Briege McKenna has travelled the world healing the sick and minstering to priests. But her mission has provoked differing responses. Fr Martin Tierney (below) finds that she can move people and win them to Christ. Moya Ffenz St Leger (bottom) argues that the Irish nun trivialises faith
Anointed words that just flow
IS it any wonder that large crowds flock to hear famous spiritual and physical healers among whom Sr Briege McKenna is tine of the more famous? Man's search for healing is becoming ever more frenzied. In America bodies are being frozen awaiting the ultimate healing of medical science — immortality. Therapeutic groups, autogenics, humanistic psychology, crystal pulsar healing, art therapy are just some of the alternatives holding out hope for healing.
We are unfinished people. Many are also deeply aware of their sinfulness. I believe that God can and does use gifted people to mediate his love, healing and forgiveness.
I doubt whether people come to "hear" Sr Briege. They hardly come for a theological analysis of the ministry of healing. Her. words are often disjointed and her thoughts unorganised. Some argue that a theological analysis whenever it is attempted may be superficial and lacking in depth. But that's not the point.
Sr Briege, in my opinion, is "gifted". Her words anointed. In the natural order she has a gift of words that flow out from her effortlessly. But there is something more to Sr Briege than words.
"To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit" (2 Cor 2:8). The knowledge that St Paul writes about is not worldly knowledge. It is an insight into reality. Countless priests have and will continue to testify that Sr Briege has this extraordinary spiritual gift which is the basis for practical decision making. She can penetrate the mind and provide counsel and advice, frequently scripturally based, that assists in the rehabilitation of the sinner.
Another of her gifts is the wisdom of God. A word of wisdom is an utterance manifesting some new insight into the mysteries of Christ. The simplicity that Sr Briege often uses can hide the reality of the wisdom she undoubtedly has.
The gifts of wisdom and knowledge are demonstrated
most effectively on a one-to-one basis. That is where Sr Briege really allows herself to be used by God. It is in the quasisacramental forum that her ministry has been most
1 have come across three people with a fiercely evangelical spirit. They are Fr Patrick Peyton, Sr Briege McKenna and Mother Teresa.
For them the gospel comes first. I have witnessed Patrick Peyton praying with a hardened radio presenter. I have seen Sr Briege minister to a television crew at their request with such power that they were moved to tears. Mother Teresa never allows the mighty of this world to interrupt her spirit of prayer.
Fearlessness is the quality that best describes their spirit.
Wisdom, knowledge or courage are not necessarily the qualities that are most really manifested addressing believers.
To judge the ministry of Sr Briege McKenna on her performance at the charismatic rally is to mistake the part from the whole.
At the beginning of the charismatic renewal a tremendous emphasis was placed on expectant faith. If you believe it enough it will happen. People were brought on "highs". When nothing happened the "lows" were often devastating.
I have noticed a new direction in the teaching of Briege McKenna in recent years. No longer does one hear things like "the gentleman in the second row with the yellow sweater is being healed of back trouble. Will you stand up please". Not that Sr Briege ever went that far. Nowadays her teaching is very much on obedience, the wisdom of the church, mysteriousness of suffering. God's will is supreme.
No "highs" and "lows" any more. If there are, then it is very unlikely that they are manipulated by Briege herself.
Sr Briege is very much part of the papal coterie. She is fiercely loyal to the church and to papal teaching. She makes no apologies for that. Does this eliminate her from the roll of prophets? I think not.
Her prophetic message is a return to traditional values and the wisdom of the ages as proclaimed by the Catholic church. To my mind her message is equally valid and prophetic and necessary as that of the liberationists. Both are needed.
At a recent priests' retreat Sr Briege severely challenged priests to stop "pussyfooting" and live the gospel to the full. She got a standing ovation. The Pope might have been booed! Funny peculiar? I am never particularly enamoured by the quality of Sr Briege's talks to large crowds. Nevertheless, her faith and sincerity, and the annointedness of her words, do touch hearts and win people for Christ. In the end does anything else matter?
Fr Martin Tierney is director of Veritas Publications in Dublin