by Most Revd Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town
In the story in the Synoptic Gospels of the healing of the paralytic brought to our Lord by his friends who let down his pallet through the hole they had made in the roof. We are told that when our Lord saw their faith, i.e. the faith of the friends, then he said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” in almost all the other healing miracles it is the faith of the patient which is the basis for our Lord’s healing response. There are other stories where the healing seems to happen because of the faith of someone other than the patient as in the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman and her daughter. But only in the case of the paralytic is the categorical reference made to the faith of the friends as being the ground of our Lord’s healing.
This principle of vicariousness I have thought applies so aptly to religious communities and is such an integral part of their raison d’etre. They may indeed have specific vocations and charisms – some might be a teaching, or a missionary or a medical order. They could be contemplative or active. But I believe that all have this peculiar vicarious ministry, being there on behalf of, for the sake of, others. We have been created to love and to worship God. But there are many of us who do not, who are restless because they have not found their rest in God. On behalf of such, on behalf of all of us, religious communities stand before God, or perhaps more properly, are prostrate before the One who dwells in light unapproachable joining the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven in their ceaseless worship and adoration – “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of they glory”.
We are all sinners but many of us do not fall down in penitence to confess our sins. Our sisters and brothers in the religious orders on behalf of the many who do not confess their sins, or do so most inadequately, cry out, “Woe is me, I am lost, I am a person of unclean lips and dwell amongst a people of unclean lips”, and on behalf of all of us hear the words of absolution through the burning coal, “This has touched your lips. Your guilt has been removed and your sins forgiven. Go in peace the Lord has put away your sins”, and those of those many others.
How like the nine lepers who were healed most of us turn out to be. Only one, returns of the ten to give thanks for God’s abundant mercies. The Religious communities stand before God on behalf of so many of us who are ingrates, who take God’s love and generosity so very much for granted and say, “Thank you God”- they are eucharistic persons on our behalf, we who are always and forever in God’s debt for everything we are, everything we have, is gift. What do you have which you have not received? God is forever gracious and so overflows with grace given freely and bountifully.
How we stand in need of God’s love and mercy. Many however hardly ever think of imploring God to ask for the gifts God is so ready to lavish on us. God’s world is hurting. Natural disasters devastate our world. There is much evil abroad caused by our inhumanity to one another. We oppress and abuse one another. There is poverty, disease and ignorance and wars a plenty. Nuns and monks intercede on behalf of God’s world as Abraham interceded on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. They make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. They hold up God’s world gently, lovingly, compassionately so that it is soaked in the healing stream of the divine love that transfigures all the ghastlinesses into its glorious opposites.
And God seeing the worship and adoration, the contrition and penitence, the holiness and thanksgiving, the supplication of the Religious communities blesses all of us.
Thanks be to God for you our dear sisters and brothers. Without you we would be doomed.
God bless you.