Ministry of healing and deliverance in the Diocese of La Crosse
Since 2008, Father Bob Thorn has led a ministry of healing and deliverance at St. Matthew Parish in Wausau. He came to this ministry through a series of nudges by the Holy Spirit, which culminated in a trip to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Celebrating Mass there, he felt led by the Holy Spirit to give witness to God’s love and His desire for His children to be healed and whole. After Mass, a woman approached Father Thorn and asked if he would pray over her. He did and then spent the next 2 ½ hours praying over other people, many of whom experienced healing in a variety of ways.
Coming home, he approached then Bishop Jerome Listecki about his interest in pursuing a ministry of healing and deliverance, which Bishop Listecki enthusiastically supported, putting Father Thorn in contact with people and resources he knew about from his time in Chicago. Having further studied and formed himself through these resources, he was ready to gather a team of lay people from the Wausau area and form them into a prayer team, which then actively assisted him in this ministry. Even now, as a senior priest, Father Thorn continues this ministry of healing and deliverance for people who come from hours away to be prayed over.
Many might be tempted to doubt. Healing is something Jesus did. Others who claimed to do so in the past and claim to do so today are often seen to imitate Him badly and are too often revealed as charlatans. Consequently, it becomes challenging to believe in the potential for spiritual methods to facilitate physical or psychological healing. And yet, there is a great desire and hope in the hearts of so many who are hurting.
The Gospels give ample witness to people’s desire to be healed. They also give witness to our Lord’s desire that they, and we, be healed. But this healing isn’t a simple healing of some physical malady. Jesus’ healing is complete—body, mind and soul.
“Our modern minds barely have room for the possibility of healing. And yet, there is a great desire and hope in the hearts of so many who are hurting.”
A Gospel Tradition
We see this in the healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law (cf. Luke 4:38-39). The disciples arrive at his home, and our Lord is made aware of his mother-in-law, who is sick with a fever. The Gospel says that He prayed over her, and she was immediately made well, at which point she got up and served them. We see in this episode that she is so completely healed that she is fully ready and desiring to respond in love. Because she is the matriarch of St. Peter’s household, this takes the form of hospitality. Others will respond according to the gifts God has given them.
Dr. Mary Healy, a professor of sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Mich., and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, helps us to see that this aspect of Jesus’ ministry is not just a sidelight to his proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
In her book “Healing: Bringing God’s Gift of Mercy to the World,” Dr. Healy shows that our Lord’s healing ministry is integral to His proclamation of the Kingdom of God. She also helps us to see that this ministry of healing is not just signs and wonders of our Lord, but a ministry that He intends to continue through His Church, through His disciples—clerical and lay alike.
The Bishop’s Blessing
Other priests and deacons in the diocese have recognized the necessity of this healing ministry as well. There are those who have become involved in Father Thorn’s healing ministry in Wausau, while others have responded to the faithful’s prayer requests. These individuals recognize the immense suffering in the world and in the Church, and have felt compelled to take action. As a result, a group of priests and deacons began meeting in the aftermath of the COVID-19 shutdown, studying and discussing how this ministry might be undertaken elsewhere in the diocese. With Father Thorn’s encouragement, these priests and deacons were formed and began forming laypeople to collaborate in this ministry.
In February 2023, with the permission and blessing of Bishop Callahan, the first healing service was offered at Sacred Heart Church in Cashton, chosen for its accessibility to people in the Tomah, La Crosse and Richland deaneries.
Since then, two more healing services have been conducted in Cashton, with beautiful testimonies of healing in body, mind and spirit. Father Thorn continues to hold healing services at St. Matthew in Wausau. Each of these ministries holds four healing services a year. In Wausau, these are held on the second Sundays of January, March, June and October. In Cashton, these are on the first Monday of Lent (February) and Advent (December) and a Monday in June and September.
Beginning with Prayer
The ministry of healing is approached in a way that encompasses prayer, the sacraments of the Church, as well as sacramentals, combined in a way that leads to healing of body, mind and spirit. Healing services typically begin with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the sacrament of reconciliation. As more than one exorcist has said, “One good confession is worth a hundred exorcisms.” A combination of priests, deacons and lay people lead devotions such as the rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Litany of the Precious Blood during adoration.
Once the holy hour is completed, Mass is celebrated and it is during this time that our Lord presents the Church’s prayers to His Father and our Father. The priest celebrant leads prayers once Mass concludes. These begin with a request for forgiveness for those who have wronged us, a prayer for protection against evil forces and a prayer to reject practices that expose us to the devil’s influence.
In these prayers, sacramentals are brought to bear: salt, oil and water—all exorcised and blessed for this purpose. Salt is used after the example of Scripture as a purifying agent (cf. 2 Kings 2:21). Oil is used in the order of baptism (the first anointing before baptism) as a defense against the devil’s grip. And finally, holy water reminds us of our baptism and its following freedom from sin and its corruption.
After these prayers, participants may come to the front of the Church to be prayed over by a priest before the Blessed Sacrament. After this, those who have something specific in their life that needs healing can come forward to be prayed over by a prayer team. It is during these prayers that people sometimes faint in the Spirit. Fear not!
A strong man stands behind each person to catch them if they faint. This is a natural response of the body to the healing that is taking place. Just as the body heals when we are sleeping, so, sometimes, the spirit needs the body to shut down for a short time so inner healing can take place. A lay helper covers the person with a blanket until they awaken, usually after a few minutes, and then helps them to their seat when ready.
Growth and the Holy Spirit
A web page, which will be accessed through the Diocese of La Crosse website, is in the works. As these opportunities arise, this resource will have information about upcoming healing services in Wausau, Cashton and elsewhere. This web page will also provide resources to better understand God’s desire for healing in our lives and other resources for personal prayer and healing.
The ministry of healing and deliverance is an answer to the call of the Holy Spirit, responding to the need in our Church and the world for that healing that draws us back to God and one another.
Story by Father Michael Klos
Published in the November/December 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine