A Gift of Healing

 by Tom O’Conner


     Every indication was that 11 year old Jerry Taylor was dead, electrocuted after touching a live wire while playing near an abandoned factory.  Jerry had been in a coma for over a month.  The apparatus attached to his scalp indicated that all brain activity had stopped and only a life support system kept him breathing.  The doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston repeatedly advised his parents to let them remove the boy from the support system.

 

     But Jerry’s parents had one last hope; they asked a local priest with a healing ministry to pray for Jerry. The priest came to the hospital, laid hands on Jerry and prayed.  Within 20 minutes Jerry regained consciousness, opened his eyes, and looked directly at the priest.  “From that day on he progressed back to health, says Jerry’s mother,” Mrs. Helen Taylor of Somerville, Massachusetts.  In two days, Jerry was removed from intensive care to intermediate care.  A month latter he began therapy.  Three months later he went home.  Today, four years later, Jerry Taylor is back in school.



   This extraordinary healing is one among literally countless healings that have taken place through the ministry of Fr. Edward McDonough, a Redemptorist priest of Boston, Massachusetts.  “One truly remarkable thing about Jerry’s healing,” Fr. McDonough observes in his distinctly Bostonian accent, “ is that effect it’s had on his parish.  Everyone in the parish knew about Jerry’s case; it was like Lazarus coming back from the dead.  It caused a spiritual reawakening.” That, he adds, is the purpose of the spiritual gifts to build up the church.


     Fr. McDonough’s “Healing and Restoration Ministry” operates primarily from his parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in the Roxbury district of Boston. On the last Sunday of every month, Fr. McDonough holds a healing service at the parish church, a huge Romanesque Basilica known as the Mission Church because of the large mission-week-long periods of preaching and renewal- given there by Redemptorist fathers during the late 1800’s.

 

    A typical recent service began with several songs of worship. Then Fr. McDonough entered wearing, a white alb with a red stole. He gave a brief teaching on the charismatic gift of healing, encouraged the people to put their faith in the healing power of Jesus and read some promises from scripture. The presentation was unspectacular and unemotional, but one could sense growing expectancy among the people as they worshipped. 

 

    About 40 minutes into the service, Fr McDonough said he sensed that God was healing people of hearing disorders. He asked these people to step into the aisle. He prayed with about 150 people individually that day.

 

    Individuals, who believed they had been healed, were led by ushers to a room beside the sanctuary where a team of helpers took down their names addresses, and testimonies.   These people were encouraged to see their doctors and were told they would later be contacted for the purpose of documenting their healing.  Some 30 people testified that day to various healing-ear disorders, back problems, and internal malfunctions.

    When asked how many are healed at a given service, McDonough says,

 “At the end of every service I ask, who feels they’ve been healed physically, emotionally or spiritually.  Seventy- five percent of the people will raise their hands.” Although it is impossible to document all the healings,  Fr. McDonough has two large filing cabinets full of reports on those that are documented, including Jerry Taylor’s.

 

     Here are just two other testimonies that have been documented by physicians.  A women from Quincy, Massachusetts, writes, “I have had epilepsy from childhood and couldn’t  do many things that most people take for granted.  Even with medication, anything such as watching television triggered a seizure.

    “When Fr. McDonough blessed me, I knew something happened, but I couldn’t explain it. I had never been to one of his services before.

When I went home I stopped taking medication.  Since that time in May 1978 I have had no seizures.  I go for regular checkups, but the doctors can’t explain.”

 

 

      From Concord, Massachusetts:  “X-rays showed that I had a tumor behind my pituitary gland.  At the time of diagnosis, I suffered paralysis,

loss of memory, slurred speech and headaches.  I was scheduled for an operation to remove the tumor.”

 

     “In January of 1978 I attended Fr. McDonough’s healing service where he prayed with me.  The following Wednesday I entered the hospital.  At that time I was given a CAT scan on my head and a blood test.   The tumor had disappeared, and all tests came back normal. The operation was canceled.”

 

      Although the healing services at Mission Church receive the most publicity, the Healing and Restoration Ministry does not end there. Fr. McDonough recently returned from giving a series of healing services abroad,  including one in Westminster Cathedral in London that drew 3500 people.  In Ireland he held services in the northern and southern parts of the country.  Over 5,000 people attended a two day service that the local newspaper called, “ The single biggest spiritual revival since the papal visit.”

     Fr. McDonough believes the single most important aspect of his growing ministry is prayer.  “The whole thing is based on prayer.  We have a network of people in continual prayer for the ministry.   The prayer meeting is a time specifically set aside to pray for the healing ministry.  It also is a time when we pray for requests called in on our prayer line.”

     Fr. McDonough’s healing ministry had much humbler beginnings.  His first encounter with the charismatic renewal was at a prayer meeting in Potomac, Maryland, in 1967.

 

    “Two things attracted me to the charismatic renewal through the prayer meeting: the love and warmth of the people gathered and their willingness to pray with one another.”

      Shortly after being baptized in the Holy Spirit,  Fr. McDonough started a  prayer meeting in a black parish in Roanoke, Virginia, where he was a curate.  He began to pray for people after the meeting, and they were healed. When one person was healed, he would bring a friend next week, and the prayer meeting quickly turned into a healing service.  Although new people would come every week and be healed, the meeting never grew beyond 30 people.

 

     “For three years the service stayed at 30 people; it didn’t grow no matter what I did.  I realized that I was totally powerless.   That experience taught me something that is invaluable to my ministry; it all depends on God, not me.  God brings the people, and God heals them.”

     In 1974 Fr. McDonough was transferred to the Mission Church in Boston, the parish where he grew up.  He received permission from his archbishop, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, to work full-time in the charismatic renewal and continue his healing ministry.  He held his first Boston healing services in his sister’s house.


      In a matter of weeks, for lack of space, Fr. McDonough moved the services to a small chapel. Six months later, 300 people were packing the chapel, forcing him to move to a larger facility, St Patrick’s Church in Cambridge.  After a year and a half, close to 1,000 people were coming to each service at St Patrick’s with scores more standing outside hoping to get in.  He then moved to Mission Church where many come weekly.



    “I was amazed to find myself holding healing services in the very church I grew up in.  The Mission Church has a history of healings associated with it.  Close to 100 years ago, a priest named Fr. OConner had a healing ministry at the church.  Ever since that time there have been regular healings at Mission Church.  I grew up hearing about people being healed: neighbors, relatives and friends.  In ninth grade, I myself was healed of double lumbar pneumonia, from which three kids had died.  It was then I decided to become a Redemptorist Priest.”

      Fr. McDonough believes that healing and the other charismatic gifts are given not only to build up the church but also to be a sign to the world that Christ’s power is with the church now, today.  He points out that there was evidence of the ministry of healing throughout the first thousand years of the church, not just in the early church as some contend.  Fr. McDonough thinks the low point for healing in the Catholic Church came after the Council of Trent when the healing ministry for the sick was limited to the dying through the sacrament of extreme unction.  The turning point, he feels, was the  Second Vatican Council, which reemphasized prayer for the sick as well as the dying.  The council also acknowledged the “extraordinary charisms” as gifts for today.

      “I believe the healing gifts are alive in the Christian community-the church as a whole-not just for priests or people with a special gift of healing; my feeling is that every Christian can and should pray for healing.  If a person has been given the Spirit, he’s been given the gifts of the Spirit.  Most won’t hold huge healing services, but every follower of Christ has the right to pray for healing.”  He says that one of the most important contributions of the charismatic renewal is that it has awakened the church to the fact that the charisms are meant to be used at grassroots level as well as on an official church level.

     “If you’re sick,”  Fr. McDonough asserts, " the first thing you should do is pray, not just as a last resort."   Further, he thinks that many people become overly concerned about how to pray, for healing.  “It’s not as important how you pray, but that you, in fact pray and trust that the three persons of the Trinity know how to work together.”

     What about those who are not healed?  Fr. McDonough points out that there are three types of healing: spiritual, mental, and physical.  The answer to the question, he says, lies in understanding God’s priority in these three types.  Spiritual healing is the most important.  The spiritual sickness is sin; the spiritual healing is salvation.  Because God desires that all be saved, everyone, who repents and believes in Christ, receives spiritual healing.

      Of second importance, Fr. McDonough contends, is healing of the mind.

Because mental sickness can be an obstacle to receiving salvation, he believes that the healing of the mind is God’s second priority.  While Fr. McDonough also believes that God also desires people to be healthy in body, physical illnesses are not usually a direct obstacle to eternal salvation.  And so while physical healing tends to receive the most publicity, it is the least important of the three in God’s eyes.

     Ultimately, Fr. McDonough says,  “Why one person is physically healed and another is not is a mystery hidden in the will of God for that person.  All we can do in that case is simply pray and leave the results to God.”

 

    At the same time, Fr McDonough holds that we must never grow tired of praying that we be healthy in spirit, mind, and body. We must realize that God’s timetable for healing is not always the same as ours.

    To illustrate this point, Fr McDonough likes to tell the story of a man named Jimmy.  Jimmy was an alcoholic and had terminal cancer.  One day Jimmy came to the healing service at Mission Church.  He was miserable; he drank all the time and had no home or friends.  When he came to the service he was moved to repent of his sins and accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  As a result, he stopped drinking, reformed his life and came regularly to the services.  He made friends at the church; he grew in his relationship with God.  A week before he died he told Fr. McDonough he had never been happier because he was going to die in peace and be with the Lord.  “Though he was never healed of cancer,”  Fr. McDonough recalls, “Jimmy received the greatest healing, the healing of sin , and went home to God.  Who could be sad about that? ”