Healing is always possible

  • January 26, 2007

When Dave waved hello I thought, as usual, what a strong, friendly face he has. Today, those good looks were obscured by haggard gray gauntness, somewhat incongruous under the curly hair and jaunty boyish cap. He asked me how I was, flicked his cigarette, and nodded: "I'm OK. I'm back on drugs, but it's all good."

How can he ever be free of this affliction before it crushes him (and possibly those around him) completely? He was introduced to hard drugs at the age of nine by his mother. Thirty years later, it's difficult to hold out hope for his recovery, outside a miracle.

A miracle! Why not? Why couldn't God heal this man? It's easy to say, "God could heal anybody," and may be easy to believe it. But how can this person be healed of this relentless wound?

Our quest for healing is hidden in the story of a saint we celebrate Feb. 2. If you grew up Catholic, you probably recall the strange sensation of crossed beeswax candles caressing your neck as the priest murmured a prayer for healing on the feast of St. Blaise. Blaise (or Vlasios, Blasius or Biagio, depending upon the language), a bishop in Armenia, has had a huge following since his death in the fourth century. He's celebrated with great love in Eastern and Western Christianity, though little is known of his life.

We do know he was put to death rather than worship a god other than the God of Jesus Christ, and that he's considered a healer. Our own desperate need of healing and wholeness is reflected in the fervent honour paid to Vlasios throughout the centuries.

Vlasios is associated with neck and throat ailments. First, because as he was being taken to his execution, a woman brought him her son who had a fishbone stuck in his throat, and through Vlasios' prayers the boy was healed.

Stories of miraculous cures may seem unhelpful, especially when our own wounds won't budge. But we need to treasure and retell these stories of healing. They remind us that healing is divine work. God shares with us the privilege of healing, because He wants us to be like Him; and when we act as healers, we become more like God.

St. Vlasios heals only by the power of Christ whose help he begs.

Second, because Vlasios' death was by a sword-blow to the neck, it may seem curious that we entrust our necks to him, who died from a neck-wound. But healing comes in the place of our greatest vulnerability. This often means the place we hide and protect, so that it can't see the light.

Elena was a young woman who grew up with a deep sense of shame in herself. She knew she was intelligent and could do many things, but deep down she had trouble believing she was worth anything. When a relationship ended badly, she was afflicted in her spot of greatest vulnerability: she felt unworthy of love.

How cruel, when we are wounded right where we need to be healed. How astonishing, when out of that greater wounding comes a greater healing.

One day Elena was trying on clothes in a shop. She looked at herself in the mirror; beside her was a pretty young girl, whose reflection also Elena could see. "Well, at least there is one beautiful thing in that mirror." She walked away not knowing she had spoken aloud. To her surprise, a man hurried after her. The father of the young girl, he'd heard Elena's words, and followed her to say: "There were two beautiful women reflected in that mirror."

Elena remembers that moment as a turning point, a healing of her inner shame. She began to hear and accept herself as love-worthy.

Healing comes in the particular way each person needs. It's surprising. It comes in its own time. It can be agonizing. It has definitive moments, yet is continual.

And God works it with and through humans, in the strangest ways, in ways that connect us. If you read for yourself the story of Vlasios, you will find many other stories told with his — the boy with the fishbone, the seven women taken prisoner on account of their devotion to him, the woman with the lost pig. The story of Vlasios simply cannot be told on its own. That's how healing happens, too.

How then can Dave's addiction be healed? Does Elena's story, or Vlasios', make any difference? They at least give hope; they remind that healing is always possible. They show the value of shared suffering and of never giving up on anyone. And they say that escaping vulnerability is not always the best answer.

In the strange otherness of God's ways, it may be that Dave's deep vulnerability is where God most loves to dwell, and from where Dave's healing will come. At a time we don't know.

Feast of St. Blaise, Feb. 2 (West), Feb. 11 (East)