Fr. Joseph Echeme celebrates Mass at Sacred Heart Medical Center at
Riverbend in Springfield. (Courtesy PeaceHealth)
Fr. Joseph Echeme celebrates Mass at Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend in Springfield. (Courtesy PeaceHealth)
" That is what Jesus wanted for us, to be whole, to be healthy, to sin no more, to go forth and pick up our mat and walk. 
" Sr. Josephine Pelster, spiritual care director at Maryville
If you could ask Jesus’ contemporaries what they knew of him, most would declare him a healer. The Lord’s teaching transformed hearts and his Passion would liberate the very universe. But thousands came to see and listen mostly because they heard that this carpenter from a backwater called Nazareth could cure the sick.

Later Christians would recognize that restoring the blind, deaf, lame and lepers was not simply an attraction. The healing signified that the Kingdom of God had burst into the world; it was a refreshed era, different from the disappointing failures wrought by Israel’s past kings.

Those aided by Catholic health care today are linked to the Lord’s ongoing restorative presence.

“The church continues in our own time to make the healing ministry of Jesus present in this world,” said Father Joseph Echeme, a chaplain at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Centers in Springfield and Eugene.

Jesus’ urge to heal was so strong that it overrode some important precepts, like refraining from work on the Sabbath, Father Echeme said.

But far from shunning his religion, Jesus connected healing and faith. Those who believed, like the woman who grasped his garment, and those who valiantly made their way to him, like the fellows who poked a hole in a roof to lower their disabled friend to the Lord, often met his boundless empathy.

“How compassionate Jesus was!” said Father Echeme. “How he wanted to exemplify faith and how he wanted to forgive sins.”

Healing was a way Jesus revealed his messianic and divine identity, Father Echeme explained, adding that cures convinced people to listen and become disciples.

“Healing is primary in the Kingdom of God,” said Father Freddy Ocun, director of pastoral ministry at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Northwest Portland. “Jesus came to heal us from sin, he came to heal our relationship with God that was broken.”

Father Ocun, who visits with sick people often, is particularly moved that Jesus’ healing was non-judgmental and inclusive. “He never turned anyone away,” the priest said.

The Lord, Father Ocun added, involved those he healed in Kingdom-building actions such as showing themselves to local authorities, washing in the public baths or carrying their now moot mats through town.

Jesus also never assumed a person’s need, a form of respect chaplains seek to emulate, said Father Ocun. The priest remembers a seriously ill patient who sought prayers not for herself, but for a son who was struggling with his mother’s sickness.

“Jesus had time to listen to people’s stories,” Father Ocun concluded.

Sister Josephine Pelster is spiritual care director at Maryville, a nursing home in Beaverton. She often thinks of the Gospel story of the woman who was healed when she touched Jesus’ cloak and imagines the woman spending the rest of her life praising God in the temple.

“Healing to Jesus was about the physical but also about the spiritual and emotional, and reconnecting people like the lepers with their faith communities and families,” said Sister Pelster, a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon.

At Maryville, when residents get feeling better or at least adapt to their illnesses, they realize they have an important purpose in life, said Sister Pelster. As an example, she cites 101-year-old Father Joseph Cunniff, who is still hearing confessions from his bed and wheelchair.

“Once we can get our lives and our spirituality, the whole of our lives — mind, body and spirit — in the right order and realize God is our God and we are his people we have this beautiful balance,” Sister Pelster said. “That is what Jesus wanted for us, to be whole, to be healthy, to sin no more, to go forth and pick up our mats and walk.”

In a way that fits the modern world, the PeaceHealth mission is “spot on” with the healing mission of Jesus, said the Rev. Stephen Dietrich, spiritual care manager for PeaceHealth in Oregon.

“We are all about the whole person from cradle to grave,” said Rev. Dietrich, a Presbyterian minister who has spent most of his career in Catholic health care. “We focus on care for the vulnerable and weak and continue healing and wholeness and at the end of life. We are about the whole journey of life.”

Rev. Dietrich said Catholic health providers have a profound and positive influence on the medical world in the United States, sustaining Jesus’ values and ethics in a deep way. Catholic hospitals care for people of any religion or none, any residency status, any way of life.

The fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke records Jesus’ initial proclamation of the major themes of his ministry: to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

Healing is a high priority in Jesus’ mission, but does not stand alone. Instead, cures and wonders are manifestations of God’s presence in the world, a reality that beckons people to configure themselves more closely with the surprising and marvelous paths of God’s Kingdom.