Opening Our Hearts to Gifts of Healing

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When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. … My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:1, 4-5

When writing to the Corinthians, Saint Paul makes it clear that his proclamation of the gospel to them was not in wise words or intellectual persuasion. There was something about his testimony to Christ that was more than just words and ideas. As he puts it, his preaching was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”

What exactly does this mean? Drawing from the Fathers of the Church, the great 16th-17th century Jesuit commentator Cornelius A Lapide says that St. Paul is referring, at least partly, to “prodigies and miracles.”[1] As Saint Paul says in the same letter, “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor 4:20). A Lapide remarks, “The spiritual energy … in which God reigns … [is] not to be found in eloquence, but in the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, specifically in effective preaching, in the power of miracles, in the expulsion of demons, and … in the sufferings of the Apostle’s life … , and in conversion of character and in holy living.”[2]

As we know, miraculous healings and other manifestations of divine power filled the ministry of Christ, and continued in the ministry of the Apostles as “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mk 16:20). We’ve all read or heard stories of the great martyrs and confessors of the early Church whose deeds were accompanied by healings, exorcisms, and miracles. Going further in Church history, even into modern times, we know of many saints for whom God performed miraculous healings and amazing signs.

This we know, and we praise and thank God for it. These miracles, together with other healings and signs attributed to the intercession of the saints in heaven (often through relics and pilgrimage sites), stand among the many divine gifts that the Lord has granted to His Church for His glory and the furthering of the Kingdom of God. And we are to expect such signs: When our Lord commissioned the apostles, he declared, “These signs will accompany those who believe:  in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mk 16:17-18). Throughout the history of the Church, “these signs”—some more than others—have certainly accompanied “those who believe.”

But there can be a tendency subtly to restrict, artificially, the scope of our Lord’s declaration. “These signs” are meant to be found among “those who believe.” It would seem, then, that anyone among “those who believe” could become an instrument of the Lord in this way, not only the especially saintly among them. And there is additional evidence for this in the New Testament. When St. Paul writes to the Corinthians in his first letter, he writes as to ordinary lay Christians who (1) exercise gifts like prophecy, tongues, and healing, and yet (2) are far from perfect maturity in holiness. Despite this, he does not ask them to stop using or asking for these gifts, but quite the opposite – he exhorts them to “earnestly desire” them, even while he teaches them to subordinate the pursuit and use of the gifts to divine charity (see 1 Cor 12-14).

Furthermore, many of us are unaware that in the early Church, a great number of “ordinary” Christians performed such deeds in bearing witness to the gospel. According to the testimony of the Church Fathers, miraculous signs remained relatively abundant in the Church in the first centuries after the age of the apostles. When commenting on the Gospel of Mark chapter 16, verse 28, Cornelius A Lapide goes so far as to say that it is clear from the writings of Church Fathers that almost all Christians in the early Church wrought miracles of one kind or another.[3] For support, he cites Saint Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Lactantius, of the second and third centuries. Other early writers could also be cited in support of an (at least) relative commonness of miracles among ordinary Christians, especially in the context of evangelization: including Saint Irenaeus of Lyon (second century), Origen (third century), Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century), Saint Cyprian of Carthage (third century), Saint Hilary of Poitiers (fourth century), and others.

For example, in the second century, Saint Irenaeus wrote:

Those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils … Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up. … And what more shall I say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, throughout the whole world, has received from God … and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them. For as she has received freely from God, freely also does she minister.[4]

Even though he and other Fathers thought that there had been a great decline in the numbers of miracles, Saint Augustine bears a similar witness for us. In fact, at a certain point he began keeping records at the Shrine in Hippo of all the miraculous healings that occurred there.[5] Mostly, he cites healings occurring through shrines and relics, but also tells stories of healing involving the instrumentality of ordinary Christians.

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One story is especially significant. In his book The City of God, he tells the story of a Christian woman of high standing named “Innocentia,” who suffered from breast cancer. After praying, she received a dream in which she was told “to watch on the woman’s side of the baptistery and ask the first newly-baptized woman who met her to sign the affected place with the sign of Christ. This she did; and she was immediately restored to health.”[6] In the Confessions, furthermore, Saint Augustine cites an instance in which he was healed:

I have not forgotten, nor shall I pass in silence, the bite of Your scourge and the wonderful swiftness of Your mercy. During those days you sent me the torture of toothache, and when it had grown so agonizing that I could not speak, it came into my heart to ask all my friends there present to pray for me to You, the God of every kind of health. I wrote this down on my tablet and gave it to them to read. As soon as we had gone on our knees in all simplicity, the pain went. … Thus in that depth I recognized the act of Your will, and I gave praise to Your name, rejoicing in faith.[7]

The point in bringing out all of these witnesses to miraculous signs is this: to encourage us to open ourselves up to receiving divine blessings which are meant to further the divine mission of the Church, and build up her members.

Let’s stay focused in on healings. Among the many miraculous signs with which the Lord adorns his Bride, the Church, healings have a special place. Together with the driving out of demons, healing is one of the privileged signs of the Kingdom of God which Christ gave His Apostles and disciples the authority to perform in their missions of evangelization (see Mt 10:1-8; Lk 9:1-6, 10:1-8).

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Instruction on Prayers for Healing says,

Healings are signs of [Christ’s] messianic mission (cf. Lk 7:20–23). They manifest the victory of the kingdom of God over every kind of evil, and become the symbol of the restoration to health of the whole human person, body and soul. They serve to demonstrate that Jesus has the power to forgive sins (cf. Mk 2:1–12); they are signs of the salvific goods, as is the healing of the paralytic of Bethesda (cf. Jn 5:2–9, 19–21) and the man born blind (cf. Jn 9).[8]

The same document states that, “presuming the acceptance of God’s will, the sick person’s desire for healing is both good and deeply human, especially when it takes the form of a trusting prayer addressed to God”; and that it is “praiseworthy for individual members of the faithful to ask for healing for themselves and for others.”[9]

With all these things in mind, let’s broaden our view of things, and open up our hearts to the spiritual gifts, especially healing. As “signs of the salvific goods,” they are gifts at the service of evangelization.

We can’t conjure up miracles on our own; the Lord bestows them as He chooses. They are no infallible sign or guarantee of holiness, and like many gifts with which we may be endowed, they can become occasions of pride. But if we have stability and a measure of maturity in our spiritual lives, we may, in humility and reliance on God, ask the Lord to give us gifts of healing and any other spiritual gifts he desires to give us. Then, with the requirements of prudence in mind, we may even begin to pray with the sick for healing, while sharing the Good News with them.

Let’s end with a contemporary example of a healing. A Catholic evangelist with the charism of healing prayed over Sister Christine. This is her testimony:

He asked me what the problem was, and I told him that I was suffering from shingles. Then he told me to touch the area where the disease was, and I touched my chest, although my whole left breast was covered with them, and was aching so much. He started the prayer for healing, and then asked me if the pain was still there, or if it had gone away any. I touched the rashes on my body to see whether or not I could feel the irritation the clothes caused me in the affected area. I could feel almost no pain, and I also did not feel the rashes except the drying, wounded areas, and I answered that 80% of the pain had gone. He prayed again, and after that there was no itching, no irritation, and no pain. I only felt the hard scars of the wounded parts that seemed to have miraculously dried up. Shortly after we adjourned, I ran inside my room to remove my religious habit and see if what I felt was really true. When I looked, I noticed my shingles had withered. I saw only the withered tips of the wounds caused by the shingles. … I was very tired from the trip [when I arrived home in Nairobi], but very thankful, since the rashes and itching caused by the shingles never came again.

To go deeper into this topic, check out our book, Ordinary Christians, Extraordinary Signs: Healing in Evangelization.

[1] Cornelius A Lapide, Saint Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, The Great Commentary of Cornelius A Lapide (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2016), 33.

[2] A Lapide, Epistles to the Corinthians, 89.

[3] “In the early Church … almost all Christians wrought miracles, at least of certain kinds. … This is plain from Justin’s Dialogue Against Trypho, Tertullian (Apolog.), Lactantius, and others.” A Lapide, The Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark, The Great Commentary of Cornelius A Lapide (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2008), 110.

[4] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.32.4, accessed December 19, 2017,

[5] See Augustine, Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), 1043 (22.8).

[6] Augustine, City of God, 1039 (22.8).

[7] The Confessions of Saint Augustine, trans. F. J. Sheed (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1943), 191 (9.4).

[8] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Prayers for Healing, 2001, sec. 1.

[9] Instruction on Prayers for Healing, sec. 2.

Author: Mr. Mark J Hornbacher, OP

Mark is the Vice President of Programs and Director of Theology at St. Paul Street Evangelization. He has a MA in Theology and a B.Phil from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and a BA in Theology from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. With Steve Dawson, he is the co-author of Ordinary Christians, Extraordinary Signs: Healing in Evangelization. He is a lay Dominican, and resides in Sterling Heights, MI with his wife Gayle, and their two sons.

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