer “meat and potatoes” Catholicism for which these kinds of experiences are rather rare. Still, I can’t deny what I experienced and I believe it is from God.
To ensure that people do not harm themselves when they fall, there are “catchers” who position themselves directly behind the people who approach Father for a blessing, on the altar step. Their job is to “catch” people when they fall backwards. I estimate about one-third of people are actually “slain in the spirit” and 5% who allege receiving some apparent physical healing. I have been a “catcher” for the last 2 healing masses, so unlike the hundreds of people who show up from all over Ontario and Quebec for these healing masses, I get a close up look at what is going on at the front. There is no individual “show” which goes on for everyone to see. People approach the altar and line up across it. There might be 10-12 people across the altar step at any one time. Fr. Fernando merely travels from one end of the altar stage to the other, over and over again. This particular healing session lasted 3 hours. Everyone who approaches him gets touched and prayed over.
It’s amazing to watch Father Fernando. As he touches the person, but before a physical healing does take place, one can see that he feels there is something wrong with them. He instinctively knows it so he takes more time with the person and places his hands where the physical ailment is present. The people come from all backgrounds. Some people are devout. Others are run-o-the mill. Still others have not been to Church in years. And some are very angry at their predicament in life. I always love the reaction of people who haven’t been to church in a long time. Father Fernando prays over them and then tells them to start going to church. The look of shock invariably follows from the person seeking healing, since the priest and the patient are complete strangers to one another.
Last night, I saw a healing whose impact on me has yet to wear off. A young man in his early twenties made his way up on to the altar steps. He was apparently accompanied by his mother and two female family members, possibly sisters. I am not sure where he was in his faith journey, but as with cases like this, the mother or one sister tries to convince a son or sibling to seek help from a healing priest. You know the story, I’m sure: the doctors can’t help him; he’s in excruciating pain, and he’s tried everything but the pain won’t go away. That’s the gist of what I think surrounded this young man as he stepped into St. Maurice church. “What do I have to lose?” Indeed, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
When I saw him, I had a feeling that something was going to happen with this young man. (It should be noted that not everyone receives an immediate healing or the healing hoped for. Sometimes this reality is very hard to accept for many people, but how can finite creatures delve into the mysterious and inscrutable ways of God?) I was positioned just to the immediate right of this young man and could make out some of the details of his situation. As he does with everyone, Father Fernando asked the young man what he could do for him. The young man pointed to his lower back. Something about a spinal problem and problems bending down. Lots of pain too with morphine being prescribed as a pain medication to deaden the pain. Father put his hands on him, and almost immediately told him to bend down. The young man complied. Father Fernando patted him on the lower back. Pulled him up and asked him how he felt. The young man seemed startled. He didn’t say much. Father Fernado talked to him a bit more, then asked him to bend down again. This time when the young man came back up his lips were quivering as he spoke. Father then put his hands on him and the young man was “slain in the spirit”. After a few minutes, the young man returned to his feet and turned around to leave. Fr. Fernando came down from the altar step and directed him back to his place. He spoke with him some more and asked him to go over to the podium and tell everyone what had happened. “No more pain.” It was a miracle. I looked over at the family and they were crying. I was crying. The young man took a seat in the side front pew and was praying. As I glanced over to him from time to time as the evening wore on, he wouldn’t get up from kneeling. And he stayed in that pew until the very end of the service where he thanked Fr. Fernando once again and embraced him.
I shared this story with my wife when I returned home. I said to her, ” Can you imagine? Having experienced severe pain for many months if not years, walking into a church you’ve never been to, being prayed over by a priest you’ve never met or might never see again, not being particularly religious, and walking out of there a cured man?”
Just what kind of God do we serve? A very generous and benevolent one, it appears to me.