Spiritual pilgrimage & backyard healings

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Ah, October, month loveliest in color of all the twelve. Time now, after summer travels, for football and the pungent aroma of hickory-smoked barbecue as folks gather around tailgates with high expectations that, come December, their beloved warriors will undoubtedly favor them with a national championship; hubris unbounded!

For many summer tourist types, summer travels may have taken them to fascinating, far-off places. If you happen to be a Catholic vacationer your itinerary may even have taken you to the well-known shrine of Lourdes in France with its renowned stream of cool, clear running water and, indeed, the public evidence of many cures that have occurred there. Many people of my own acquaintance have made that very same journey, not simply to enjoy a foreign vacation but with the hope in God’s healing power.

Of course, simply paying a visit to one’s own local parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Cincinnati, for instance, might also authenticate one’s faith. However, the very thought of traveling to a far-off destination with a sacred history will inevitably prove to be an overwhelming desire.

When I first read through the Sacred Scriptures that you will hear proclaimed on Sunday, Oct. 9, in your local parish, it occurred to me that they speak of the relationship between healing and some particular geographical location. Bear with me.

The first reading comes to us from the Book of Kings and tells of a certain Syrian general, Naaman, who is afflicted with the disfigurement of leprosy. Unaware of any healing streams in his own country, he is advised that in the foreign land there is a certain healer named Elisha. Contrary to his dislike for travel to foreign lands, Naaman consents. Arriving there, Elisha advises him simply to go bathe in the cool, clear, curative waters of the Jordan River. And wouldn’t you know it, to his amazement, he is healed. All this may sound a bit bizarre but the lesson seems to be that with faith and the willingness to travel abroad, healing is possible.

The Gospel for this same Sunday notes, that with faith, the healing power of God knows no geographical or cultural boundaries. In this instance, Jesus travels through the foreign land of the Samaritans. Ten men afflicted with leprosy approach him for healing. Jesus could simply have said, “I do no healings for foreigners in this foreign land.” But geography and culture are not limitations for Jesus. “Be healed,” he said; and so it was!

It occurs to me that there is a certain healing power in traveling itself, even if it is simply a matter of lifting one’s weight off the couch on a Sunday afternoon and heading for park. Here you will find little kids splashing in the community swimming pool, cyclists dodging joggers and many enjoying the freedom and community that comes from meeting others who are out for the same reason you are, to be healed of the burdens of the week. In short, trips to Lourdes or Fatima can be spiritually inspiring pilgrimages but we must also remember that another kind of healing can take place in our own neighborhood. Lounging near the barbecue with family and friends, a cool drink in hand on a Sunday evening, can do marvels for our worried souls.


Oct. 9th Scriptures

2 Kings 5:14-17

2 Timothy 2: 8-13

Luke 17: 11-19


The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.

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