Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lepers and Sinners

St. Damien - Patron of Lepers and Outcasts
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2,5,11
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45

When two of our four readings this weekend talked about lepers and leprosy, I got a bit curious and started researching the topic. I saw pictures of those suffering from it and learned about the symptoms and means of contracting the illness. And while it’s not something so commonly seen today, it does still exist and can be a terrible thing if untreated. It attacks the nerves and causes severe pain and loss of the ability to sense heat or cold. It causes significant muscular weakness throughout the body. It also tends to be thrive in cooler places and so it attacks the face, hands, feet, eyes, and other extremities of the body, sometimes leading to the loss of fingers and toes, as well as blindness and disfigurement.

The more I read about it, the more I began to see that what Leprosy does the body, sin does the soul. Sin attacks something that is within us – our spiritual nerves in a sense – and causes us pain. We suffer from guilt, shame, and regret. As we experience that pain, we often turn to sin to help us numb the hurt we experience. As a consequence of Original Sin and our own choices to sin throughout our lives, we have an inclination to sin; like the weakness of muscles to move, sin weakens our will to do good. Like Leprosy, sin also attacks the places where we are weakest – the desires of the flesh, our need for acceptance and love – and exploits them, leading us to do things that we think will bring us joy and completeness but only leave us empty and looking for the next thing that might bring us that joy we seek. Lastly, sin disfigures us. It alienates us from others, as we turn in toward ourselves and begin to do things that our friends and family recognize are not really who we are.

All of those things are serious, but I think the thing that is most serious here is the isolation. In the Jewish culture, as we hear in the reading from Leviticus, to be a leper meant that you were unclean. To be unclean isn’t necessarily to be in sin, but rather a state impurity, often by the contraction of a disease or contact with things that could carry disease.  Imagine having to walk around crying out “Unclean! Unclean!” so that everyone knew not to touch you and thus become unclean themselves. Talk about not feeling like an outcast! And if that was not enough, because they were unclean, they were not permitted to enter the Temple and worship the Lord in the larger community. They were not only separated from people, but also from their God. And is this not the true effect of our sin? That by doing sinful things we desire and not what we ought, we turn away from God and we turn away from our community.

This place of isolation is not what the Lord desires for us. Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God to be part of a community and ultimately to be joined to Him for eternity in Heaven. It was true dignity of the man that Jesus saw when He looked upon the leper in pity. He knew that the man was called to greatness and knew deeply the emptiness the man was experiencing. So Jesus reached out to him and, literally taking his hand, restored that dignity and wholeness and brought him back into the community and back to God. And the Lord desires to do the same with us.

Jesus Healing a Leper
During the season of Lent, just ten days away, we will have the Sacrament of Reconciliation available each Saturday at the normal time from 230-330, as well as on Wednesday evenings from 6 until 730pm. And as we mentioned before Mass, yesterday was the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and in her honor we are making the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick available at all Masses today.

My brothers and sisters, let us heed the words of Christ. Let us show ourselves to the priest, that Christ might restore the beauty of our soul, and bring us the healing and reconciliation that our hearts desire.