In today’s gospel Jesus proclaims: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” He announces to those who would hear that God’s reign has started in our hearts.  And of course this evening we hear that it isn’t just a message of good news for us listeners, it is also our marching orders.  In the canticle we heard St. Peter tell us that Christ “left you an example to have you follow in his footsteps.”

It is up to us to continue the journey of proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand.  Our journey, our personal journey, towards Christ necessarily involves those around us, our family, friends as well as the strangers who we pass by.  We are the bearers of the good news of salvation.  We witness to the heavenly kingdom on earth; we carry the face of Christ with us. In a way, we are modern day Veronicas; by our words and our actions we bear the face of Christ in the love we give.

Veronica was just another person in the society of her time, as we are now.  But she fearlessly went against the prevailing authority of that time. She pushed through the crowd and the soldiers to offer what little compassion she could; she allowed love to animate her actions – and I have to wonder – do I?  And by this great act of love Jesus gave her an image of His face – an image that she could share with others.  And I have to wonder – am I allowing Christ’s image to shine forth?

Blessed John Paul the Great, in his 2000 Way of the Cross meditation on the Sixth Station, (Veronica wipes the face of Jesus) said: “Every act of goodness, of understanding, of service leaves on people’s hearts an indelible imprint and makes us ever more like the One who “emptied himself, taking the form of slave”.  Not only does our sharing the face of Christ with those we encounter open them to God’s good news, imprinting on them His likeness – but it helps us as well; it conforms us, more and more, to his likeness; and that in turn enables us to share a better likeness of Christ to those we meet next.

May we all take Veronica’s example to heart and be the imprinted veil that shows Christ to everyone we encounter.

A Leper Leads the Way

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B – 2/12/2012

In our times, in our society, it might be hard to look at the Bible verses about Lepers and understand their importance.  With the success of medicines it is rare to witness the ravages of Leprosy – that is now in the past.  We have even renamed it Hansen’s Disease.  Why? I don’t know; maybe to push the memories even further back.  So when we read these accounts of Jesus with Lepers it might be hard to feel the despair, the anguish, the horror that the people really had.  But at the same we also have a hard time in understanding the love that is witnessed by Jesus.  And it is this love that is at the focal point of this Gospel story.

We see what our relationship with God really means and how willing He is to help us.  We experience how approachable our God is and what He can do for us if we only allow him.  What we see in this Gospel should give us a profound feeling of comfort and strength.

Jesus is approached by a leper.  Jesus doesn’t approach him – He is approached.  God himself, the creator, is approached by an unclean creature.  This man knows who he is, knows what this illness means to him, he is an outcast, a no person.  He is not allowed within the community, as is pointed out in the first reading from Leviticus “He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”  This isolation is not out of meanness or prejudice, it is out of justified fear and self-preservation; in those days leprosy could be very contagious and would mean disaster for the whole community.  In short, a diagnosis of leprosy by a priest was almost always a life sentence of isolation away from those he loves – it is as close to hell on earth that I can think of!

That a leper approached Jesus is amazing, considering what that entails.  Make no mistake; the leper not only knows that he is damned as an outcast; but he knows that he could infect those he meets, family members and friends included.  And yet this leper runs the risk of hurting others and breaking the laws of the time to meet Jesus.  Why?  Because he knows, knows that Jesus is God!  He says to Jesus “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  He doesn’t ask Jesus to ask the Father, he knows who Jesus is and what he can do!  He has faith in God!  He knows that God, if He wills it will make him clean and protect the others from his illness.  He knows that God spreads his grace to any who come and ask for it.  And Jesus, for His part, humbly wills it.  “I do will it. Be made clean.” Christ tells the leper.  No great oratory, no great verbal presentation just “I do will it. Be made clean.”  Christ then tells the now former-leper not to go about and announce what has happened, just fulfill the law of the time and go present himself to the priests.  That the leper didn’t listen to Jesus, and overcome with joy announces to the people his healing, doesn’t take away from the humble action of God.  God humbly cleaned a man who humbly asked for it.

This account of Christ’s healing act is more than just an example of a physical healing – it is an example of what God desires to do for each and every one of us – whenever we need it.  The fathers of the church had no problem realizing that, in a way, leprosy and sin were almost the same disease – they just differed in what part of a person they attacked.  Leprosy was a disease of the body that led the sufferer to a living hell, sin is a disease of mankind’s soul that leads to eternal hell.  Sin not only affects a person’s soul as leprosy affects their body, but it affects the whole mystical body as leprosy affects the community.  Though one is sick – all suffer; though one is disfigured – all are changed; and, when one is healed – all rejoice and are made better.

And God heals sin the same way He healed the leper, humbly.  No big fanfare or ceremony; no longwinded oratory or lecture.  We sinners go to Him, openly baring our sins as the leper bore his wounds, and with the confidence of this leper, the confidence of God’s mercy and grace we say “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  And God, through our priests, replies humbly:  “I do will it. Be made clean.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ – it is that easy to keep ourselves from having to dwell apart; from having to make our abode outside His heavenly camp.  It is that easy to be clean – to allow God to clean us!  In these coming weeks of Lent, indeed every week of our life, we should come to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask for this cleansing – so that not only our souls will be healed but our community of loved ones will be better off by our cleansing as well.  May we all take advantage of this ever-offered grace, so we may become for God, as our opening prayer says ‘a dwelling pleasing to’ Him.