Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Breath of the Spirit Reflection: There Is a Balm In Gilead – But It Cannot Stay There!

For centuries, the community of believers has proclaimed through song and prayer that the Divine Mercy is vast. However, today’s reflection reminds us there not everyone appreciates such expansive compassion. Further, if we do not carry this healing power forward in our own lives, not everyone will experience it either.

February 4, 2024: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Psalm 147: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6

1 Corinthian 9-16, 22-23

Mark 1:29-39

There Is a Balm In Gilead – But It Cannot Stay There!

A reflection by Ann Marie Szpakowska

“Healing” by Richard Smallwood (Listen here)

Don’t be discouraged. Joy comes in the morning.

Know that God is nigh.

Stand still and look up. God is going to show up.

 He is standing by.

There’s healing for your sorrow, healing for your pain,

healing for your spirit. There’s shelter from the rain.

God send the healing. For this we know.

There is a balm in Gilead, for there’s a balm in Gilead.

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the soul.

Healing for your soul, healing for your soul, healing for your soul.

The Lectionary is in Year B, which means for the past two Sundays and much of the year to come, Sunday churchgoers in the Roman Catholic tradition will hear from the Gospel of Mark. This is the shortest of the gospels, beginning with John the Baptist at the Jordan River calling all to repentance. There are no Infancy narratives as found in Matthew or Luke. John’s gospel also begins with the Baptist if you exclude the beautiful Prologue, “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh.”

Because Mark starts with Jesus as an adult, we are still in the first chapter when Jesus finds himself at Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and home to Simon (Peter) and Andrew, with James and John, his newly called disciples. They enter Simon’s home and find Simon’s mother-in-law sick with fever. Jesus grasped her hand, and she is healed. Obviously, the first “pope” was married though we know nothing about his wife or family.

As evening falls, the neighbors bring Jesus others who are ill and possessed. The healing of the possessed man at the synagogue, as noted in Mark (1:23), had spread like wildfire and Jesus seems overwhelmed with the demands for his care and attention. Morning finds Jesus seeking a secluded place to pray, but the disciples find him and exclaim, “Everyone is looking for you.”

Jesus then announces his mission to preach and heal. Subsequently, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus journeys throughout Galilee, preaching the reign of God in synagogues and freeing those in bondage. Jesus’s healing ministry begins with family and friends—Peter’s mother-in-law. It then extends to neighbors, and finally encompasses a wide geographic area (for that time). Jesus personifies that wideness of God’s mercy that a well-known hymn proclaims.

A month ago, there was great rejoicing in the Catholic LGBTQIA+ community when the Vatican stated that same-sex couples could seek a blessing from the Church. Several weeks prior it had stated that an unmarried parent could ask for baptism for their child without anticipating the third degree regarding their marriage status. For Christians seeking a more inclusive church, it felt like a long-awaited widening of God’s mercy; however, no one was surprised when church leaders, including African Bishops, clergy in Eastern Europe, and those who seek a more sectarian church threatened not to adhere to this teaching.

Also, despite Francis’ forays into inclusivity, I could not help wondering how long it would take before the Pontiff would reveal the Church’s inherently negative sexual ethics and morality. He did not disappoint when he equated surrogacy with child trafficking and exploitation of mothers. It seems Francis did not consider that couples, straight or gay, fulfill their call to nurture children via surrogacy. I suspect whatever the Pope’s legitimate concerns for women and children, such a wide perspective on surrogacy will fall on deaf ears given the Church’s history of misogyny and child abuse by clergy. We seem forever destined to be a community of three steps forward and two steps back with regard to caring for those outside of society’s sexual norms. Let us pray for the day that the Church articulates a sexual morality that does not contradict current scientific knowledge or deny the dignity of the human conscience. Let us pray further that our own personification of the Divine embrace may continue to widen and welcome. That the healing balm which grew from the plains and the historical context of Gilead does not stay satisfied with either, but through us, reaches into every nook and cranny of creation.

Ann Marie Szpakowska has been active and in leadership of Dignity/Buffalo for nearly 40 years. She also participates in the Women's Caucus and has been an active contributor to Liturgical planning for Dignity's Conventions, Conferences and on Feminist Liturgy Committees over many years. She has presented workshops both locally and at Dignity Conventions.

She has also been a member of St. Martin de Porres parish since 4 inner city churches merged and built a new sanctuary in 1993. St. Martin de Porres is a predominantly African American community in Buffalo, New York.