Working with pre-health students, I get plenty of opportunities to read personal statements, those short essays that prospective pre-health candidates submit as a part of their applications for professional schools. I am constantly amazed at the variety of motivations that present themselves for students who desire to enter the healing professions. Some are motivated by an incident in their past lives, perhaps their own illness or that of a loved one. Others are motivated by watching a parent or family friend skillfully extend a healing hand. Others, sadly, are motivated by witnessing the results of a botched attempt at healing by another. All of these students have one thing in common: their hearts lead them to the field. They are passionate about healing.
Unfortunately, some of these students do not get admitted to their desired programs because they do not have high enough grades and suitable standardized test scores. It is not enough to have the heart for the profession -- they must also have the head, the brains for it. They must have an aptitude for science, knowledge of the physical processes that support life and enhance healing. This combination of heart and head is hard to find in a candidate, and those who have a great quantity of both get snatched up pretty quickly by professional schools.
Today's readings are about healing. In the first reading, the Lord is Ephraim's unknown healer. In the background, the Lord nourishes and draws the people of Ephraim to life. In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives His apostles their marching orders. They are to take an active role in curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and driving out demons. Clearly, the apostles cannot do this alone - they must act through the authority given them by Jesus.
This idea of the authority to heal, or gift to direct the healing power of God, is not discussed very often in advising circles (or if it is discussed, not openly). Yet here it is, in the Gospel: Jesus sends His apostles out on the road to heal. This suggests that mere knowledge and passion are not enough. A healer needs more than that. What am I, as an advisor to those who wish to enter the health professions, supposed to do with this passage? Ignore it? Print it out and hang it on my door? Or is there another path?
Might I suggest that those who become the best physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, etc., have three tools that they engage in the healing process: their passion for healing, their knowledge of science, and their authority to heal, which is powered by the inherent faith of the communities in which they work. It is this third dimension of which, I believe, Jesus is referring in His instructions to his apostles. He is instructing them in how to use the authority – God’s power – to heal, and in the importance of the faith community towards the success of this healing ministry.
As illustrated in other Gospel accounts, Jesus is unable to heal when He is among people with little faith. The healing power, then, might be thought to flow from the community of believers, and from the individual who wishes to be healed, not simply from the individual physician or treatment protocols. The environment in which the physician works does much to either aid or limit the healing process.
We must ask ourselves, then, how we might contribute to a healing environment. We are not all called to be healers, but perhaps we are all called to contribute in some way. Perhaps a good start is to reflect upon our commitment to that community of believers whose faith supports and empowers the healers among us. Do we open new wounds, or help soothe old ones? Do we nurture the sick back to health with our smiles? Or do we take care of our own and let the rest fend for themselves? How do we talk about the healing professionals in our communities? Do we voice our distrust in them? Or do we find ways to show our gratitude for what they’ve done for our communities?
" . . . They did not know I was their healer."
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