The story is told of a particular bishop, a prosperous, elegant, white-haired elderly gentleman who could always be counted on to utter a pious platitude or two. This bishop had a favorite answer whenever a troubled or angry person came to his door. He'd assume his finest pose and say in a concerned tone: "...and have you prayed about this, my child?" If spoken in just the right way, it silenced his questioner and the bishop was home free.
Now the bishop himself did not pray much. His life was relatively peaceful and he felt himself in charge of things with little actual need of prayer. But one day, he found himself, for the first time he could recall, overwhelmed; and it occurred to him that perhaps he ought to take his own advice and pray. So, late on a Saturday evening, he entered the cathedral, walked down the center aisle, genuflected and knelt in the first pew. Folding his hands in prayer, he couldn't help thinking how wonderfully childlike he must look. Then he began his prayer: "O God, look down upon thy humble servant and bring me healing in my hour of need." Suddenly a voice from on high spoke, strong and firm: "Yes, my son, what is it you wish?"
When the cathedral parishioners arrived for early Mass Sunday morning, they found their dear bishop still in the first pew with an incredible look of surprise on his chalk-white face. He was stone cold dead from shock! The bishop had said the right prayers all his life, but he never expected or even wanted an answer.
Today's Gospel is all about healing and forgiving: our need for it, and Jesus' power to make it happen. The issue here is: what must we do to be healed and forgiven. The first step is to admit that we need healing and forgiving : that there are important parts missing or broken in us. We often fail this first step by excusing ourselves with that all-too-familiar refrain: "I'm only human!" That is a cheap admission at best. What we have to admit to are the ugly specifics of our woundedness: our jealousies, our hatreds, our bigotry, our negligence, our deceitfulness. Our faults must be specifically identified by name. But that's not enough. The second step is to admit that we cannot heal ourselves. To confirm this, we need only to look at our unsuccessful track record for past healings. We need help! That help must come from Jesus. It is he who invites us to step up and not be mired in the mud. Our prayer must not be like that of another bishop of the church, Saint Augustine of Hippo, who early in his wild, wild youth prayed: "Lord, make me chaste and pure... but not yet!" Instead we should act with the confidence of the woman in Luke's Gospel who approaches Jesus at Simon's house and pleads with her tears for healing and forgiveness.
Each time we pray for healing and forgiveness, do we really expect it? If not, we are like that pious bishop merely going through a prayer performance. If yes, our course is clear: we need to admit our wound and name it, acknowledge our helplessness to overcome it, and then confidently ask for Jesus' help to prepare our hearts to receive his healing grace. Then we too will hear those soul-gratifying words that Jesus spoke to the woman at Simon's house: "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."