Say Amen, Somebody!

Growing up, I remember pausing from my channel surfing whenever I'd come across a televangelist leading a healing service.

Most times he'd be clutching a Bible and handkerchief in one hand and manning a microphone with the other. He'd be thanking Jesus as profusely as he was sweating and curing people of all sorts of illnesses and infirmities. The spectacles struck me as impressive theater. I never believed in the healings.

As I got older, I was fortunate to be blessed with good health. I rarely got sick and, when I did, it was nothing serious. Just a bad cold or an occasional flu. But several years ago — starting just after Sept. 11, 2001, to be exact — I developed a persistent cough. I was living in Queens, N.Y., and working in Manhattan. My doctor couldn't find anything wrong; X-rays of my lungs turned out to be negative. And yet I could not stop coughing.

I figured the condition might be due to my breathing in the smoky cloud emanating from Ground Zero. You might recall that it wafted over the city for weeks after Sept. 11. One of my sisters thought my respiratory problem pointed to a case of post-traumatic stress. Whatever the cause, I accepted that the cough was now a permanent part of me. Like a shadow.

That all changed this past Lent, when I attended a mission at a nearby church. The speakers were lay Catholic evangelists, a married couple who felt called by God about 11 years ago to give up their jobs to travel around the world and preach. Something the husband said about healing really resonated with me. The Mass, he said, is the perfect occasion to be healed. He then recited the Communion response as proof:

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and I shall be healed.”

I had said those words so many times without ever letting them sink into my soul. But that night, they made sense. When I receive the Eucharist, I receive Jesus. And Jesus heals.

I greatly admired the couple. Their lives are great witnesses to love, obedience and faith. They live simply, work hard to serve the Lord and rely solely on donations for their income. During the mission, they told anecdotes about their trips and described how people with serious illnesses and maladies in remote villages in Africa and other faraway places had been healed. I only half-believed them. Still rooted in my memory, thanks to the televangelists from my childhood, were the healings that I doubted.

The next liturgy I attended, after the mission ended, happened to be a healing Mass. It's a service my wife and I regularly attend during the first Friday of each month. I always went, hoping to be healed, but I never believed it was possible. But this time was different. This time, I believed. And after I received the Eucharist and knelt down to pray, I asked God to have mercy on me, a sinner.

And so he did. I actually felt something leave me (some of my unbelief, perhaps?). Whatever that was all about, my persistent cough disappeared that night.

I learned something important from the experience. Ailments and anxieties do follow us around like so many shadows. But where there is shadow, there is also light — and that light is God's love and mercy. I learned that if I don't believe, truly believe, then I remain in the quicksand of sin and unbelief, sinking away from grace and the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

I was also reaffirmed that there is only one true Physician. His soul-saving prescription? Faith.

Carlos Briceño writes from Seminole, Florida.