Jesus Can Heal our Fevers, Too
“[Jesus] approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.”
A story by Thomas Farragher, from The Boston Globe, in November of 2017.
The way to Ender’s Island off Mystic, Connecticut, is a tiny one-lane bridge. But for the teens and young adults whose lives have been wrecked by drugs and alcohol, who have left behind a trail of betrayal and defeat, of hopelessness and paralyzing fear, it’s nothing less than the passage of a lifetime.
On the other side of that bridge, they are met by Father Tom Hoar. He asks a simple question: “Have you had enough?”
It’s a question he’s had to confront himself a long time ago. Now it’s a question that he helps others answer, step by step, day by day.
“I’m grateful for God’s blessing in my life and in the life of the folks who come across that causeway,” Father Hoar says. “Because people who come across that causeway are looking for hope.”
Hope has been the heart of Father Hoar’s ministry for nearly 40 years. Father Tom is president of St. Edmund’s Retreat, a place of refuge for those suffering the carnage of the nation’s opioid and alcohol addiction crisis. Father Tom knows what they are going through. He was there himself once.
He remembers, “I never felt good enough, and never smart enough … . Even though I excelled in school, internally I never felt good enough. And you see that in many alcoholics and addicts. I could preach a great sermon on how much God loves you. I wasn’t always sure He loved me. Even though I achieved, I lived in fear.”
Consequently, he developed a taste for good wine, top-shelf whiskey, and fine cognac. And it finally caught up with him in October 1989 at the college where he was serving as campus minister. He was alone, drinking in his room, when a fire broke out a mile down the road. He was the fire department chaplain at that time, so he answered the alarm. When he arrived, he was confronted by both the dean of students and the fire chief: “Have you been drinking?“
Father Hoar denied it: “No, no, no, no … I just went out to dinner and had a few drinks.“
So, he made his way home through the flashing red and blue lights. When he got home, he looked in the mirror and took stock: “I said what the heck am I doing? And that was my last drink.”
At Ender’s Island he set up a recovery residence for college-aged men. Those who walk the bridge typically stay for three to 12 months of post-treatment recovery and counseling. They develop personal and social skills and sketch educational and life goals. More than 70 percent — a remarkable figure — go on to lead productive lives in sobriety.
It’s a struggle to keep the program going financially. His board of trustees have told Father Tom that “hope is not a business plan.” But Father Tom always finds a way to work another life-changing miracle on Ender’s Island.
Today, we hear about the cure of the apostle Peter’s mother-in-law and other healings.
In the public life of Jesus we find many touching episodes which show the high regard that He had for everyday family life.
In reference to this total, instantaneous cure of St. Peter’s mother-in-law, St John Chrysostom writes, “Since this was a curable type of illness he displayed His power through the way He brought about her healing, doing what medicine could not do. Even after being cured of fever, patients need time to recover their former strength, but here the cure was instantaneous.”
St. Ambrose saw in the mother-in-law’s fever a symbol of concupiscence, which is an inordinate and excessive desire. St. Ambrose writes that, “Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever represents our flesh affected by various illnesses and excessive desires; our fever is passion, our fever is anger, our fever is lust, our fever is sloth or envy or gluttony — vices which, although they affect the body, disturb and trouble the soul, the mind and the emotions.”
On the practical consequences of this healing, St Cyril writes: “Let us receive Jesus Christ, because when He visits us and we take Him into our minds and hearts, even our worst passions are extinguished and we are kept safe to serve Him, that is, to do what pleases Him.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, we read that Jesus “grasped” the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law and “helped her up.” The Greek verb in the original text literally means “he raised her up.” And the mother-in-law responded “by waiting” on them — in the Greek text, “she served him.” This moment in Mark’s Gospel mirrors the dynamic between God and us: God “raises us up” out of our own excessive desires and our illnesses and our addictions, and our despair, enabling us to better serve Him by making similar miracles of hope happen in our “service” of compassion and healing to others.
Through the healing mercy and transforming grace we experience from Christ, we can, in turn, become “bridges” like Father Hoar on Ender’s Island, helping others to rise up and walk again in the light and grace of God and better serve Him in Jesus Christ.
Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!