Sunday, May 25, 2014

You have the power to lay hands on people and transfer the Holy Spirit.

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Today I’m going to reflect on the whole idea of the laying on of the hands.  

So we heard about it in the first reading in the Book of Acts.  The Apostles were going around and they were laying hands on people and giving them the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  So we heard,“And then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.  Now, I know those of you who are graduating, a couple of years ago you received this in a special way in confirmation.  So the Bishop laid his hands on you and you were given, as you were anointed, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Those are now just continuing to blossom in your lives.  

About a month ago we took a parish trip to El Salvador, and it was another wonderful experience.  We had a number of parishioners there with us.  One of the experiences was just traveling down the hillsides.  We’d go down the hillsides and visit some of the people that were sick and ill, and we would go visit them and bring them food and pray with them.  And we had a wonderful experience, especially one house with this young man with the laying on of the hands.  It happened especially with one of the people that were on our trip.  So Justin Hunker is here with us at mass today.  I am just going to share his reflection because it was so profound and so powerful.

While we were in El Salvador, we went with the local Vicentions to take food to the sick and poor.  Our first stop was to see a sick, young man confined to his bed.  I remember walking up to the home with curiosity of what it would be like inside. When we entered I was not completely prepared for what I saw.  As we turned the corner and saw the first make-shift bedroom, I remember seeing the young man laying in his bed under his covers. Right at first glimpse he looked to be in a great amount of pain. You could see from his neck down to his abdomen therewas an area that was swollen three times the normal size.  He was unable to sit up and hemoaned with every momentWe gathered in the room with the local woman with the Vincentiansdid a reading, sang and prayed for the young man. While the lady was singing, I prayed for him with all my heart. I recall feeling something inside me happening. I was in deep prayer and I started to feel energized. I remember even hoping we'd lay hands on him and pray over him. At that point Fr. Michael asked if he could say some prayers. He then began singing the song of the angels. When he was finished he asked everyone to reach over and try to find a spot to lay their hands on the young man. I remember being excited because I felt like our prayers could help him, but I wasn't prepared for what would happen next. As I extended my hand over him and set it on his leg, as soon as I touched him I experienced an amazing feeling come over me. I felt a surge lift through my body and extend out my hand over the young man. Spiritually, it was amazing, but I wasn't sure what to make of it. That night, as I was reflecting, I decided to share my experience with our group from Saint Joes. Initially, I thought they are going to think I am crazy. "You prayed over him and you felt something leave your body?" But instead of cynics, the group affirmed my experience, and one lady even said she saw and witnessed what happened. It felt great knowing that the group was supportive. It also felt great knowing that the Holy Spirit would use me to do His work.

It was a powerful moment in that room, and you could feel the Holy Spirit.  And as the one lady said, as Justin was praying there was just a glow.  You could see the prayer and the source around him.  And the young man had been agonizing in that pain for that whole time, for a moment, his body laid and rested.  He finally was able just to rest in the Holy Spirit.

We found out later, though, the young man died.  He died the next day.  So instead of healing him, we were able to give him those final prayers and commend him to eternal life. It’s a very powerful experience of the laying on of the hands.  

So what I am going to do first is just focus on how, in the Sacraments, we receive and experience the laying on of the hands through priest and through bishops and through deacons, and then I am just going to reflect on how you, as baptized people, really can do the same thing and how you can lay your hands on people and transfer the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So as we first kind of look through the Sacraments, first of all, the laying on of the hands is so significant that becomes a fundamental teaching of the church of Jesus.  So from the very beginning in the book of Hebrews, we hear set in the very context of His primary teachings is the laying on of the hands.  And so it is done through all of the Sacraments.

So, first of all, if you look at baptism, at the beginning of the rite, the priest walks over to the infant, or whoever is being baptized, he signs the child with the sign of the cross on the forehead and then he invites the parents and the godparents to do the same.  And then afterwards there is a prayer where he says, “May you have strength in the power of Christ, Our Savior, who lives and reigns forever and ever.”  And then the rite invokes the priest to lay his hand on the child in a moment of silence for a conference of the Holy Spirit.  And then there is one other point ofprayer at the point of exorcism, so there is actually a prayer of exorcism done over the child.  And the prayer is “All mighty and ever living God, you send your only son into the world to cast out the power of Satan’s spirit of evil to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness and bring him to the splendor of the kingdom of light.  We pray for this child.  Set him free from original sin, make him a temple of your glory, and send your spirit to dwell with him.”  At that point the priest lays his hands on the child and there is a moment of exorcism where all the evil spirits are cast out from that child upon baptism.

So the laying on of the hand is very significant.  So the first moment of your life, when you entered into eternal life, was in baptism.  The second one is confession.  So whenever you go to confession, and I’ve heard people tell me this before, at the end of confession when the priest absolves you of your sins, he lays his hands or extends his hands over you, lays his hands on you and says the words, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Now, I can just tell you, for me as a priest what I see before me happen, usually there is a great rest and a great peace that that person feels and experiences.  I’ve had many people tell me afterwards that they have often felt the Holy Spirit.  They have either felt the sense of warmth gothrough their body or a sense of peace or a sense of calm, and they feel and experience God’s forgiveness.  And that comes through the laying on of the hands.

So the next Sacrament that we will celebrate today is Communion.  So in just a few moments the gifts of bread and wine will be brought up, and the priest lays his hands over the bread and wine, at in the moment the Holy Spirit is invoked and those gifts of bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  So we get to all experience that through the laying on of the hands.
If any of you are going to get married, or if any of you have been married, there’s a moment right after the “Our Father” that’s called the nuptial blessing.  And the priest extends his hands over the couple, and he lays his hands on them and he blesses them and he asks God to bless the woman and the man that he has united into marriage.

When I was ordained a priest, and when they ordain priests, there’s a powerful moment of the rite where you kneel before the Bishop and lay his hands on you and invokes the Holy Spirit.  He transfers his priesthood into you, and then every priest in the Diocese walks by you and lays hands on you.  For me that was the most powerful moment where I felt the Holy Spirit when I was ordained.
And finally, the last Sacrament, the Sacrament of the anointing of the sick.  There is a moment in the laying on of the hands where, in silence, the priest and anybody else in the room is supposed to lay hands on that person and anoint them and lay hands on them and pray over them in silence.  

And I have witnessed that to be such a profound experience so many times as the families are gathered around the body.  We lay hands on the person that is about to die, and you experience this tremendous presence of God, and this tremendous peace washes over everybody.  It’s a really profound and wonderful experience.  And hopefully you’ve gotten to experience this in different ways throughout your life.

So that’s in the sacramental life of the church.  But you, as baptized, are called to lay your hands on people.  You, as baptized, have that power to transfer the gift of the Holy Spirit that you have been received; and especially you guys that have been confirmed, you have received the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  

So here is all what I want to encourage you to do:  Pray over people.  So if anybody is -- say they ask you for a prayer.  They say, “Can you pray for me?  I am going through a really difficult time”; or “Can you pray for me?  I am about to have surgery”; or “Can you pray for me.  I am struggling with an addiction”; or “Can you pray for me?  I am expecting a baby,” or whatever.Just take a moment right then and there and lay your hands on that person.  You don’t even have to say anything.  You don’t have to say any words.  Just lay your hands on them and say a silent prayer and the Holy Spirit will come through your hands and onto that person.  It’s one of the principal teachings of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to us through the laying on of the hands.

So that’s my hope for you, especially those of you who have been confirmed and are graduating, that you will use this gift, that you will continue to bless people with your hands and with your lives.  Each and every one of us that is baptized has this power and this ability.  So I just encourage you, anytime you have that opportunity, lay hands on someone in silence and pray that they, too, may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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