Homily for 6th Sunday Ordinary time 2.14.09
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
I had the opportunity to travel all across Louisiana for several years and there are not too many places I have not seen. One day, I approached the community of Carville, La. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Iberville Parish, this community was the home of the last facility in America that legally isolated and quarantined those suffering with leprosy. From 1894 thru 1999, this community was commonly referred to as the nation’s leper colony. Today, the facility is closed and houses a museum and Carville is perhaps more famous for one of its native sons, political consultant James Carville.
We all have heard examples of separation and isolation in our nation’s history. From slavery to segregation to internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, our history is replete with examples of isolation. Sometimes we experience isolation. Perhaps we have isolated ourselves from others; from those who look differently or we judge as unworthy. And sometimes, we are the ones being judged and cutoff from others.
As people of faith, are we able to love and reach out to others as Jesus loves and reaches out to all; even to those society deems different or unworthy?
In today’s Gospel, Mark introduces us to one such leper who approaches Jesus. This would be most unusual as lepers were considered unclean and no one was to have any contact with a leper. Leprosy was highly incurable, contagious and offensive to sight and smell. The leper was despised, isolated and not even allowed to publicly worship God. They were considered the “living dead”. To warn others of their presence, they were forced to wear a bell around their neck and proclaim loudly, “unclean, unclean”. Despite this, the leper we meet today takes note of Jesus and senses something different about Him. And so he asks, “If you wish, you can make me clean”. The leper comes to Jesus, open, vulnerable, begging yet hopeful, full of faith. And Jesus, responds as the Savior He is. He replies, “I do will it, be made clean.” And then he touches the leper. And the leper is made clean.
What a remarkable parallel between this faith filled leper and us, filled with faith too, gathered here today. We too reach out to Jesus and kneel before receiving Him and say “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed”. Like the leper, we ask to receive Him, to be touched by Him and be healed, to be made clean.
We also, like the leper, say to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean” thru the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yes, in Confession, we are made clean. For we say, “Bless me Father for I have sinned”. And we hear Jesus respond, “I do will it, be made clean” as we hear the Priest say “I absolve you of your sins.” In Reconciliation, in Confession, like the leper, we ask, we receive Jesus’ healing and touch and we are made clean.
In the Gospel Jesus commands, “go, show yourself to the Priest”. At this point, the leper has been healed. In the Anointing of the Sick, we hear these words, “Is anyone among you sick? Summon the presbyters (priests) of the church”. And it continues, “Pray over him and anoint him and the prayer of faith will save the sick person. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” Again, like the leper, we ask, we receive Jesus’ healing and touch and we are made clean.
There is another remarkable parallel between the leper and us gathered here today. In the Gospel, Jesus dismisses the leper with specific instructions. He is told to tell no one, beside the priest, primarily so Jesus can withdraw and pray. We know that the leper could not comply; not because he is disobedient but because his joy is too much to contain. At the end of every Mass, we to are dismissed: “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” But unlike the leper, we are not constrained to tell no one; in fact we are encouraged to spread the Good News. But what are our post dismissal realities?
Do we live our faith away from Mass? Do we share the Good News with those we meet; our family, friends and coworkers? Do we discuss the readings or the prayers with others? Do we volunteer for ministry? Do we attend daily Mass when we can? Do we frequently receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we attend Adoration and Benediction on 1st Friday’s? Will we attend Stations of the Cross in Lent? Can we donate our time, talent and treasure to our local food bank, nursing home or hospital?
Will we, having been made clean, and filled with the joy of salvation, reach out and touch those who also need to be made clean?
Just as the leper reached out and desired the healing touch of Jesus, Jesus now waits for us, arms outstretched as we prepare to receive Him in Holy Communion. And He desires us to reach out to those among us who need our help and prayers; to break out of their isolation and separation and help them to be made clean too.
Carville, LA will always be a place of remembrance of those isolated and suffering from leprosy. May our faith in Jesus’ healing touch and our example make this place a permanent remembrance of those included and accepted and loved and made clean!!!
Fill us Lord with the Joy of your Salvation!!!