Healing Line

Healing Line

Piercing the Glass Ceiling

by Francis MacNutt
Mar/Apr 2003

As Charles Dickens said in a Tale ofTwo Cities: "These are the best of times, these are the worst of times."

In relation to Christian healing these are the best of times when we consider how far we have come in the last hundred years in recovering the lost ministry of praying for healing. One hundred years ago, healing prayer was almost unheard of in most Christian churches. At first it was the Pentecostals who rediscovered it. Then it was famous 'faith healers' like Oral Roberts and Kathryn Kuhlman. And then through the efforts of individuals such as Agnes Sanford and Tommy Tyson, together with mainline groups such as the Order of St. Luke, healing prayer came to be accepted.

And yet, as recently as 1970 I was kindly asked to resign my position as Executive Secretary of the Catholic Homiletic Society because of my growing notoriety as a priest praying for the sick. This was seen as compromising the middle–of–the–road solidity of that organization. (Don't look it up because, soon after, it ceased existence.) Even now when I ask Christian groups how many can remember their fathers ever praying with them when they were sick as little children, only about two percent raise their hands. And when you ask the same question about their mothers, the number, at best, only goes up to ten percent.

But now, praying for the sick has become almost normal, and many churches feature several couples standing at the side to pray for the sick after Communion.

Now, that is a remarkable change. Truly these are the best of times.

But look at it in another way and you will see that there is a ceiling, a lid on healing prayer. For the most part, praying for healing is a small, inconsequential, individual ministry in the lives of most churches. Even taking into consideration the large TV healing ministries of such evangelists as Benny Hinn, they don't affect the basic work of the mainline churches. And they don't, for the most part, get at the deepest needs of the people who come to church on Sunday ( or who don't come to church on Sunday). By and large, the leaders of the established churches don't recognize how badly their churches need healing prayer to survive the next few decades and not wither up (as has the church in Europe1).

I want to give you just one notable example of the difference it would make if the mainline churches would rediscover the depths and wonders of the healing ministry that Jesus has entrusted to us. This great human need has been dramatized in the current revelations about sexual abuse. The pedophilia crisis has gotten the most publicity, but it represents only a small percentage of the large numbers of our people who have experienced sexual abuse. For example, it is generally accepted that, at a minimum, one out of four adult women in the U.S. have experienced sexual abuse growing up. This means that approximately 25 million women in our country have experienced sexual abuse.

The common professional estimation of the situation is that the baneful results of such abuse will last a lifetime. For those who can afford counseling, their situation may become somewhat better, but they still will suffer.

As one victim writes, answering the question, "Why not forget and move on?":

"If you are a victim you cannot leave it in the past. Once you have been molested as a child, everything in your life changes. Every relationship with adults is changed by this experience. Every physical touch you receive for the rest of your life can be colored by this experience...

The impact of abuse on sexual intimacy is painfully evident on those days when I feel I cannot breathe if my husband is in bed with me, or when I cannot bear to have him touch me. So, I repeat, victims are unable to forget because the impact of childhood abuse is lifelong and pervasive."2

Admittedly every person responds differently, but we are speaking about millions of women ( and men, too) who are permanently impaired, and the· current wisdom is that, beyond a certain point, they are wounded for life.

That is, without prayer for healing.

What we have found is that there is hope. These victims can be helped through prayer for inner healing. This prayer usually takes time — not just a quick laying on of hands. The ministry time may take one session a week for six months, but it does happen.

To take just one example, we received a letter, giving the three steps of her treatment.

  1. Counseling, paid for by the Archdiocese for two and a half years. Along with medication, counseling helped bring me out of clinical depression.
  2. Spiritual direction helped me go to God, question God, get angry with God. fall in love with God all over again...
  3. You and your prayer ministers prayed with me at a Day of Healing Prayer. I had many physical ailments. including a completely paralyzed digestive system and an inability to raise my arms past my shoulders. My left arm was completely frozen to my waist. I also suffered from overwhelming fatigue and had difficulty staying out of bed for more than two hours a day. I was healed during that one day of prayer!

After taking more than 12 pills a day for two years, l no longer take any medication except vitamins."

Later she returned for more prayer: "I did not want anger or bitterness against priests and bishops to take root again. That prayer request was answered and continues to grow — most of all with an overwhelming love that overflows into all areas of my life."3

This is what I mean by a glass ceiling. The churches know the value of psychological counseling and spiritual direction — and these do help — but I do not see or hear of the leaders of the main churches saying, "Come to our ministers and we will pray with you that your broken lives and hearts may be healed." Is healing prayer being taught in our seminaries?

And sexual abuse is only one example. Take addictions of all sorts, for another example. Do most Christian churches believe in healing at this kind of level? And yet addictions affect millions of people in our society. It seems that deep healing has never crossed the radar screens of most Christians that in Jesus Christ we have a remedy.

Our dream is that some day everyone will understand the healing love and power of Jesus.

Francis and Judith
with Rachel and David

1Here I encourage you to read The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins.
2America, September 16, 2002, p. 17.
3From a letter, quoted with permission.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Mar/Apr 2003 Issue