Ann Jillian, a three-time Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress and singer, is an American actress born to Roman Catholic Lithuanian immigrant parents. Since 1985, she has added motivational speaking to her impressive list of credits, addressing business, medical, professional and women's groups with her own unique blend of humor and inspiration. Her prowess extends from the world’s concert halls, to feature film and the Broadway stage. She has starred in over 25 TV movies and made hundreds of other TV appearances. Her TV movie, The Ann Jillian Story, which recounts her victory over breast cancer, was the #1 film of that TV season, but, more important, it delivered Ann's message about the hopeful side of breast cancer to its millions of viewers. It was in 1985 that the then 35-year-old actress made headlines when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. On her way to the hospital to check the nature of the growth which she had noticed, she stopped at St. Francis de Sales Church and read the inscription on the door. “The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” She went into the Church and prayed for the strength to accept her ordeal. The radiant trust in God and peace of mind she maintained before and after the surgery (double mastectomy), was big news in the media and a great inspiration for all cancer patients. She trusted in Jesus’ words given in today’s Gospel, “Do not be afraid; just have Faith.”
Today’s Gospel describes two of our Lord's miracles and these healings teach us that Jesus wills life, full life, for all God’s children. These miracles were worked by Jesus as reward for the trusting Faith of a synagogue ruler and of a woman with a hemorrhage. Although the Faith of the ruler may have been defective, and the woman’s Faith may have been a bit superstitious, Jesus amply rewarded the Faith they had by granting them health and life.
The stories have several common features. One woman is 12 years old, and the other has suffered for 12 years. Both are called “daughter,” and both are in need of physical healing. The girl’s father is encouraged to have Faith, and the older woman is praised for her Faith. The two stories illustrate Jesus’ power over both chronic illness and death. In each healing, Jesus shows his marvelous generosity by giving the recipients life and salvation in addition to physical healing.
As the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus was a well-respected man in the local Jewish community. He was the administrative head of the synagogue, the president of the board of elders and the one responsible for the conduct of the services. He probably shared in the Pharisees’ prejudice that Jesus was a heretic and a wandering preacher to be avoided. If so, the urgency of his need and the helplessness of the situation prompted him to forget his position, to swallow his pride and prejudice and to seek help from Jesus the wandering wonder-worker.
The other account tells of a woman who came to Jesus with expectant Faith as a last resort, after trying every other cure known in her day. The woman’s boldness in touching Jesus' garment -- which, according to the Law, made Jesus unclean -- could have angered him. Further, because her “chronic bleeding disease” rendered her ritually unclean, any contact she had with others in the crowd, made them also ritually unclean as well. That may be why she decided to try to touch the tassels of Jesus' garment secretly. But her Faith in the healing power of Jesus was so strong that she risked breaking all the social rules to seek what she believed He could do for her. In addition to healing, she gained a personal relationship with Jesus as a member of his family (3:35). He called her daughter.
God always rewards faith. Sometimes he tests our faith. Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.
One Jesuit theologian Fr. Peter Arokiadoss was dying of cancer. On the eve of his death, when asked by a relative why God gave him a priest, such sickness, Arokiadoss replied: “No, God didn’t give me this sickness. All of us have cancer cells which are under control. Most likely because of my lifestyle or food or sleeping habits, I might have given cause for these cells to grow and destroy the good cells. God does not cause sickness, we cause it ourselves.” The opening words of today’s reading declare: “Death was not God’s doing.” We often feel that God is the cause of all births/deaths, but Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it in abundance.” Indeed, God is a God of Life and “death is not God’s doing.” It is, rather, we who cause death in myriad forms – through our sin, selfishness, pride, power-plays, greed and godlessness.
We may be committed and praying Christians, but do we think large enough thoughts about God? Do we really believe that God can do anything? A book has been written with the startling title, Your God Is Too Small. That title is a wake-up challenge to all of us. If we believe in an all-powerful God, it should be reflected in the confidence with which we turn to God in prayer. "Ask and you shall receive," Jesus urged. Yet we often wonder whether or not God can really help us. Wake up to the power which God possesses, power he has promised to use on our behalf.
Every day we should say a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of active Faith. Let us keep in mind this wise piece of advice given by St. Ignatius of Loyola: “We must work as if everything depends on us, but we must pray as if everything depends on God.”