Healing the Royal Official’s Son, Joseph-Marie Vien, 1752
Transcription Of Audio
Translation of the Epistle for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Brethren: See how you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore, become not unwise, but understanding what is the will of God. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is luxury: but be ye filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord: giving thanks always for all things, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father; being subject one to another in the fear of Christ.
Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to St. John
At that time, there was a certain ruler whose son was sick at Capharnaum. He, having heard that Jesus was come from Judæa into Galilee, went to Him, and prayed Him to come down, and heal his son for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him: Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not. The ruler saith to Him: Lord, come down before my son die. Jesus saith to him: Go on thy way, thy son lives. The man believed the word which Jesus had said to him, and went his way. And as he was going down, his servants met him, and they brought word, saying that his son lived. He asked therefore of them the hour wherein he grew better. And they said to him: Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. The father therefore knew that it was at the same hour that Jesus said to him: Thy son lives; and himself believed, and his whole house.
The Saving Words of the Gospel
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.
This Gospel passage is sometimes confused with the Healing of the Servant of the Centurion, the Roman centurion, and they certainly have some similar elements, but the details are quite different and these are separate miracles that our Lord brought about in the same region. You can read about that one in Matthew Chapter Eight, the Healing of the Centurion’s Servant.
So we see this rather typical scenario: There is a crisis in this family, in this case, the boy is dying of a fever, and the father travels a ways, hearing that Christ is present, and asks Him for a miracle. This is a rather common occurrence. We see many who pray for all sorts of extraordinary revelations, extraordinary manifestations, and nonetheless, one’s own state is, in a certain sense, left unattended. It’s very easy, I think, to ask for blessings without previously configuring ourselves, in our hearts and our minds, with Christ. And Christ reproaches him for his lack of faith. Doesn’t mean that he had no faith at all. Of course not. If he had no faith at all, our Lord wouldn’t have worked the miracle and he wouldn’t have made the trip to ask this of Him. So what’s going on here? Does it mean that he had no faith? No. It’s just that it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t in its fullness. It wasn’t as it ought to be.
Our Lord, is not satisfied to deal with a merely corporal illness. He sees something much more urgent, and that’s the faith of the father. So He challenges the father’s faith: Unless you see signs, you won’t believe. So what He’s doing is He’s revealing to the man his own deficiency. And this is a pedagogical therapeutic action on our Lord. He’s not shaming him. He’s revealing to the man something that has gone awry. There is some faith there, but our Lord detects a mitigated faith. In fact, a faith that is still in its incipient stage and is a hindrance to the other healing that He’s seeking. Perhaps the man thinks, I’ve heard good things about Him. And I’ve got nothing to lose by asking for a miracle. All He could do is send me on my way or the miracle not take place. It seems like a rather desperate measure. And nonetheless, our Lord is willing to work with that. That’s not a problem.
We have even degrees of contrition. We can have imperfect contrition. I’m sorry for my sins because I know what that will bring about for my soul in the next life. And so I confess as a form of fire insurance. Well, our Lord is willing to work with that. If imperfect contrition is all we have, He’ll work with that if that will help save our soul. And then there’s perfect contrition, which is not only sorry because of the consequences of one sin, but perfect contrition is above all, sorrow for having offended One so good. One who is so holy, so good, so pure, and I’ve ruptured a relationship with Him through my choices. Obviously, that is already in both cases, though, there is a prevenient grace at work.
Prevenient grace is the type of grace that goes before the conversion. If we should have the disgrace of committing a grave sin, and we repine our decisions, that’s called prevenient grace because if I’m not in a state of grace, I’m incapable of receiving any actual graces. For actual graces to act we have to be in a state of grace. So state of grace is the structure. The actual grace is like the electric current that makes the structure alive. In other words, it gives makes an act better said. The habitual grace gives life, but the movement, that’s the actual grace. That’s like the power that runs the machinery. Well, if the machinery is broken down, and there’s no power, and so our Lord doesn’t leave us in that state. Rather He sends what’s called a prevenient grace. Prevenient means it comes before; praevenire: to come before.
And so, this man has received a certain prevenient grace. And that’s our Lord’s in. But our Lord is not leaving him there at that low level of prevenient grace that comes with just the beginnings of faith. Our Lord, in alerting to him his own precarious state of a lack of faith, is healing the father first. He heals the father’s lack of faith, or diminished faith, and then carries out a healing that is, perhaps to worldly eyes, more dramatic, but less important, which is the physical healing of the son and He does it with a word. He just says, Your son lives.
That word is the creating Word that brought the entire cosmos into creation. That Word is not only declarative, it’s effectual. It brings things into existence. When you confess, our Lord, through the priest in persona Christi, speaks, your forgiven. With the word of absolution, you’re forgiven. With the word of Consecration, He brings about the transubstantiation of this bread to His Body, of this wine to His Blood. His word is not only declarative, it’s effective. He is the Word so with one word, the father’s faith is healed and brought to increase and the son is healed.
The Venerable Bede, one of the great early English saints who was also a great historian, he speaks about degrees of faith; beginning, increase, and perfection. In this, we see the man with his beginning of faith, this prevenient grace revealed in a petition, and it’s increased with the Word of our Lord, and then it’s brought to perfection when he is confirmed with, again, hearing the good news that his son lives. We even see the three stages of faith in this man’s soul. But notice that in all of this, the man doesn’t see anything; he hears. Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing, not from seeing. So he heard about Christ. He sought Him out. He hears the word of Christ. He believes. He hears about the healing, and his faith reaches perfection.
How many times do we see in the lives of the Apostles, after they witness a miracle, it says, …and they believe. Well, I thought they already believed. What were they doing hanging around our Lord for three years? Were they doing this like a circus sideshow, just watching as curiosity? As if curiosity were driving this? No, they already have faith. They already have the life of grace, but because grace is active, and our faith is actually more than intellectual assent, our faith is a relationship, a living relationship with Christ, it begins with the act of faith.
And there’s in the act of faith, there is a primacy of the will, over the intellect. This is really important to understand. There is a primacy of the will over the intellect, not against the intellect, but over the intellect. In other words, anyone, in as much as they can understand the good news and receives the grace, can make an act of faith. We don’t have to read all of the Summa Theologica in order to understand a greater exposition of the faith in order to finally say, Okay, now it makes sense and I believe. That’s not faith. Faith is not, I seek understanding in order to make my act of faith. Faith is seeking understanding. So, the act of the will is already operant. It’s a choice under the action of grace, but it’s a choice. And once the choice is made, then our task is to form ourselves in the Faith and that’s why we ought to read good solid, traditional Catholic books of dogma. I would recommend the Summa Theologica to everyone. A quaestio a day keeps the heresy away. It’s really important. And so we are duty bound to seek to understand what we already believe, to go deeper because it is a relationship that ought not remained static.
Sometimes we can, in our petitions, go to our Lord, with worries, concerns about loved ones in our family or friends or coworkers, who perhaps are living in sin, are not living the life of sacraments, are seemingly far from the Church, and in our apostolic zeal, in our charity, we’re concerned, and we pray for them. We ought to go to our Lord with absolute trust in Him. Not demanding that we see the external signs of conversion in order to be satisfied, knowing it’s enough to ask Him with absolute trust and confidence, to pray, to do penance for somebody’s conversion. To leave it in our Lord’s heart with absolute trust. In a certain sense, we delegate our problems to Him because that’s something that only He can fix, and He wants to. The child of many tears and prayers will not be lost. We know that our Lord hears the prayers of children, He hears the prayers of parents, and He acts. So we’re not just messengers telling Him something He doesn’t know. We are intercessors who participate in His saving action.
And our petitions then are effective, but at the same time, like the father interceding for his son, we become recipients of grace as well. At least we receive them. What we do with them, that’s up to us. And so, when we ask, when we intercede, when we plead for the salvation of the world, the conversion of our leaders etc., we ought to be open to graces of further conversion, deepening of faith that our Lord wants to give us and the generous choices He wants to extract from us. And so we’re not indifferent. We’re not bystanders. We’re not mere intercessors. We are also recipients of grace as this father was a recipient of grace, in order to give Him the joy of not only seeing us as His cooperators but also as docile servants who receive graces of healing for our ongoing conversion.
— Fr. Ermatinger