The story of Joseph sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Joseph’s ability to keep his peace despite such painful injustices is so heroic that we might be tempted to dismiss it as just a charming tale.
But this is part of Scripture. This is part of God’s inspired revelation to us. This is one of many stories in the Bible that point us to Jesus and give us insight into the life he has called us to.
For example, Joseph was sold by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver, while Jesus was betrayed by Judas for thirty silver pieces. Joseph was falsely accused, and so was Jesus. In prison Joseph met two prisoners, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and the royal baker. One was released; one was not. On the cross, Jesus encountered two prisoners. One entered paradise; the other did not. Joseph was exalted to rule Egypt under the Pharaoh, and Jesus was raised to the right hand of God. In all these instances, both Joseph and Jesus show us a godly way to deal with tragedy, injustice, and hatred.
The Sting of the Past. What about us? It can be so hard to rise above our sufferings or to be as forgiving as Joseph was. We may react well when we are feeling blessed, but it’s often a different story when someone close to us hurts us. We fi nd it hard to forgive. We may think or even say cruel things to the person. We may get resentful and even seek some kind of revenge.
But there is another way. We can find healing for our wounds— healing that does away with negative strongholds and restores our sense of hope and trust. This healing happens as we open ourselves to the Lord and ask him to touch our wounded memories and deliver us from their sting. Healing is one of the great blessings that God has brought to life in the church in recent decades. All over the world, people are recognizing the effects of their past and are asking the Lord for his healing touch. Many parishes, in fact, now have healing Masses or teams of people who pray with others for personal healing. Many people are coming to Jesus, the Great Physician, and asking him to restore them—and he is doing it!
God doesn’t want his children bound up by the wounds of life. He sent Jesus to heal us, both in mind and body. He sent Jesus to release us not only from the oppression that sin does to us directly but also from the oppression that comes to us from the indirect effects of sin—and that includes wounded relationships. Jesus loves to minister to our hurts. He longs to remove the pain in our memories and replace it with his comfort and love. We may remember what happened, just as Joseph always remembered his years of slavery and imprisonment, but the sting of these memories can be removed. The pain associated with these memories can be taken away so that they no longer weigh us down or cast a dark shadow over our relationships.
Two Words of Caution. Before we go any further, it’s important that we express two notes of concern. First, we need to be clear that when we talk about healing of memories, we are talking about past hurts that have kept us bound in fear, anger, worry, or bitterness. We are not talking about the minor events that happen on a day-to-day basis as much as we are talking about the more serious events that have had a significant effect on the way we relate to other people.
Second, we need to make it clear that there are some situations where praying for healing should be accompanied by professional counseling or experienced spiritual direction. Some wounds go so deep and have so many side effects that it is best to seek help from someone with a good amount of wisdom and experience to help us. Parishes and diocesan offices are a good place to start if you believe you need this kind of help.
A central part of seeking inner healing has to do with examining our past carefully. “Are there any specific memories that I need to bring before the Lord?” Sometimes, the answer is quite obvious, but other times we may have to sit quietly and look at our relationships to see if anything surfaces. We may also need to look at relationships in our past, perhaps when we were children or young adults. Something may have happened years ago that has continued to bother us or has brought about a stronghold that is affecting our relationships today. Give yourself some time for reflection, and be sure to ask the Holy Spirit to help you.
Most of the time, we know what our most glaring wounds are and we know how they have affected us. Most of the time, it’s not too hard to figure out how our present relationships are burdened by past wounds—if that is the case for us. But there are times when we simply can’t pinpoint the cause. There are times when we know we feel bound up, but we just don’t know why that is or how we got there. This is when it may be a good idea to seek the help of an experienced counselor or spiritual director. Granted, these instances are rare, but they do occur. For some of us, all we can say is, “I don’t know why, but I do know something’s oppressing me.”
Praying for Inner Healing. Counselors and spiritual directors all over the world can attest to the way healings have come to everyday people through the ministry of prayer. And while it may sound like this kind of prayer is a specialty reserved only for the very holy, the truth is that any of us can pray for healing, whether for ourselves or for a loved one. All it takes are a few simple steps.
The first, most obvious step is to believe that Jesus wants to heal wounded memories. So as you begin to pray, make a statement of faith. Tell Jesus that you believe and ask him to help you overcome any doubt or unbelief you may have.
Next, try to forgive. Do your best to pardon whoever it was who hurt you in the past and caused the painful memory. Also, try to ask God’s forgiveness for any ways that you may have contributed to the wounding of this relationship. Seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation if you can, and let the mercy of God wash you clean.
Now, ask Jesus to be with you as you begin to recall the situation that caused you this hurt. Tell him about what happened. Try to be specific. Using your imagination, picture Jesus sitting with you, listening closely to your every word, and offering you his comfort.
After you have told Jesus everything you want to say, ask him for healing. You can say something like this: “Jesus, you died for our sins. You are the Great Physician, and I believe you can heal me.” Be like Bartimaeus and make your prayer over and over again (Mark 10:46- 52). Be like the centurion and tell Jesus: “Only say the word, and I will be healed” (Matthew 8:8).
Finally, try to sense what Jesus is saying to you or what he is doing in your heart in response to your prayer. Perhaps he is putting his hand on your shoulder and looking you in the eye with great love and compassion. Maybe he is reminding you of a favorite Scripture passage— as a way of taking away the pain. Or maybe he is assuring you of his love and peace—that he doesn’t condemn you or think poorly of you.
In most cases, praying for healing is less about skill than it is about love and compassion. Many people have been healed simply because of the care and concern shown by the person praying with them. Sometimes, a healing touch, a warm word of encouragement, or the gift of another person’s presence is all that is needed to set us free from the pain of the past.
It’s All about Unity. In our first article, we noted how Scripture is filled with stories of wounded relationships. But as we close this article, we want to emphasize that many of these relationships were healed by the Lord. We also want to emphasize that Jesus himself brought great healing and reconciliation when he walked the earth. He brought together twelve apostles and countless other disciples—all very different people—and used them to form a new community of faith. Through his Spirit, he healed rifts among the apostles, between Gentiles and Jews, rich and poor, men and women (Galatians 3:27-29).
Jesus is all about unity. His final prayer at the Last Supper was that we would be one people, joined in love. He prayed that his Father’s love would fill all of us and draw us together, healing every division and breaking every stronghold (John 17:20-26). In the final analysis, healed relationships are not just a side effect of his mission or an issue of low priority in his mind. It’s the very heart of his calling. It’s something he loves to do for us. So let’s take his promise to heart and seek his healing touch.
For Further Reading
Here are some books that explain healing prayer in greater detail:
The Practice of Healing Prayer: A How-to Guide for Catholics by Francis MacNutt is available from The Word Among Us at www.wau.org or 1-800-775-9673.
Healing the Hidden Self by Barbara Shlemon Ryan is available from Ave Maria Press at www.avemariapress. com or 1-800-282-1865.
Healing through the Mass by Fr. Robert DeGrandis, SSJ, is available from Catholic Book Publishing Company at www.catholicbookpublishing.com or 1-973-890-2400.