By RICHARD DUNSTAN
One of Father Richard McAlear’s favourite biblical characters is a donkey. It reminds him of where he stands in God’s scheme of things, especially in his healing ministry.
Remember Balaam in Numbers chapter 22? He was on a mission from God, but he got it messed up, and the donkey he was riding had to tell him off before he got it straightened out. Then Balaam spoke the word of God, bravely and truthfully.
“The Lord spoke to him through a donkey,” Father McAlear told the 2014 Vancouver Catholic Charismatic Conference. I find great consolation in that. We don’t need great education in [healing] techniques.
“We just need to have Jesus.”
Father McAlear, head of the Ministry of Hope and Healing, was a last-minute replacement for scheduled speaker Bob Canton at the conference at St. Matthew’s Church in Surrey. Canton, who leads a healing ministry based in Stockton, Calif., had to step down due to a family medical crisis.
“We just need to have Jesus” was the heart of Father McAlear’s message on healing. “Healing is a gift of love,” he told the congregation. “It’s faith in His love, not faith in faith. It’s not a magic transformation of energy. It’s not New Age technique. It’s not other gods.” Even laying hands on the people we pray for is optional, he said—a gesture of compassion, not a necessity. It’s all about Jesus.
“The fullness of divinity dwells in him in bodily form. He’s higher than cancer, he’s higher than Parkinson’s disease, he’s higher than infection.”
But Father McAlear didn’t fully grasp the importance of Jesus until he was baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1972, two years after his ordination to the priesthood and a full 12 years after he entered the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Not that he didn’t have a good Catholic background. He was born in Boston, of parents who were Irish and Italian—they met at church. “Everybody was Catholic,” he said. He wanted to be a missionary, but he got hepatitis and was told it left him too feeble for missionary work—a bit of a chuckle now, considering his speaking ministry takes him to 30 conferences a year.
He joined the Oblates in 1960, and in 1964 was sent to Rome for seven years of study. He actually spent a day at a session of the Second Vatican Council, thanks to a bishop who got a number of seminarians through the doors for
the sake of the experience.
“I didn’t understand a thing that was said, but I was there,” he told the conference.
Ordained in 1970, he returned to the United States in 1971 to find everything changed in the wake of Vatican II. Both the country and the Church were full of discontent and confusion—even about Jesus. Father McAlear was no different from many others. At one point he went to his spiritual director to ask why he should preach the Gospel—“why should I say don’t do Buddha, do Jesus?” The director said “I don’t know,” and nobody else could give him an answer either.
Then the spiritual director he had had before he went to Rome got in touch with him and asked him how things were going. “Dry as dust, and very confusing,” he said. The former director told him he might want to check out the Catholic charismatic renewal, so off he went to a prayer meeting.
He could barely believe what he was seeing and hearing. Nuns in traditional habits hugging hippies, and vice-versa. A truck driver who talked about Jesus like he knew him. “I was mad,” Father McAlear said. “I was the one with the degree in theology.” But then he was offered baptism in the Spirit with the promise: you can have what they have.
The group prayed over him. He didn’t speak in tongues, see visions, or get slain in the Spirit, “but I did have an overwhelming peace. All the problems in the country, all the problems in the Church—Jesus is in charge, not me.” And when he began to read his breviary, just as he had been doing for 14 years, “I’m reading the Psalm, and I’m thinking, who wrote this?” It was like the scales falling from Paul’s eyes, like going from black and white to Technicolor. “I [already] knew Jesus was Lord, but now Jesus was Lord.”
That answered his question about the difference between Jesus and Buddha or any other religious figure. The others were trying to point to God, but Jesus is God. “He’s the one they’re pointing to.
“You can only have one Most High. Everyone else is under his feet.”
Immediately he got involved in the prayer group. “Those were beautiful days,” he said. “Nobody knew anything, There were no books written [about the renewal]. The one who said ‘let’s start’ became the leader that night. The leaders would meet on another night and play a game called ‘what are we doing?’” He broke out in a sweat the first time he was asked to pray for healing, but in 1976 he entered the healing ministry, and he’s still at it.
For healing, he said, “all you need is to be sick—and that’s everybody.” We must also forgive, because unforgiveness is “the number one obstacle to healing. God can’t put anything into your fist. You have to open your hand. That’s not always easy, because people have been hurt.”
We also need to get rid of our own sense of unworthiness. Nobody deserves healing—it’s a gift, available to all. God’s mercy triumphs over justice. Finally, we must recognize that Jesus is present, just as we see in the resurrection accounts in the gospels. ”Sometimes we see him and sometimes we don’t,” Father McAlear said. “But he’s always there. He’s present here now.”
Father McAlear also said he would love to see a Catholic parish—or many Catholic parishes—named “Jesus, friend of sinners.” And not only in name—the Church, and individual Catholics, need to imitate Jesus in that respect.
Jesus ate with sinners, he said. He was warm, comforting and attractive. Little children came and sat on his lap. When Zaccheus, like other sinners, came to him, Jesus responded in mercy—and then Zaccheus responded in faith.
“People are attracted by the holiness, but they aren’t blinded by it,” Father McAlear said. “The holiness passes through a filter of compassion and love.”
“I eat with sinners all the time. There’s nobody else to share with.”
Father McAlear also led a healing service, and the conference concluded with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Michael Miller.
In his homily, Archbishop Miller said a personal relationship with Jesus is the core of the Gospel.
He said a third of Catholics believe—wrongly—that God is an impersonal force, and many see the Church as “an institution with a host of rules to keep some sort of order.” But Christianity is an encounter with an event and a person that gives life an eternal dimension and a sense of direction.
“People come to the Lord, not because they first hear clear teaching,” he said. “They obey the commandments because they’ve fallen in love.”
“We have to believe that life is always better with Jesus.”
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