Does the Holy Spirit still heal people today? Physical, emotional and spiritual healing the focus of upcoming conference and service
March 9, 2021
Looking forward to a sabbatical seven years ago, a professor and Scripture scholar felt called to learn more about the gift of healing exercised through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, especially through those blessed with that charism.
During the learning process, she prayed for and received that charism herself. Now she brings her healing ministry to the Omaha archdiocese March 26-27.
Dr. Mary Healy, who also is an internationally-known author and speaker, will lead the River of Life Conference and Healing Service at St. Patrick Church in Fremont.
Healy is professor of sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and a member of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
“The main focus of the event is to come into greater relationship with the Holy Spirit … and to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” said Father Walter Nolte, pastor of St. Patrick Parish.
Those interested in learning more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially intercessory prayer for healing, are invited to attend. People seeking a healing will be welcomed to come forward during the healing service, following COVID-19 precautions.
“Jesus wants to heal us in our minds, our bodies and our spirits today, just as he did when he walked the earth,” Father Nolte said. “We’re still in the age of signs, wonders and miracles.”
Healy is author of numerous books, including “Healing: Bringing the Gift of God’s Mercy to the World.” She also is chair of the Theological Commission of CHARIS (Charismatic Renewal International Service) in Rome. In 2014, Pope Francis appointed her to serve on the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
She recently spoke with the Catholic Voice about her ministry, the charism of healing and what people who attend the conference and healing service can expect.
Q: How did you become interested in healing ministry?
I was very clearly led into it by the Lord. This was seven years ago. It wasn’t something I focused on. It wasn’t something I had any particular interest in my scholarly work. I do belong to the charismatic renewal and I served in the charismatic renewal in various ways – chair of the doctrinal commission of what is now CHARIS, Charismatic Renewal International Service in Rome – but I didn’t have any particular focus on healing.
But as I had a sabbatical semester coming up, I felt like the Lord was leading me to study the topic of healing in a particular way. Sabbatical is a time to do more research than you normally can with a very busy teaching schedule. I felt like the Lord really wanted me to study healing and not only to read books about it, but to actually witness what the Lord is doing.
I spent time with a couple of people, particularly one Protestant, one Catholic, who have very vibrant healing ministries. I learned a lot from them, but more importantly, my faith rose to a new level as I studied what the Gospels teach about healing and the New Testament in general. Then as I saw miracles before my eyes, I came to a whole new understanding of how much the Lord wants to heal when we give him the opportunity, when we step out in faith and ask the Lord for healing. Especially in an evangelistic context, but also in another context.
Q: What kind of healing miracles have you witnessed or been a part of?
I’ve seen people completely deaf in one ear receive their hearing. I’ve seen people blind, partially or completely, receive their sight. I’ve seen people who were in wheelchairs be able to walk. I’ve seen other serious conditions like Parkinson’s be healed. People who walked with only a great deal of difficulty being able to walk freely or even run and dance. I’ve seen an arm grow out, a leg grow out to equal the length of the other. Many, many others.
Q: For those engaged in intercessory prayer for healing of others, do they need to be advanced in holiness and in a state of grace?
Well, I would say no to the first. Yes to the second. A huge misconception among many Catholics and many Christians in general is that only canonized saints can expect God to actually do healings or miracles in response to our prayer. But Scripture and Jesus himself warned against that mistaken view. Because Jesus himself said that on the last day, some people will say to him, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we cast out demons in your name and do miracles in your name.” He will say to them, “I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.” That means that we should never assume that a person who is doing healings or miracles is therefore necessarily a saint. Doing healings or miracles is not a reward for holiness. It’s not a measure of holiness. Rather those gifts, like all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are free gifts.
They are given by the Holy Spirit, to the members of the body, for the good of the whole body of Christ and for others who are outside the body of Christ, to evangelize them and to reveal God’s love. They’re not given for the sake of the person exercising it. They are free gifts and they’re independent of our holiness.
That being said, the more we are surrendered to the Lord, the more we are free of sin and of worldly attachments, the more easily we can be used by the Lord, the more freely the Holy Spirit can operate through us. It’s possible to be in a state of sin and still exercise great charisms like healing or miracles. But if so, you’re in big trouble spiritually, and you’re likely to fall into pride or other sins.
Using a gift authentically requires that we are in a state of grace and basically practicing the normal Christian life, which is daily prayer, reading Scripture, availing ourselves of the sacraments, accountable to a spiritual director or a faith sharing group, living a life of virtue free of serious sin. Those are the basics of Christian life. That should be the normal, of course, for any Catholic and any Christian. … Anybody who is in the normal can be used by God, and God wants to use that person for healings and for other gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Q: Does healing through this kind of ministry require a special charism? Is it a charism that’s given to certain people that the Holy Spirit chooses and you, yourself, have that charism, correct?
Yes, I think so. But the interesting thing is that even though the Holy Spirit gives healing and the charism as St. Paul says, “All of us are supposed to earnestly desire or strive for charisms.” That means that if you don’t have a certain charism, you can actually ask God for it. If you do have it in a small measure, you can grow in it. Charisms are not something that you either absolutely have, or absolutely don’t have. It’s sort of like some people can be on the varsity basketball team because they’re really good at it. But just because you’re not on the varsity team doesn’t mean you can’t play basketball at all.
The people who have the charism of healing have healings occur more frequently in response to their prayer and greater healings. But that doesn’t mean that other people can’t have healings happen at all in response to their prayer. In other words, there’s not a sharp line between having the charism or not. It’s more (that) the Lord wants us to desire charisms not for our own sake, not for any kind of self-importance or self-promotion, but for the purpose of serving others. That’s the very purpose of the charisms. When we ask sincerely and are willing to take risks in faith to grow in a charism, then very often the Lord gives the person that charism.
Q: Is that how you came to have that charism?
Yes, definitely. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I have the gift of healing. I’m going to go pray for somebody to get healed.” That happens sometimes, but I’d say it’s pretty unusual. Rather, it was that the Lord kind of stirred up in me an interest in healing, as I heard testimonies of extraordinary healings. Then I began to study it. Then I began to spend time with people who were doing it at conferences, even watching YouTube videos. Then finally putting it into practice, to actually taking risks in faith, which was very scary to pray for healing in an on-the-spot situation. That’s how I grew into it.
Q: Do you have any special insights on why or how someone receives that charism, or why the Holy Spirit picks a certain person through whom to exercise that gift?
Well, partly it’s just the hidden mysterious purposes of God. He knows what he’s doing, but there are some factors that we can recognize. First of all, I would say if someone desires it with a sincere desire – not as I said, any desire for self-importance, self-promotion, a need to be needed, anything like that – but sincerely desires to be used by the Lord, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the people for whom they will pray for healing, that is already an openness to a charism. Then to pursue it by asking God for it, by studying what the Lord teaches about it in Scripture, studying what people who have had that charism have said and done.
That means reading testimonies, reading biographies of people who had a great healing gift, watching YouTube videos, whatever form it might take. Studying how that gift actually operates. Then finally looking for opportunities to take a risk in faith. To pray for anybody you see, who has a condition to offer to pray. I don’t mean you just impose yourself on them, but you offer to pray with anybody the Lord puts in front of you, who is clearly in need of healing.
To do that is to take a risk. Usually people will see nothing happen initially. But if they persevere and keep doing that, again with sincerity and with faith and a selfless desire just to bring people into an encounter with Jesus, typically, as I’ve heard and seen in many, many cases, the charism will grow.
Q: What is the role of faith in healing on both the part of the one who is interceding and on the part of the one being prayed for?
Well, it’s clear in the Gospels that faith plays a very important role. There’s nothing that Jesus mentioned so often in his healing interactions. He says things like, “Your faith has made you well,” or, “According to your faith, let it be done to you.” Or, “Do you believe that I can do this?” Or, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Clearly faith plays a very important role, but it’s also important to recognize that the Lord is not bound by our faith. He is able to heal even without faith. He sometimes does, but much more frequently the Lord seeks the participation of the recipient. He wants a person to engage in their healing. And a way you engage in your healing is by faith and by prayer, by seeking, by asking the Lord, by being willing to take a risk.
For some people, even coming to a healing service is taking a risk. They risk disappointment. They risk maybe feeling foolish, maybe even being in a spiritual environment that they’re not used to. Maybe opening themselves to the Holy Spirit. All those things can feel scary to people who are not accustomed to it, but to do so is to take a risk in faith. It’s to entrust yourself in some way to the Lord and to say, “You know, I’m letting go of control here. I’m letting you be in charge. I am asking you for healing because I need healing.” That’s a way of engaging with the Lord. The Lord works with that. He desires that engagement of the person.
Now, of the person who’s praying for healing. Faith is very important as well. Generally speaking, the greater a person’s faith, the more healings occur and the greater healings that occur. Faith is definitely not something static. It grows as you exercise it, or it also atrophies as you fail to use it. Faith is meant to grow. A great faith is like a lightning rod for the Lord.
Q: How should one respond if the Lord doesn’t answer those prayers for healing and give the person the healing that they’re seeking?
That’s a question I get a lot and it’s a tough one. The main thing is that whenever I pray for healing, whenever anybody prays for healing, we’re not offering the person a guarantee that we’re not able to give them. We don’t say I’m going to pray, and you’re definitely going to be healed, unless you have a strong gift of prophecy that is proven. There are people today who have that. There are saints who have had that, like Padre Pio. But generally speaking, you’re not giving a person a guarantee. You are helping them to open their heart in faith. If they don’t receive a healing, first of all, very often a healing comes gradually. We are such a complex unity of body and soul. There’s such a profound complex interaction of body and soul. Very often emotional and spiritual healing go together with physical healing.
Sometimes the emotional needs to happen first. Sometimes the spiritual. Sometimes the physical needs to happen first. Very often there’s all kinds of inner surgery the Lord needs to do on a person. The body itself is so complex. Just as a sickness often takes hold gradually, likewise, healing often occurs gradually. Sometimes the person needs to be soaked in prayer and they need to keep pursuing their healing. I encourage people, if they haven’t been healed at a healing service, keep seeking and asking the Lord. Come back the next time there’s an opportunity for healing prayer. Don’t give up.
There are people in the Gospels who showed great perseverance and Jesus rewarded them. In fact, he himself encouraged perseverance in prayer. If we don’t see our prayer answered right away, to keep persevering. I don’t recommend, “Well, just accept it.” Now, sometimes the Lord allows a sickness for his own greater purposes. But his ultimate will is always for healing. For some people that will only be at the resurrection on the last day, but his ultimate will is always full healing of the human being. That’s just who he is.
Q: What is the relationship between physical sickness and sin, and do people sometimes need to be healed first spiritually before they can be healed physically?
Yes. There’s a strong relationship between the two, in many cases. It’s important to say that it’s by no means in all cases. Somebody may have terrible back pain because they were in a car accident through no fault of their own. It would be grossly overgeneralizing to say that every physical condition has a spiritual component. Although most serious physical conditions are spiritually challenging and difficult to bear. That’s certainly true.
However, many conditions do have an emotional and spiritual component and modern medicine more and more is recognizing that. Even illnesses like cancer can sometimes be closely connected with emotional difficulties in a person’s life. For instance, a refusal to forgive, holding onto resentments. Again, we have to be careful not to say that it’s in every case, a serious illness like cancer is caused by that, but there can be a contributing factor sometimes.
Sometimes the Lord needs to heal the spiritual condition. That may be the case for example, if a person has a deep sense of rejection or a deep sense of unworthiness, which leads them to say in their heart, maybe even unconsciously, “The Lord is not going to heal me. I’m not worthy.” The Lord needs to heal that first because otherwise the person is actually, subconsciously resisting being healed, and the Lord does not override our freedom. Very often that needs to happen first. That being said, we can’t make a rule out of it. Sometimes the Lord does a physical healing first, and that leads to a huge emotional and spiritual healing. Sometimes they’re concurrent. I’ve seen it every which way.
Q: How can healing play a part in the New Evangelization?
We need to go back to the missionary mandate that our Lord himself gave us, which from the very beginning called us, not only to preach the Gospel in words, but also in supernatural deeds, signs and wonders that bear witness to the truth of the words. We find that in the Gospels, really in every Gospel in different ways. We certainly see it in the Acts of the Apostles. We see it in the Church of the patristic era, and we see it throughout the whole history of the Church, especially in periods of great evangelization, that our message is not meant to be only in human eloquence, but also in demonstration of the spirit and power, as St. Paul said.
That is something the Lord is recalling to the Church’s understanding right now, as we’re trying to carry out a new evangelization. We can’t do it based on a verbal message only. We need to fulfill the instructions that Jesus gave us, which is to demonstrate his power, to bring people in a very fallen, broken world to an encounter with the living Lord. Especially now in a postmodern age, when people are cynical, people in many cases think they know what Christianity is.
People have short attention spans. They don’t have time for a lot of arguments for the truth of the Gospel. … The Lord longs for them to come to know him, and he’s given us these gifts. He’s given us this supernatural equipment from the Holy Spirit to carry out our mission. To try to carry out our mission as a Church without that is being disobedient to the Lord.
I’m not saying that every single individual is supposed to be involved in healing ministry. Rather it’s meant to be a prominent part of the mission of the church overall, especially in evangelization.
Q: How can the healing power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit help us through this dark time of the pandemic?
I think all the more during this time, where sickness seems to have the upper hand, we need to come to know the healer. We need to learn how to pray for healing in it, effectively in a way that actually releases the power of God into people’s lives. I think the pandemic has created a greater hunger for God. It has helped people to realize their fragility and that life is short. I think there’s a kind of window of opportunity that we have as people are spiritually seeking and searching. We need to invite them into an encounter with Jesus. I think it’s no accident that it’s just at the same time in history when the Lord is bringing the Church to rediscover the healing power of the risen Lord and his desire to heal. He’s the answer, ultimately, to all our questions, all our longings.
Q: What can people expect when they attend the River of Life Conference and Healing Service? What will they experience?
They will experience the perceptible presence of the Holy Spirit, the proclamation of the word of God. I’m going to be teaching a lot from Scripture. They will see the Lord’s power to heal the sick and the infirm.
Q: Do they need to attend the full conference, or can they just attend the healing service?
No, they don’t have to attend the whole conference. They can come for just the healing service. The full conference is for especially training people who want to be the Lord’s instruments of healing. But there will also be a session on emotional healing. The healing service on Saturday night is focused on physical healing, although I have no doubt the Lord will do emotional healing as well. People can come just to that, but they should come for the whole thing. The Lord will be preparing their hearts throughout the whole weekend.
WANT TO GO?
What: River of Life Conference and Healing Service
Where: St. Patrick Church, 3400 E. 4th St., Fremont
When: March 26-27
Conference schedule: March 26, 6-9:30 p.m.; March 27, 8 a.m. Mass, and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. conference (lunch and dinner provided); Mass 5 p.m.
Healing service: 6:30 to 10 p.m.
Cost: Free will offering
To register: For free lunch and dinner or to participate through Zoom, call 402-721-6611 or go to stpatsfremont.weshareonline.org.