Fr. Marcus Milless
World Day of the Sick 2019
Well, thank you all for coming. It’s such a joy to be with all of you, who care for the sick and suffering and also those who are sick. It’s a great act of humility that you’re here, and we know that the Holy Spirit is moving and that the healing work is here in this room and most especially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So let’s begin with prayer.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Heavenly Father, we praise and thank You for this day. We thank You for the gift of our lives. We ask that You continue to sanctify us and help us draw closer to You, and we ask all of this in Your Most Holy Name, Lord Jesus. Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, this morning’s talk is simple. It’s Restoring the Power to Heal, and those are Biblical words. The inspiration for the title of this talk came from the Basilica. There’s a stained glass window in the back of the Basilica of Our Lady, and underneath it says, “And the power was with Him to heal.” I thought, “Where the heck does that come from?” and so I looked up the Scripture reference. It’s from Luke’s Gospel, and it’s from the story of the healing of the paralytic. Before Jesus even heals the paralytic, it says the power of the Lord was with Him to heal, and what’s so beautiful about that is it shows that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, and if you look at the sequence of that Gospel – first what Jesus does before He heals the crippled man. He is with his apostles whom He just called. This is in Luke chapter 5, verse 12 and following. He first goes out to heal the leper, and it says this: “While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy, and when he saw Jesus he fell on his face and begged Him, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him saying, “I will. Be clean,” and immediately the leprosy left him.
Now what’s striking is what happens next. Do they continue on? No. What happens is that “so much more the report went abroad concerning him and the great multitudes gathered to hear and be healed of their infirmities.” So the crowds were gathering, they heard the Word, they wanted healing, and what does Jesus do? He withdrew to the wilderness and prayed. He withdrew and prayed. Power went forth from him. We heard that in the Scripture this last week – the woman who was hemorrhaging touched Jesus and power went forth from Him. Power went forth from Jesus. And we see power went forth when He healed the leper, but that power needed to be restored. And Jesus Himself, the Son of God, went to the wilderness and prayed.
And then we hear the story of the healing of the paralytic, and it says: “On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem, and the power of the Lord was with Him to heal. And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus. But finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles in the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven.’” The power was with Jesus, and how does Jesus first use His power? – as the bishop mentioned, to forgive sins. He stole my thunder, but I’ll give it to you. He forgave his sin, and who knows what happened to this paralyzed man? You know what happens; you work in hospitals. Maybe there was a drinking bout, maybe they were acting crazy – who knows what happened? But Jesus forgave his sin. And so that they might believe, He also tells him, “Rise and walk.”
The message is simple. Jesus has the power to heal, and He exercises it through the sacraments, through His humanity. And because of that, He needed time to rest, time to be made new, and He did that in prayer. And that is important not just for hospital chaplains, but for doctors, nurses, and all health care workers.
Now, in preparing for this talk, the theme too of the World Day of the Sick from the pope is “Freely you have received; freely give.” “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” And that’s me. I have received the grace of healing; I have received that grace from doctors and nurses like you, and not only that, I have received it through prayer. I just want to back up too and just acknowledge some people here – this is off the cuff here, but I also learned how to heal in high school. I got a call when I was 17 years old from Joe and Margie – please stand up. They weren’t looking for this. They’ve taken kids with special needs and many of them who were rejected by the world, and so they came to their house and received the healing power of Jesus, and how many kids have you adopted?
“We adopted twelve.”
They adopted twelve; twelve apostles, so … And one thing Margie told me when I started is, “This is Jesus.” I said, “What are you talking about?” I did say that, but as I worked there and cared for the kids and worked with one in particular for a long time – Nicholas – bathed him and cared for him – he had epilepsy – I learned basic nursing cares from Margie and just grew in appreciation for what she said, because I realized that, although he had all of these limitations, he was just like me. And I remember it very vividly, because there was also a young woman my age working there too. I’ll never forget I was working with Nicholas and a cute young woman walked by the room, and he started giggling and blushing. He said, “This is Jesus, right here.”
I also want to remember my grandpa this week; he passed away on Tuesday at 84 years old, and he’s the one who also helped teach me the value of suffering. So my dad’s dad – my dad and mom are here and I’ll mention them in a minute, but my grandpa at the age of 33 did stock work for grocery stores and he did the back room and things, so he had a tough labor job. And one time he took Extra Strength Excedrin and it reacted negatively with his stomach and it burned a hole through his stomach, and three Fridays in a row they didn’t think he was going to make it. Through prayer and through the doctors he was healed, and this was at 33 and he had six kids at the time, and he lived to be 84. He always had a little pouch that they made for him as a stomach and I learned a lot from my grandpa through suffering.
Now, in my own life, in 2009 I had this experience. I was a senior in college seminary and I was getting ready for my brother’s wedding – this was the week of my brother’s wedding – and I wasn’t feeling so good. My mom said, “You don’t look so well,” and I was having night sweats and all of these things, and I went in to the doctor and found out I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer, but it was like this Paul-rine moment. Remember St. Paul? St. Paul is at the height of his strength and he is persecuting the Christians, but he’s a zealous man for the faith and he thinks he’s got it all figured out, and what happens? The light shines on him and through tradition we believe he was on a horse – he got knocked off his horse. Something similar happened to me. I got knocked off my horse, and I realized that I was a mortal. But what’s beautiful (I heard this from a talk recently) – what happened to Paul – because Paul couldn’t see and was physically blind, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t drink, and because he had those natural limitations he was then more able to see the supernatural work in his life, and he heard God say, “Why, Saul, are you persecuting Me?” And one of the two experiences in my life – one with my dad here, right when I found out I was diagnosed with cancer, I was all nervous about what? The cost – cancer treatment is not exactly cheap. Now, I didn’t understand fully how insurance worked because I was 22, but my dad just told me, “We don’t care how much it costs. What’s most important is your health.”
And another moment I was feeling sick and my mom called and she said, “There’s a healing Mass.” And being a pious seminarian full of the faith, what do you think I said? “No way do I want to go to a healing Mass. I don’t want to be identified as ill.” So I went, and I’ll never forget there was a Mass, Fr. Livingston was there, Fr. Livingston prayed over me, and then there was this old nun, and she came up to me and she took her hands and she held my face, and she said, “Jesus loves you. Do you know how much Jesus loves you?” And it was like, “I do now,” because I was looking right at the Face of Jesus. And that changed the trajectory in my life, that year of cancer. In the seminary they lovingly called me “cancer boy” – very compassionate guys there – but I also had a doctor who was all in, Dr. King. He’s from Minnesota Oncology. He gave me his number and he said, “If you need anything, let me know.” And through medicine, through the natural and through the supernatural, I was able to make it through it, and it was the most graced year of my life. I had planned to party it up with my classmates, but I spent most of that year in my room with a prayer shawl. But God met me there, and I freely received that gift, that gift of suffering. And that’s why I felt called to be a hospital chaplain.
I have seen miracles. What I love is I work at a public hospital, right? But it’s a Catholic name – Hennepin, okay? Fr. Hennepin, right? Don’t spread that too much, okay? But I’ve seen the work of God through the doctors and nurses, but also through the prayer and the sacraments. I just want to share some stories about how power goes forth and how there’s a need for that power to be restored, both for me, the doctors, and for the patients. And one of the most difficult cases – there’s this person who is given a diagnosis – thank you HIPAA – a difficult case and they tried many things, and this person was very sick and they stopped eating for a week. They were still drinking, and they were in so much pain that they were also starting to hurt themselves, and so the doctors said, “Well, we’ve tried everything else. Why not call the priest?” So, they invited me into this, and as I went into the room and saw this – I hadn’t seen pain like this ever in my life and I was helpless. All I could do was pray, pray with this person. Now as I left the room I thought to myself, “Am I doing anything good here? Is anything going to happen?” And I’m sure the doctors and nurses felt the same way. We carry this, and it was one of the times where I felt called to pray. So that night I went – we have a little chapel in our rectory – and I prayed and I said, “God, this is all Yours, because I have no idea what to do.” And so I just left it at that and I left. A couple of days later I went back and returned, and the person started eating again and they stopped hurting themselves, and I thought to myself, “What happened?” My first miracle … no, no. It was that the family came – her family, this person’s family came and was with this person, and because she was surrounded in love she was able to make it through, and this is the power of prayer, the power of healing. Christ is in us through our baptism, and we are called to bring healing.
Now a second story – a little different: This is a person in a coma, and they were in a coma for two months, give or take, and their loved one was with them the whole time. When you’re in that state of waiting, you’re thinking, “What is happening? Is this person actually going to get well?” I began to doubt, after many anointings and prayers. The caretaker began to doubt, and it got so bad to the point of this person that was helping care for the person in the hospital literally had a mental breakdown, and it just dawned on me. This person is carrying the weight of the patient. They need their power restored. And so I met the person in the hospital, we prayed together, and the next day they were back. Now, the beautiful thing – how God works – I’m a doubter. I even told this person, “You know, it’s okay to let go.” What happened? The person was discharged. The person fully recovered, and three months later I got to talk to the person.
This is the power of medicine and the power of prayer. Do not underestimate those gifts; they are beautiful. Pray for your patients. Have that power renewed within you. It’s a noble thing that you’re doing. I wouldn’t be here without it. Now, does that physical healing always happen? No. Bishop Cozzens alluded to this in his homily. Nevertheless Christ is still present and all healings prepare us for the resurrection – that final healing.
One time I was going to the ICU early on in my chaplaincy time – it’s still early on, 17 months at it and I have a lot to learn, but in the ICU a lot of people can’t take anything by mouth, right? – n.p.o. It’s important to get that right. So, I was reflecting with the other priest chaplains and I said, “Well, what do I do? If they can’t receive communion, what the heck am I doing in there?” And they said, “Pray – pray.” They also mentioned spiritual communion, and so I thought, “That’s right! Spiritual communion!” God communicates through the Eucharist. When we’re in adoration, Christ is present and we receive Him, right? Even though it’s not on the tongue, we’re receiving Him through the grace of that sacrament. So I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m going to try this out.” So there is someone who had terminal cancer. I had been visiting them several times, and so I went and visited them on this particular Sunday and I went into the hospital room and the nurse happened to be Catholic. I said, “Would you like spiritual communion?” to this man, and he said, “Yes.” And so the nurse, being Catholic, she pulled the curtain and we had this beautiful communion service, and I could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit – you know when you sense that in a room. That’s the beauty of the sacraments. And we were like, okay – God’s presence is here, hovering over the people. So it was a beautiful experience and the guy said to me, “Be sure to call my brother.” Now, I had visited him week after week, month after month, and I said, “Well, I’ll get to it.” That was a mistake, alright? I get to the hospital the next day and I was expecting to see this person. He had passed on to eternal life. So I began relating this to the other chaplain. I said, “He asked me to get his brother’s number and I failed.” Now God works in mysterious ways. As I was bringing this up, she said to me, “What did you do yesterday? What happened? I have been trying to talk to this guy for weeks and he finally opened up.” I didn’t say this at the time, but I should have … That’s the power of the Eucharist. He was in communion with God and then was able to let go.
This is what it’s all about. This is what our Catholic faith is all about, and it’s important for us to remember that. When I was driving at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the sisters took care of the sick … St. Mary’s in Minneapolis that’s now Fairview … Rochester – how did that become such a great hospital? Catholic faith. If we want healing in our archdiocese, it starts on the front lines of the health care professions; that’s where it starts. That’s how we witness to the Gospel. It becomes very real when you’re praying with someone, when you’re caring for someone who is sick and suffering. This is what is going to bring about renewal, and I’m confident of this.
I was just in the Holy Land, because I’m a spoiled priest, and we went to Bethany. Now Bethany is where Lazarus was raised, right? And the tour guide said, “There are nine Christians in Bethany.” Nine total. And they had just built a brand new mosque worth 23 million dollars. Now, it looked great. The government asked that they build a hospital, because they didn’t have a hospital there. What a witness could be given through a hospital, right? And this is where our faith as Catholics – as Christians – comes to fruition, comes to light.
Now back to that stained glass window. I was still confounded by that stained glass window, right? It’s a picture of Mary with the words, “And the power of Jesus was with Him to heal.” I was thinking, “How does this relate to Our Lady?” And in the Holy Land we had a chance to go to Bethesda. Who here remembers Bethesda? The pools there, right? There are the pools of Bethesda and Jesus works one of His miracles, right? A question … How many years was the guy paralyzed that Jesus healed?
Nice … thirty-eight. It wasn’t thirty-seven. Okay, I’ll go for your word … thirty-eight. That’s a long time. Now, in there you can see where the pools used to be, and in the time of Christ those pools were believed to have healing power, right? It was also believed to be the birth spot of Mary. I haven’t had time to research all of this. What about Nazareth? How does that tie in? But there’s a house there, and it was believed that Joachim may have worked on the temple that was being built at that time, and so it struck me that Jesus would have learned how to pray over people from the Blessed Virgin. She’s familiar with this place, she’s familiar with all of these people being brought there, right? I can imagine Jesus, as a little Child, seeing the sick and suffering and Mary saying, “Don’t be afraid. Here’s how we pray to the Father for healing.” That healing power is most restored through Mary.
Now, the healing water – Who is the Life-Giving Water? It is Jesus. All the miracles of Lourdes from Our Lady have come through Jesus. He is the Life-Giving Water. That’s what baptism does; it heals our souls, and we live out that call through our work, through our apostolate. And so I encourage you, when it becomes difficult, when it’s burdensome, one of the most powerful things you can do is pray the rosary at night, just to give all of your patients, all of the craziness that you see – and it is crazy sometimes, by the way – give them to the Lord and that power will be restored. And when people encounter you, they will say the power is with them to heal. The power of the Lord is with them to heal. And so, thank you for what you do, and I just encourage you too … through Curatio there’s going to be an event, a retreat with Msgr. Shea. If you know any doctors and nurses, invite them to this event. Msgr. Shea, for crying out loud … right? He is a gifted speaker, a gifted priest, and a father, and so we’re very grateful that we can put that on. So I encourage you … the flyer is on the table.
I also want to recognize two of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace back here. I know they weren’t expecting that either, but thank you for your presence. And there is also a retreat at Little Sisters of the Poor. I’d better mention this … this is my boss who is doing this, Fr. Joseph Johnson, and I help out at Holy Family. He’s giving a talk on Saturday, April 13th, okay? It will be great. It will be the best talk you’ve ever heard.
The Lord be with you, and may God’s healing Hand touch you this day, and may you be a witness to His healing to the world, and may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace.