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The Finger of God for Healing: Faith Healing Priest Draws Thousands

By Sonja Corbitt
May 28th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

One is inexorably drawn to the mysterious intensity of God's compassion and love in Fr. McAlear as his lips move in silent groanings and he cradles the stricken faces of those for whom he prays.Shunning sensationalism or hysteria, he facilitates healing with a whisper, using very few, if any, words. "Once you really understand the pain in the people's hearts and the power of Christ to heal, there is nothing to say," says McAlear.

NASHVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - "The Spirit of God is on me. He anointed me to bring Good News to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted and to free the oppressed" (Is. 61:1).

Although he is often referred to affectionately as "the healing priest," it is a title that Father Richard McAlear shuns. A priest of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate Order, he is one of the few priests in the Catholic Church who call themselves faith healers.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal began in 1967 after a retreat held at Duquense University in Pittsburgh. The movement grew and gained recognition in the Church among the leadership and laity.

Fr. McAlear received permission from the Oblates, in accordance to Church guidelines, to enter full time charismatic ministry in 1975 after doing retreats and prayer services and witnessing the healing power of God through his prayers in the previous three years.

It began for Fr. McAlear in 1972 at a prayer meeting with a woman in attendance who was in severe back pain. An elderly Pentecostal revert to Catholicism approached Fr. McAlear and told him he needed to pray over the woman. The young priest had no idea what she meant. His only experience with "praying over people," was a Pentecostal televangelist he had once seen on TV whose healing theatrics included jumping up and down and ecstatic speaking.

Finally, after an awkward, pregnant silence, Fr. McAlear blessed her. And she was healed. Visibly. Publicly. Word spread quickly and, inundated with requests from the gravely ill, he made "healing ministry" his life's work, traveling the globe, celebrating Masses, and speaking at retreats and conferences.

Contemporary faith healing often provokes images of "Pentecostal faith healing" and other "charismatic" mumbo-jumbo, in which healing is said to be a visible sign and product of one's faith, and some evangelists in tent revivals or on TV sometimes defraud the desperately ill with staged "healings" in order to draw donations.

Rather than faith in what is NOT seen (2 Cor. 5:7) miraculous, visible healing can actually impede growing in faith when it is pursued in the wrong way, for its own sake or out of sensationalism: "Jesus therefore said to him, 'Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe'" (Jn. 4:48).

Despite that real danger, healing is a pillar of Christian dogma and has always been a part of the lived experience of the Church. Although corrupted by some who would attempt to make a dollar through what the Scriptures call "Balaam's error" (Jude 1:11), true faith healing, like exorcism, is sanctioned by the Church. It is to be done in the proper forum and in fidelity to the Church. The USCCB issued a statement in 1969 stating that the charismatic movement "has legitimate reasons of existence. It has a strong Biblical basis."

In the Scriptures, Jesus Christ is said to have cured the sick, sometimes with the laying on of hands. The gospels encourage priests to go out and anoint the sick with oil. St. Paul lists healing as a spiritual gift. Faith healing has been practiced quietly and faithfully by Catholic priests throughout her history. In fact, every Sacramental Annointing of the Sick is a Prayer for Healing, including the possibility of physical healing.

The Vatican has not only endorsed faith healing, but Pope Benedict actually called on those who have the gift of healing to share it in the Instruction on Prayers for Healing released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he offered guidance on administering the gift: "Anything resembling hysteria, artificiality, theatricality or sensationalism, above all on the part of those who are in charge of such gatherings, must not take place (Instruction on Prayers for Healing).

The Catechism speaks of healing: "In the sacraments Christ continues to 'touch' us in order to heal us" (CCC, 1504). "The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord" (CCC 1508).

In adherence and faithfulness to Catholic Tradition, Fr. McAlear is not the kind of healer for whom people jump from their wheelchairs and throw away their medicines or crutches, although there have been more than a few physical healings through the years. Rather than faith in his own faith, Fr. McAlear surrenders to God.

Shunning sensationalism or hysteria, he facilitates healing with a whisper, using very few, if any, words. "Once you really understand the pain in the people's hearts and the power of Christ to heal, there is nothing to say," says McAlear.

"The Catholic tradition tends to be more sacramental, very earthly and human, gentle, quiet. We pray for healing in a quiet way. This is mostly inner healing for emotional burdens. And when people are healed of those, often physical stuff can go away, too.

"There is a fervor to this, a zeal that can be expressed in a different way. We have to separate style from substance," he told the New Orleans Clarion Herald in March of this year. It is this philosophy and the guidance of the Church that informs his healing Masses.

By all accounts, they are quiet and reverent, focused on the spiritual interior with a specific emphasis on reconciliation and forgiveness, and Eucharist-centered. They include Adoration and a blessing by Fr. McAlear, who speaks of healing as rooted in the spirit.

"It's what is going on inside - the inner pain, depression, sadness, grief, loss, loneliness," he explains. "A lot of times it's manifested in physical illness. The need is there to touch the heart and the inner spirit. That's where the healing Masses make their contribution," he says. "The spiritual need can only be touched spiritually. Then everything else follows. The hope is restored, the darkness is lifted."

Fr. McAlear does not support exclusive reliance on faith healing, however. He encourages the use of effective natural means for preserving and restoring health as well, saying "Do both," and quoting Sirach 38:

"The doctor eases pain and the druggist prepares his medicines; Thus God's creative work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth. My son, when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you.Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; for you need him too" (1-15).

Fr. McAlear "always" feels the emotional pain of those he prays for, but occasionally he senses their physical pain in what he calls "an 'inner knowing.'" But rather than overwhelmed or discouraged by the suffering in the long lines of people waiting for his prayers at healing Masses, Fr. McAlear is more affected by their hope and longing for God's love.

"Sickness, like other forms of human suffering, is a privileged moment for prayer" (Instruction on Prayers for Healing). Keenly sensitive to the moment and the privilege, Fr. McAlear, like Jesus before Him, is drawn by the hope and faith in those who suffer. It sustains him night after night in churches all over the world, says McAlear, because "God wants very, very much to love them back and for them to be happy."

"The longing for happiness, deeply rooted in the human heart, has always been accompanied by a desire to be freed from illness and to be able to understand the meaning of sickness when it is experienced. This is a human phenomenon, which in some way concerns every person and finds particular resonance in the Church, where sickness is understood as a means of union with Christ and of spiritual purification (Instruction on Prayers for Healing).

Although in his 40th year of healing ministry, Fr. McAlear does not claim to have the gift of healing, only the gift of prayer: "We pray to God and things happen. I know it's not me; I know God is there, and I'm almost watching Him do things. It's Jesus' compassion, the love of God that is doing the healing."

One is inexorably drawn to the mysterious intensity of God's compassion and love in Fr. McAlear as his lips move in silent groanings and he cradles the stricken faces of those for whom he prays, marking them with the sign of the healing cross on their foreheads. Simply watching it through second hand video moves one deeply with an awareness of humanity's insatiable need for wholeness and union with God.

Fr. McAlear receives no fee for his visits and depends entirely on offerings for his travel expenses. Perhaps it is such demonstrations of love, more than any other evidence, that help prove he is a true finger of God in healing His broken, suffering humanity.

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Sonja Corbitt is a Catholic speaker, Scripture teacher and study author and a contributing author for Catholic Online. She is available to speak on the New Feminism, current events and your preferred theme. Visit her at www.pursuingthesummit.com for information and sample videos, or www.pursuingthesummit.blogspot.com.

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