How hard Our Lord tried to open the minds and the hearts of His hearers! Some gave "glory to God," upon seeing Him heal the paralytic, but the great majority of the people had little understanding of spiritual things and the need for spiritual healing. Even His closest disciples imagined that Jesus would oust the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom in which they would all have prominent positions. The disciples James and John asked Jesus: "Grant to us that we may sit, one at your right hand and the other at your left hand, in your glory." "You do not know what you are asking for," Jesus replied (Mark 10:37,38).
The healing of the paralytic in today's Gospel was one of the many "signs" Jesus would present as evidence of His heavenly origin. But there was always a lesson to be learned. "Your sins are forgiven you," He said to the paralytic. The ultimate cause of his paralysis, as of every human affliction and of every natural disaster, is sin. Because of sin, we are all born paralytics, unable to rise without supernatural help from the pallet upon which sin has laid the human race.
This was not the way it was supposed to be. God created man and placed him in a Paradise from which he would have passed to the next life without suffering or death - until Adam and Eve sinned and were turned out of Paradise. God said to Adam, "Cursed be the ground because of you; in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, since out of it you were taken; for dust you are and unto dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:17-19).
"Therefore," says St. Paul, "as through one man sin entered the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed unto all men because all men have sinned…" (Romans 5:12).
Why do we have destructive hurricanes like Katrina? Katrina must be examined in the light of Holy Scripture. Remember the great flood God sent in the time of Noah! Remember the fire and brimstone that fell upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah! Jesus Himself pronounces terrible judgments against those who are indifferent to His word, as He did against the impenitent towns:
"Woe to thee, Corozain! Woe to thee, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been worked the miracles that have been worked in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted to Heaven? Thou shalt be thrust down to hell! For if the miracles had been worked in Sodom that have been worked in thee, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for thee" (Matthew 11:20-24).
The people of New Orleans, Biloxi, and other devastated areas are neither more nor less sinful than the rest of us, but God's just judgment is provoked when at Mardi Gras, the day before the penitential season of Lent, people are behaving like the idolatrous Israelites cavorting and carousing before the golden calf. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The destruction and loss of life caused by the terrible hurricane Katrina, is a lesson for all of to repent of our sins, to do penance, and to change our way of living - before the chastisement comes.
We must learn from Katrina. Not how to respond to a natural disaster. We'll let the President and FEMA work on that. What we must learn is that the handwriting is on the wall for America, just as it was for the king of Babylon, Baltassar. This ancient king was drinking at a banquet with his nobles, using the sacred vessels stolen from the Jerusalem Temple, when the fingers of a hand appeared and wrote on the wall in the king's sight: "MANE, THECEL, PHARES" (Daniel 5:25). "And the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees struck one against the other" (Daniel 5:6). The prophet Daniel was summoned and gave him this interpretation: "MANE: God hath numbered thy kingdom and hath finished it. THECEL: Thou art weighed in the balance and art found wanting. PHARES: Thy kingdom is divided and is given to the Medes and the Persians… The same night, Baltassar the Chaldean king was slain. And Darius, the Mede, succeeded to the kingdom…" (Daniel 5: 26-28;30,31).
When there is no true repentance, does the time of grace come to an end to be succeeded by chastisement? St. Alphonsus Liguori warns us: "God, as the Apostle says, 'will have all men to be saved' (1 Tim. 2:4); but He also wishes us all to labor for our own salvation, at least by adopting the means of overcoming our enemies, and of obeying Him when He calls us to repentance. Sinners hear the calls of God, but they forget them, and continue to offend Him. But God does not forget them. He numbers the graces which He dispenses, as well as the sins which we commit. Hence, when the time which He has fixed arrives, God deprives us of His graces, and begins to inflict CHASTISEMENT" (St. Alphonsus, Sermon: "On the Number of Sins Beyond Which God Pardons No More," olrl.org/snt_docs/num_sins.shtml).
Chastisement is God's last gamble. St. Alphonsus says elsewhere: "Tribulation is for the sinner at once a punishment and a grace, says St. Augustine. (On Ps.38). It is a punishment inasmuch as it has been drawn down upon him by his sins; but it is a grace, and an important grace, inasmuch as it may ward eternal destruction from him, and is an assurance that God means to deal mercifully with him if he look into himself, and receive with thankfulness that tribulation which has opened his eyes to his miserable condition, and invites him to return to God" (Six Discourses on Natural Calamities, Divine Threats, catholictradition.org).
Is this not the most serious business? Let us not provoke the Lord's woes and maledictions by mortal sin, but healed like the paralytic and filled with the fear of God, let us resolve to sin no more, remembering the words of St. Paul in today's Epistle, "in everything you have been enriched in Him, in all utterance and in all knowledge; even as the witness to the Christ has been made so firm in you that you lack no grace, while awaiting the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will also keep you secure unto the end, unimpeachable in the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is trustworthy, by him you have been called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:5-9).