Healing nun Briege McKenna talks to Teresa Nerney about how miracles do happen.
Sr Briege McKenna’s story begins in Newry, Co Down, where she was born, and where she entered the convent of the Sisters of Saint Clare at the age of 14. During her training she fell ill with rheumatoid arthritis, a crippling condition that worsened after she was professed and went to work in Florida. However, Sr Briege says that her life was suddenly changed when, in 1970, she was miraculously healed of her illness and soon after was given the gift of healing. These events led to a healing ministry that has since taken her around the world, ministering to the sick and suffering and to priests.
Today her base is still in Florida but her packed schedule means she spends many months travelling. giving retreats and conferences in Ireland, the United States, England, Poland, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Africa. She tells people that miracles are possible, and many testify to seeing these miracles happen in their own lives. Stories of remarkable healing of all kinds – physical, emotional and spiritual – follow her wherever she goes.
What do you see as the purpose of your ministry?
“I think my mission is to bring hope to people. Hope not in me, but in Jesus. The great thing about the Lord is that he never gives a cross to a person that he won’t give them the strength to carry, if they come to him. Sometimes people think when they’re sick that it’s because of something they did wrong or that Jesus doesn’t love them, which is a complete misunderstanding of his teaching on suffering. It’s very difficult when you see somebody suffering to say to them that Jesus wants you to offer this to him. But in my experience, that’s where they get grace, and I’m just the signpost”.
How can people who are anxious or depressed believe that miracles can happen when they can’t
see any light at the end of the tunnel?
“I often tell the story of the father who couldn’t accept that his child was dying. He was desperate. When the child died, he came to me and said, ‘two days ago I couldn’t have found the strength to cope with it, but today I have the strength’. You have to believe that Jesus gives the grace when the time comes. I remember visiting a home where there was a young couple with four children ranging from the ages of two to eight years and they were all dying with disease. The parents were radiant. They wouldn’t let them go into hospital but were taking care of them at home. One of their children had already died. I said to the mother, ‘how could you be so joyous?’ She said, ‘we get the grace from God to tell these children that Jesus is beautiful, and that where their little brother went is beautiful, and we keep telling them not to be afraid’. That’s grace at work”.
Millions of self-help books are sold around the world because so many people want to live better lives. Is doing our best everyday not enough? Why do we need to pray to a God we can’t see ?
“Jesus for me is God. Self-help books, like psychiatry and psychology, can give you insights but they can’t heal you. It’s only Jesus who can give peace of mind, it’s only Jesus who can forgive my sins, it’s only Jesus who can give me supernatural grace. I think the new age movement today is very deceiving because they will tell you that Jesus is just one way and that there are other ways. I don’t agree with that at all. Jesus said, ‘I am the way’. If you follow the way of Jesus, it’s marvellous. I’ve seen terrible suffering in the world, I’ve been to the leper colonies of Africa, I’ve seen missionaries and the hope they bring. That hope is the Gospel they preach. The Gospel of Jesus generates hope in a supernatural way”.
So, what is the best way to get to know Jesus?
“Christians have the Gospels. As you read them and pray – they are alive, they are the living word – they will give you grace. As Catholics we have the Eucharist. There are many other places in other Christian churches where you can go to find help but when all is said and done, you can always pray because Jesus is alive. People say to me, ‘I can’t pray!’ And I say, ‘Of course you can, you’re talking to me. Just tell Jesus exactly what you’re telling me’.
I love Eucharistic adoration and I like to tell the story of King Badouin of Belgium who used to sit three hours every day before the Eucharist. He was the one who said it’s like sitting in the sun. When you go to sunbathe you have to get out in the sun or the sun’s rays won’t reach you. As soon as you move into the sun, you don’t have to do anything more, just sit there. That’s the marvellous thing about the Blessed Sacrament. We think we have to be saying things. When you’re in a company and doing a job you have to produce something at the end of so many hours or days. With praying you don’t have to produce anything. It’s internal and it’s a relationship with God and it’s afterwards that you experience its strength”.
Life is very busy for most people. Work consumes most of our days. How can people work and pray?
“I think there is a calmness and serenity and inner peace that comes from prayer. The soul is like the engine of the car and if the soul is not in tune with God you can feel harassed and all the other negative emotions come into play. For us Catholics we can begin the day with Mass, or you can have a prayer corner where you have an image of Jesus and spend just five minutes. It does have a tremendous calming effect on how you approach your work and how you approach people”.
Most people strive for happiness but with so much pain and tragedy in the world, is it attainable?
“Joy is a gift and doesn’t depend on circumstances. You can be going through terrible suffering and tragedy and still have joy. What the world is telling you is that if you get close to God you can’t have any joy, or that people who are suffering can’t have joy, instead of realising that these attributes and gifts do not depend on the circumstances of your life. You meet people with the most horrible suffering and look at their faces and see joy. Joy is a gift God gives. It’s the language of the Spirit”.
Many people are disillusioned with the priesthood. They feel let down and hurt by the actions of people they trusted. Do you think the priesthood will soon go out of fashion?
“Priesthood is a sacrament. The earthen vessel is the man. There is nothing wrong with the priesthood – it is a perfect, God-given gift through the power of the Holy Spirit. But what has happened is that in the society we are living in, the channels or vessels are under attack. We are all sinners … People cannot differentiate between the sacrament of Holy Orders which is a God-given gift to the Church and the men who, like the rest of us, weren’t picked as angels. There, but for the grace of God, go I. We all have sin in us. I’ve been ministering to priests for the last 28 years and I have never met a bad priest. I have met men who are weak and sinful and have made terrible mistakes, or who have hurt people, but that never takes away from my belief in the priesthood. That’s why all this condemnation of the priesthood is a terrible insult to God. Whatever comes from God is a perfect gift, but sadly the channel may be sinful”.
You became a nun at 14. Did you ever regret joining?
“No, never. I love every minute of it. People say to me, look at all you missed. And I say, what did I miss, tell me? Jesus will always outdo us in generosity. Everything I thought I was giving up, I received a hundred-fold in return. Jesus always does more than we could ever ask for or imagine”.
But, surely, at 14 you were far too young to know what you were doing, too young to make
such a big decision about your life?
“That’s true, but I know now. I wasn’t so sure then. Today I’m convinced that the Lord is so full of love and mercy that he guides us and often we don’t know why. It’s as if he has you on a string and you go with it but you’re not sure. I entered at 14, made my vows at 16, got through my sickness, went to America, and at 22 I fell madly in love with Jesus. At a quarter past nine on a Sunday morning in 1970 (when she was healed of crippling arthritis) I met him personally and it changed my whole life. I believe that the Lord allowed all that went before that to bring me to that point, and to this day”.
This article first appeared in Word (May 2002), a Divine Word Missionary Publication