The Leprosy of Sin
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
Remember that the Season of Lent begins this coming Wednesday, February 17. Please see in the bulletin the Holy Mass schedule. The month of February is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Let us ask the Holy Family for the grace of renewed love for God and one another within families throughout the world! This Sunday we celebrate the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time. I share with you a reflection on our Lord‟s mercy and desire to forgive. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week: “The Leprosy of Sin: Our Lord has come to cure our most deep-rooted ills. The healing of a leper: The healing of a leper narrated in the Gospel of today‟s Holy Mass (Mark 1:40-45) must have moved people very much, and it figured frequently in the preaching of the apostles. The fact that it is related in great detail by three of the Evangelists makes this clear. St. Luke provides the detail that the miracle was performed in a town, and that the disease was in an advanced state. The leper was covered with it: a man full of leprosy (Luke 5:12), St. Luke says. At that time leprosy was an incurable condition. The limbs of the leper became gradually affected by the progressive illness, which would produce disfigurement to the face, hands and feet, and great suffering. For fear of contagion lepers were driven away from built-up areas and forbidden to use the highways. As we see in the First Reading of the Holy Mass (Lev. 13:1-2; 44-46), they were pronounced legally unclean. They had to keep their heads uncovered and wear torn clothes to distinguish themselves, and were obliged to make their presence known when they passed close to any inhabited place. People fled from even members of their own families. Their affliction was generally held to be a punishment from God for their sins. Thus it is strange to find this leper inside a city. Perhaps he has heard of Jesus and has been eagerly looking for a chance to approach Him. At last he has found Him and breaks the strict precept of the old Mosaic Law in ordered to speak to Him. Christ is his hope, his only hope. It must have been an extraordinary scene. The leper knelt before Jesus. If You want to, he said, You can make me clean. If you want to… Perhaps he had prepared a longer speech, explaining things… but in the end this simple blurted-out aspiration, filled with trust, with sincere sensitivity, is enough: “Si vis, potes me mundare,’ if You will, You can… These few words, stammered out, are in a fact a powerful prayer. Jesus took pity on him, and the three Evangelists describe the surprising gesture of Our Lord: He stretched out His hand and touched him. Until now everyone had recoiled from Him in dread and loathing, but Jesus, Who could have healed from a distance as He had done on other occasions, not only did not draw away from him, but even touched his leprosy. It is not hard to imagine Christ‟s affection and the gratitude of the leper when he saw Our Lord‟s gesture and heard His words: I will; be clean. Our Lord always wants to heal us of our weaknesses and our sins. And there is no need for us to wait months or days for Him to pass through our city or our town… Every day we can find the same Jesus of Nazareth Who healed the leper. He is there in the nearest tabernacle, in the heart of a soul in grace, in the Sacrament of Penance. He is our Physician, and He cures our selfishness if we but let His grace penetrate into the depths of our soul. Jesus has taught us that the worst sickness is hypocrisy, the pride that leads us to conceal our own sins. We have to be totally sincere with Him. We have to tell the whole truth, and then we have to say: ‘Domine, si vis, potes me mundare’ (Matt. 8:2), Lord, if You will - and You are always willing - You can heal me of my sickness. You know my weaknesses; I feel these symptoms; these failings make me feel wretched. We show Him the wound, with simplicity, and if the wound is festering, we show the pus too (J. Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 93); all the wretchedness of our life. Today we should remember that our very failings and weaknesses can be the opportunity for us to approach Christ as the leper did. From that moment on he would have been an unconditional disciple of his Lord. Do we go to Confession with these dispositions of Faith and trust? Do we have a real desire for purity of soul? Do we make sure we go to Confession regularly? Leprosy, an image of sin. Priests forgive sins in persona Christi: Because of its repulsive ugliness and loathsomeness, the separation from others it entailed, the Fathers of the Church saw in leprosy an image of sin (cf. St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew, 25:2) . All in all, sin, even venial sin, is far uglier and far more loathsome than leprosy, and it has far more tragic consequences in this life and in the world to come. If we had Faith and were to see a soul in the state of mortal sin, we would die of horror. (St. Jean Vianney, The Cure d‟Ars, quoted by John XXIII in the letter Sacerdotii nostri Primordia) We are all sinners, although by Divine Mercy we may be free from mortal sin. That is a reality we should not forget; and Jesus is the only one Who can cure us; He alone. Our Lord has come to heal the sick, and only He can judge and measure the offense of sin in all its gravity. So we are moved when He approaches the sinner. He who is Holiness itself is not filled with anger, but is genuinely concerned and respectful. This is Jesus’ way. He came to fulfill, not to destroy.
When He heals, when He cures us of leprosy, Our Lord performs great miracles. These miracles reveal God’s power over the sicknesses of the soul - over sin. The same reflection is developed in today’s Responsorial Psalm, which exactly describes and proclaims what joy there is at the forgiveness of sins: ‘Happy the man whose offense is forgiven’ (Ps 31:1). Jesus cures the physical illness, and at the same time frees from sin. In this way He shows Himself to be the Messiah Whose coming had been foretold by the Prophets, Who ‘has borne our infirmities’ and ‘taken our sins upon Himself’ (cf. Is. 53:3-12) in order to set us free from all that subverts our spiritual and material health… For this reason a central theme of today’s liturgy is purification from sin, which is ‘the leprosy of the soul.’ (John Paul II, Homily, 17 Feb. 1985)
Jesus tells us that this is why He has come - to forgive, to redeem, to set us free from sin, the leprosy of the soul. And His forgiveness is a sign of omnipotence, a sign of a power that belongs to God alone. (cf. Matt. 9:2) Every Confession expresses in its absolution the power and the mercy of God. The priest exercises this power not in his own name, but in the name of Christ. He acts in persona Christi - as an instrument in His hands. Jesus identifies us with Himself to such an extent in the exercise of the power He has conferred on us, said John Paul II to priests, that our personality, as it were, disappears in the presence of His. He it is Who acts through us… It is Jesus Himself Who in the Sacrament of Penance pronounces the authoritative paternal words: Your sins are forgiven. (John Paul II, Homily, Rio de Janeiro, 2 July 1980) In the voice of the priest we hear Christ speak. In Confession we approach Christ Himself with veneration and thanksgiving. In the priest we must see Jesus, the only One Who can heal our illnesses. ‘Domine!’ - Lord - ‘si vis, potes me mundare’ – if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. What a beautiful prayer for you to say often, with the Faith of the poor leper, when there happens to you what God and you and I know! You will not have to wait long to hear the Master’s reply: ‘Volo, mundare’ I will: be thou made clean! (J. Escriva, The Way, 142) Jesus treats us with the deepest affection and love when we are most in need because of our failings and our sins. Apostolate of Confession: We must learn from this leper. He goes before Our Lord sincerely and kneeling (Mark 1:40), admits his disease, humbly asking to be cured. Our Lord said to the leper: ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. We can imagine the huge joy of the cured leper. So great was his happiness that in spite of Our Lord‟s warning he began to tell everybody what had happened and spread the news of the great good that had been done to him. Such blessings were too great for him to keep to himself; he had to share his good fortune with others. We must have the same attitude towards Confession. Through it we too are cleansed of our illnesses, however great they may be. Not only is sin washed away, but the soul receives a new grace, a restored youthfulness, the renewal of the life of Christ in us. We are united to God in a special and distinct way. We must enable everyone, particularly those we love, to share in the new life and new joy we experience in each Confession. It is not enough for us to have found the Master ourselves. By means of personal apostolate we must spread the news to many who do not know they are ill, or who imagine that their illnesses are incurable. Take many people to Confession. That is one of the great responsibilities Christ lays upon us in these times when great hordes of people have turned their backs on what they need most of all: the forgiveness of their sins. In some cases we shall have to begin with an elementary catechesis, advising them to read some simple books, and explaining the basic points of faith and morals in words they can understand. We can help them to see that the empty sadness they notice has its roots in the absence of God from their lives. With great understanding we will help them to make a deep examination of conscience, and encourage them to go to a priest, perhaps the one we normally make our own Confession to. We should show them how to be simple and humble and tell everything that is holding them back from God. He is waiting for them. We shall pray for them, offer up hours of work and some mortification for them, and make sure we are regular in our own confessions. In this way we shall obtain new and effective graces from God for those people we want to go to the Sacrament, to Christ Himself. It must have been an unforgettable day for the leper. Every meeting of ours with Christ is equally unforgettable. Our friends, those we have helped along the pathway to God, will never forget the peace and joy of their encounter with the Master. They in turn will become apostles who spread the Good News, what it is to know the joy of a good Confession. If we turn to Mary, our Mother will inspire us with joy and a spirit of urgency as we tell people of the great benefits God - the Father of Mercies - has left us in this Sacrament.” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, Virgin most Powerful, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may we all have the grace to make a good Confession in the coming Season of Lent! In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel