The encounter with Christ that “heals our souls and lifts us from our mats”

By Ryan LeBlanc, Teacher Chaplain, E.D. Feehan Catholic High School

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? – Read Luke 5:17-26

Which is easier, to say ‘have hope during a pandemic’, or to say that bread and wine have become the flesh and blood of the Creator of the universe?

Which takes the more faith?

Which makes us more vulnerable?

Many of us are walking upright, and more-or-less emotionally regulated – this year, that is a huge blessing, a great success.

But it is also true that COVID has paralyzed us.

This man on a stretcher in the gospel was isolated.  He was restricted. He could not go into crowds. His freedom was collapsed.  He could not do the things he wanted to do.

This man on a stretcher is us. Our whole world.

We cannot go out like we once could.

Many good things that we loved doing we cannot do right now.

Yet, when we come before Jesus, he is first concerned with our spiritual healing. He wants to touch the wounds in our relationship with him, to free us from the sin that enslaves us. He’s not worried about how often I go to my favourite restaurant, or whether I can go shopping in person.  He deals with what is troubled and broken in our hearts first.

But our physical illness and our lack freedom to do what we want – we are obsessed with these. We wonder, and we wish, and we agonize: why does it have to be this way?

Why does the world have to suffer so much?

Why do I have to carry such a burden?

To mix in another Gospel miracle story, when Jesus’s disciples saw the man born blind, they asked what they thought was a smart question. This guy was born blind, and blindness is a punishment for sin, but he couldn’t have sinned before he was born, could he? So who’s to blame for this suffering? His parents or him?

Who’s to blame?

In my heart and on my social media, this question is everywhere. Who’s to blame for the pandemic? Who’s to blame for the restrictions? Who’s to blame for the lack of restrictions? Who’s to blame for the inequities that are made worse? Who’s to blame for privileged people suddenly feeling isolated and misunderstood? Who’s to blame for the way I feel at the end of an exhausting day?

These questions, these sufferings are what end up driving us to Jesus. Or, rather, it is the faith of our community that carries our broken hearts to him.

It is the faith of the paralyzed man’s friends that brings him to the healing savior.  It can be the faith of the Holy Church and of all people of good will that can bring our pandemic paralysis to the Lord Jesus.

Even when we cannot go to a building, the living temple of the People of God, the living Word of the Scriptures, the living tradition of the saints and the prayers, they can carry us when we don’t even feel like we can move an inch. And, carried by the faith of those around us, we find ourselves, broken and trapped, finally in the presence of the one with the power to heal it all.

We know God can bind coronavirus, end the illness. This is it.

Then Jesus says, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

I love to imagine that moment right after those words.

Here’s the paralyzed guy who clearly only wants to walk. Here’s his friends who have circumvented the crowds, torn apart a house, strained their muscles. Here’s the crowd that knows Jesus can heal, who were in the middle of hearing his healing words, who are holding their breath to see a miracle right before their eyes.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

It happens quick in the Bible, but I imagine the paralyzed man looking at Jesus in confused hope, and Jesus looking at him with love.

And slowly, he realizes what Jesus has done for him.  What he has needed all along.

How resentful has his heart been?

How many curses has he made to God? To those around him?

How long has he drowned himself in self-pity?

How bitter has he been about his imprisonment?

How often has he ignored those who wanted to help him, those who offered their presence? His friends, his children, his community?

How selfish has he become in response to his great loss?

All of that is gone. All of that is healed.

The crowd has to be shocked and disappointed.  The scribes and the Pharisees are scandalized. But I think, for the paralyzed man, it is enough. I think he has already received what he needed, and the physical healing was only for the crowd. They needed to see on the outside what Jesus had done to the man on the inside.

As with the man born blind, as with the coronavirus pandemic, the suffering is not because anyone sinned, but so that the glory of God might be shown in us.

Now that man can move. Now that man can pick up his own mat and glorify God.

Jesus can do this with us.

All of it.

As the faith of his church brings us to him, we have the opportunity to see our situation the way Jesus sees it. We have the chance to see that what really oppresses us is our own sinful heart.

Is it enough for us?

To be healed and forgiven and loved by Jesus – but to remain paralyzed by the pandemic?

Can we allow the healing to go so far into our hearts that we can trust and accept God’s mysterious will?

For many of us, however, God has already worked miracles. We have been given the freedom to come to school and work, to meet and encounter our colleagues and students, some of whom might be needing healing really badly.

Now that we can walk and carry a mat, we can work together to carry a hurting person to Jesus.

We have to avoid crowds.

We have to tear open some new pathways.

We might have to strain our muscles.

But we can bring each other to Jesus. We can work together to bring those who are suffering to Jesus. Not by our strength, but by our faith.

It’s that vulnerable faith – inseparable from hope – that turns us to the encounter with Christ that heals our souls and lifts us from our mats. It is faith that opens our hearts to the graces he wants to pour into the world through us.


Ryan LeBlanc is the Teacher Chaplain and Catholic Studies Department Head at E.D. Feehan Catholic High School, and he blogs and offers online courses at