Over time, our understanding of biblical scenes changes. The dramatic scene in which four men tear the roof over Jesus' head and use ropes to let down a paralyzed man has attracted me for years.
At first, I focused on the miracle in a literal sense – here is a man unable to move, speak and function, probably twisted and emaciated, and Jesus tells him to get up, take his mat and go.
At God's command, the man overcomes his feeble muscles and his body that has long been on stand-still, gets up and walks away. We do not even hear if he thanked Jesus.
I must have been in my twenties when I began to focus on another factor in this story. Before the man is physically healed, he is spiritually healed - his sins are forgiven. By then, I was able to recognize the danger of sin. I had come to know both the pain of sin and the supreme joy of resurrection of the soul experienced with every Confession.
With the passing of years, my perspective on the story shifted gently towards the four men who brought the man to Jesus. In my parish service in Poland or through experience with sick relatives, I met several paralyzed or bedridden men and women.
I will never forget one of them, a man of 25, a worker, who was completely paralyzed, with no faculty of speech or vision after he suffered a serious on-the-job accident.
In those times, as no compensation was offered to such victims, parishes tried to help a bit. The man's mother, who washed, exercised and fed the unmoving body of her son daily, every evening sat by his bed and said daily prayers.
"I'd go crazy if I did not do it," she told me. "And who knows? Maybe he can hear me? Maybe he follows my words?"
CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
'Son, your sins are forgiven.'
A priest came every week to give him Communion and pray. On that day I always met this elderly woman by a flower shop. She would buy "a rose for Jesus" to put it in a small vase by the cross standing on the nightstand. Always a red one, the colour of love and martyrdom.
She confessed that prior to the accident, her son had not been not a churchgoer, but she did not lose hope. So she asked for a conditional reconciliation for her son on the first visit of the priest.
It was probably her that turned my attention to those four men who tore through the roof to present the paralyzed man to Jesus. We do not hear about them again; they are, in a sense, unimportant and invisible. Yet without their amazing faith, courage and daring, the sick man would have never been reconciled with God and returned to health.
Time passes . . . experience grows. Now I realize there are worse forms of paralysis than that which touches one's body. There can be a paralysis of the soul.
We all are touched by it. But when we feel its bonds, we run to the confessional and are healed again and again. Alas, however, many seem to be immobilized by it and do not see their own paralysis.
There is greed that prevents people from helping others, even their own. There is anger which wrecks families and is passed from generation to generation like a dark, fuming torch of evil. Then there is unchastity which destroys families and distorts children's hearts.
Countless other forms of sin freeze souls with more horrible results than physical illness. We need the "four men," but we also need to be those "four men."
As "paralytics," we need the Church to pray for us, we need priests and religious sisters to intercede for us, we need prayer groups to beg God for our spiritual freedom and, above all, we need sacraments to heal us.
At the same time, we have to pray for those in complete darkness and bondage, especially those around us - our children who have fallen away, our family members, friends, colleagues at work and fellow citizens.
We have to pray with such determination that the roof of our weak faith is torn off, so that we may present our "paralytics" with complete trust to Jesus.
No matter if the roof is made of sticks or concrete, no matter how long it takes to get through it, Jesus is there, waiting for the hole to open and for his beloved child to descend – to be forgiven and healed.