“Isaiah 6, Lourdes, and the Glorious Touch of Love that Liberates” (2/10/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
At some point you’ve probably have found yourself outside in the midst of a thunder storm. It can be a rather exhilarating experience. It can be thrilling but also a little frightening to be among the loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightening. We are pretty sure we are safe, but at times a primal terror can overtake us rising up from the depths of our being. We are fascinated by the thunder and lightning but also terrified by it. It’s quite an experience.
And sometimes something similar can happen in the presence of God. The experience is usually a bit more subtle, spiritual, and gentle but a similar sense of awe can overtake us. We suddenly have a strong sense of God’s presence, of His majesty, of His infinite unbounded being, of the greatness of His might, and of His holiness. The glory of God overtakes us and we instinctively bow in reverence.
Our First Reading from Isaiah 6 places us in this context of awe. Isaiah is in the temple in the presence of God Most High, who is seated on a high and lofty throne. If kings have long trains of their robe to show their majesty, the train of the Lord’s garment fills the whole temple—circling around and around. The Lord is majestic and we owe Him more honor than any king. Then the whole temple structure shakes before the majesty of God, like in the midst of thunderclaps. The primal terror we find amidst loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightening overtakes Isaiah too. Smoke fills the place, manifesting and yet hiding the glory of God which always stretches out beyond our grasp. And the highest angels, the Seraphim cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”
Our First Reading today from Isaiah chapter 6 places us before the glory of God. As the Old Testament captures well, the glory of God can be a terrifying thing. He is so great and so far beyond us that we can only stammer “How great Thou art” “How great Thou art.”
When Jesus comes to us. This greatness and awe is not taken away. God is still just as glorious, and in fact even more glorious, but from Jesus we learn that the glory of God is love. Love is at the heart of God’s glory. In our Gospel today, Peter too is stuck with terror as Jesus’ divinity is revealed and Jesus is seen as the Lord of creation. Jesus is Lord of all the fishes of the sea, so when he tells Peter to cast the net for a great catch of fish. It happens. And Peter is terrified by it all. He falls at the knees of Jesus and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Over time Peter will discover that this Jesus is rightly to be held in reverence and awe and worshipped as God, but he will learn that love is at the heart of it all. As a seraphim touched the mouth of Isaiah with a burning coal, so Jesus will touch the hearts of men and women with a burning touch of love. And this love heals us and lifts us up. God is glorious, but we need not draw back in fear. We approach him confidently because we know God is Love and he can heal our souls and lift us up and make us whole.
Today after Mass we will be doing something special. Tomorrow is Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick. So after Mass today we will pray for the sick and those in need of God’s healing touch of love. I will give the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to those who are seriously sick. And for the others I will give a special blessing with the Oil of St Joseph. I will speak in more detail about this later but I wanted to mention it now. Because the glorious God’s healing touch of love is still active. God has acted in glorious ways at Lourdes but also in some more hidden ways more common among us. God’s healing and uplifting touch of love is still at work. Let me share a story about a glorious act of God’s love.
I once read a collection of testimonies of those who have been healed at Lourdes. Among these pilgrims to Lourdes, the words of one especially struck me. It was the 66th official healing recognized by the Church authorities there. So it went through the long process of investigation and confirmation, including eleven years of medical exams in the years that followed. So it’s a very credible healing. The report declares the healing to be “certain, unique and definitive.”
Basically in October of 1987, Jean-Pierre Bely, age 51, was carried to Lourdes after having suffered from a severe form of multiple sclerosis for 15 years. He himself was a nurse and received medical treatment during this whole time, all of it being documented, but the disease became worse and worse, until he was completely bed-ridden. He could not walk or even move much.
Laying in the sickroom at Lourdes, on Friday, October 9, 1987, he experienced a sense of cold which grew stronger and became painful. But this was followed by a feeling of warmth which grew in intensity and spread throughout his whole body. Later in the night he was awoken by the feeling of a hand on his hip, a touch of someone, with the words “Get up and walk.” He saw no one. But he obeyed and stood up and walked. And he’s been walking ever since. He was healed. It’s an amazing cure. It’s really astounding.
But what struck me even more than this was something he said about the experience. It’s only eight words but for me it captures the deepest grace of Lourdes. And it’s the grace of Lourdes available to all of us. In the time at Lourdes before the healing he says, “I discovered a feeling of love that liberates” (Wonders of Lourdes, 440). “I discovered a feeling of love that liberates.” That was something new for him. And the love of Jesus and Mary did liberate him in a glorious way. Most importantly it liberated his soul, but this love also worked through his body and liberated him from his physical ailments. The warmth of this love spread through his whole being. “I discovered a feeling of love that liberates.”
In the Gospel for tomorrow, we’ll read, “Whatever village or towns or countryside [Jesus] entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel of his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.”
This is still happening today in Lourdes as the God of glory is still with us. And it is still happening today in the Sacraments of the Church. We will gather the sick today after Mass to be touched by Jesus through the Anointing of the Sick. And even in this Eucharist we now celebrate, we touch Jesus. We touch not only the tassel of his cloak, but we touch Jesus himself: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. We touch Jesus and He touches us with the fire of love. We open ourselves to whatever healing he may wish to give us, spiritual or bodily. And most importantly, we open ourselves to the love of Jesus and Mary. The glory of God is love, and it heals and lifts us up. May we too, discover this love that liberates.