By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published July 3, 2008
Since 2005 the Eucharistic Congress has opened on Friday night with a healing Mass and an extended time for the sick, the frail, those wounded in any way, to receive prayer.
For the first time in 2008 the clergy and laity who were praying for those in need of healing came from within the Atlanta Archdiocese itself, something the celebrant, Father Tim Hepburn, encouraged as he spoke of the charism of healing given by the Holy Spirit.
Father Hepburn said he first met someone who had experienced physical healing because of Jesus when he was 21.
“I went to this prayer group (in the basement of my church). … I met some wonderful people there,” said the priest, a native of Atlanta who grew up in St. Jude’s Parish. “I wasn’t a priest yet. I was just a kid.”
Among those he met was a woman who had been healed of leukemia after receiving prayer from a priest at a healing service.
“I was amazed because all my life I had read in the Bible … that Jesus healed the sick and for 21 years I had wondered why he had stopped. He didn’t stop. He still heals,” Father Hepburn said.
“Part of the reason we don’t see more healing in the church is because there is a dimension of grace, part of our Catholic tradition, called the charismatic dimension that we are just now learning how to open to,” he continued.
“We are seeing more and more healings as people like you learn to pray,” he said encouragingly to those present.
Welcoming them prior to the Mass, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory asked everyone to offer a portion of their prayers for the archdiocese.
“As you ask the Lord to grant healing and comfort and strength … pray for our archdiocese, pray for all of us—those with strong faith, those whose faith is weak—that we may grow ever closer to Christ Jesus, ever more compassionate,” the archbishop said.
About 3,000 or more people began the 2008 Eucharistic Congress by coming to the Mass and healing service June 20 at the Georgia International Convention Center.
Father Hepburn said in his homily that he first thought praying for healing was like getting plugged into a source of power, like electricity.
But as he studied how Jesus healed he realized something else. For example, the healing of the deaf man recorded in Mark 7:31 taught him more, the priest said.
“I think a lot of people in the healing ministry need to learn this lesson,” he continued.
Jesus did not stand in front of a crowd and make a spectacle of the healing moment. He “took this man off by himself. It was just between Jesus and that person, and he did something very curious. He put his fingers into the man’s ears and spitting, touched his tongue and looked up to heaven and groaned.”
“Is it possible that Jesus took on that man’s illness?” Father Hepburn asked, as he recalled that those who are deaf may not be able to articulate words but, as Jesus did in this healing, they may express sounds in groans.
He quoted the prophet Isaiah: “Jesus takes on our infirmities. … By his wounds we are healed.”
Being open to healing is first of all being open to the Holy Spirit, he said.
During Mass, bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the consecration takes place, the “Holy Spirit is going to move in this room.” At the same time, Jesus becomes truly present in the Eucharist.
Praying for healing is not a matter of a person doing something, he said; it is more a matter of believing that Jesus wants to touch each person.
“I promise you that if you come in faith to this Eucharist, Jesus will unite you to himself and he will give you exactly the healing you need,” Father Hepburn said. “He wants to love you with such a deep and personal love that you will encounter him in some way tonight and it will heal you—it will heal you of your sins, it will heal you of your sadness, it will heal you of your scars, it will heal you of your wounds, it may even heal your body.”
“I think we should let (Jesus) do what he wants to do,” he said.
Dozens of prayer teams took their places at prayer stations around the room after the Mass and hundreds waited to be prayed over for specific needs, some in Spanish, some in English. At the same time, Father Hepburn and Deacon Keith Kolodziej knelt before the Blessed Sacrament placed in a monstrance on the altar, at times praying aloud, at times leading the congregation in singing, at times expressing how God desired to heal those with certain physical ailments or emotional and psychological distress. Throughout they encouraged a reverent time of worship.
At one point Father Hepburn invited anyone to come forward who had never “publicly and personally declared your faith in Jesus Christ” and who believed “that is the healing you need tonight.” At first a few and then dozens of people walked up to the front of the room to make that declaration.
The reason bishops and popes speak of a need for a “new evangelization,” Father Hepburn said, is because it is possible to live “our faith in a pattern and in a culture but to never have personal faith where you make an act of your will to receive Jesus Christ.”
After several hours of worship before the Blessed Sacrament, he closed the healing service with Benediction.
Several people said they were drawn to come because they have been a part of the Catholic charismatic renewal in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and appreciate the celebrant’s maturity in praying and yielding to the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
“What appealed to me tonight was the adoration time and the open dialogue” where the priest and deacon spoke of God’s presence and invited everyone to respond to the graces present, said Steve Dunlap of Clarkesville. “We were just drawn in. The music was beautiful. It all works together.”
Dunlap, a member of St. Mark Church, said he and his wife have been involved in charismatic prayer and praise gatherings for a number of years and have been at past healing services, including the one led by Sister Briege McKenna at the 2005 Eucharistic Congress.
He said Father Hepburn “seems to be so good at teaching, at communicating” about this charism they wanted to be there.
“We want to come to all the things that are here, but this night especially,” Dunlap said.
Father Hepburn, ordained 15 years ago, has been a pastor and has worked in evangelization and vocations while serving as a chaplain at high schools and colleges and preaching at retreats, youth conferences and young adult events. A musician, he helped foster prayer evenings for Catholic teens in the archdiocese called XLT that combine music, prayer, preaching and eucharistic adoration. He was part of Archbishop John F. Donoghue’s committee for eucharistic renewal in the mid-1990s and for a time the archbishop’s liaison to the Catholic charismatic renewal. After spending two years studying theology and the new evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, he is now the new chaplain at the Catholic Center at Georgia Tech.
“I have been a part of the charismatic community for a long time. It was important to be here,” said Mary Reichert, a member of the Catholic Center at Emory University. “Father Hepburn has all the gifts of the Spirit. To be able to worship the living God with someone who is so spiritually rich is a phenomenon not to be missed.”
“All Masses are healing Masses, but a healing Mass with someone who has been gifted with the charisms of healing, prophecy and teaching becomes a different level of worship and thanksgiving,” she said.
Karen Hughes, a member of St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, said she came for the opportunity to be “united in our prayers” with the larger faith community. She came with specific prayer intentions for several people, including her daughter, who had just called and told her mother she is pregnant with Hughes’ first grandchild. She was also thinking of other prayer needs, of specific people she knows who are ill with cancer, with Tourette syndrome.
“I love the support of the people for healing prayer,” said Hughes.
Twelve-year-old Silvia Elakatt, a member of St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, at times bowed her head all the way to the concrete floor as the priest and deacon invited everyone to worship God and sang hymns of praise.
“I felt him everywhere, like he was going inside everybody,” said the rising eighth-grader later of her experience of God during this adoration time.
“Without him, I just don’t feel whole,” she said.