6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Patrick Church, Havre de Grace
February 14, 2021
Quarantining Then and Now
I am happy to return to your parish of St. Patrick at long last, for the celebration of Sunday Mass, this Sunday just prior to the season of Lent. I take this occasion to join you in thanking your pastor, Fr. Dale Picarella, for his gentle and loving yet strong and wise leadership of your parish. At the same time, I want to thank all of you for your steadfast faith in turbulent times. These are not easy days either for the Church or for our society, yet, in your fidelity to the Gospel, you remain a beacon of hope. Let me also thank you for your patience in cooperating with the various regulations which COVID-19 has necessitated as we strive to keep our churches open and safe.
In fact, today’s first reading from Leviticus may have struck a responsive chord in us. As you recall, that reading detailed the regulations Moses put in place for dealing with those members of the community who had contracted leprosy. To prevent the disease from spreading, such unfortunate persons had to declare themselves unclean, and be quarantined from the rest of the community. Now, COVID-19 is not leprosy, but the Old Testament rules to prevent its spread are eerily similar to rules we follow to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. How many times have we been asked if we have COVID-like symptoms, or had our temperature taken before we could enter a church or a restaurant? If we wake up with symptoms, we are obliged to tell our family, friends, and co-workers, and then proceed to have ourselves tested as soon as possible. If a person contracts COVID or has possibly been in contact with an infected person, then, the rule is the same now as it was centuries ago: such people are quarantined. In a strange way, then, the pandemic may have opened our hearts to the plight of the leper whom we met in today’s reading from St. Mark’s Gospel.
The Faith of the Leper
St. Mark does not provide us with much of an introduction to the leper. The Gospel reading simply says, “A leper came to Jesus…” We do not know his name or anything about the circumstances of his life. But with only a few words, Mark gives us the key to this man’s interior life. He tells us that the man knelt before Jesus in supplication, and said: “LORD, if you wish, you can make me clean.”
What do we learn about the leper in those few words of the Gospel? First, we might surmise that the leper heard Jesus preach and saw him cure others, and thus understood Jesus’ power and authority over the forces of sin and death. Clearly drawn to Jesus, the leper opened his heart to him, and into his open heart the Holy Spirit poured the gift of faith. And so, this man came before Jesus, not to express anger or frustration over his plight, but rather knelt before him in adoration and supplication, and addressed him as LORD, as KYRIE, a title reserved only for God. In so doing, the leper acknowledged Jesus as the Source of life and hope and healing. In so doing, he entrusted the whole of his life into Jesus’ hands.
Let us also notice how the leper made his request to Jesus. “If you wish, [he said] you can make me clean.” He did not demand to be healed. Instead, the leper acknowledged Jesus’ sovereign freedom. If Jesus chose not to heal him, Jesus would not be anything less than Savior and LORD, much as we are taught to say, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done . . .”
So, with only a few words, St. Mark has told us much about the leper’s interior life, but Mark also prompts us to ask how we approach the LORD with our needs and worries. Is our faith alive, such that we feel a palpable attraction to our Savior and LORD? Do we approach the LORD with a sense of entitlement or with loving surrender? Do we acknowledge God’s wisdom and freedom as we ask for what we need, confident that God understands our needs far better than we do? These are questions worth pondering in quiet moments of reflection.
The Compassion of Jesus
Having witnessed the faith of the leper, now let us witness afresh to the extraordinary compassion of Jesus. St. Mark tells us that, as the leper knelt before him, Jesus was “moved with pity”, for Jesus read the leper’s soul and knew that his heart was good and full of faith. Next, Jesus reached out and touched the leper . . . something we must pause over . . . for, remember, that Moses had banned anyone from touching a leper, and in the ancient world doing such a thing was unthinkable. But when God’s Son came into this world, truly he emptied himself of glory and did not allow himself to be isolated from any form of human suffering. Rather, he through whom the world was created, stretched out his hand and exercising his sovereign freedom, healed the leper – body, mind, and spirit. Almost in passing, St. Mark comments, “the leprosy left him immediately.”
With only a word and a gesture, Jesus rescued the man from his isolation and rejection and conferred upon the leper’s mortality the gift of his own immortality.
Dear friends, as this pandemic wears on, we have become restless. We feel as though COVID has robbed us of the human touch as we keep our distance from one another, refrain from hugs and handshakes, and mostly view one another on Zoom or Livestreaming. Necessary though such things may be, they have made life seem sterile. As we pray in faith that we and our loved ones be spared from this disease, and as we lift up to God those who have died and those who serve heroically, we need to invite Jesus, as Savior and LORD, to touch us, individually and collectively. Jesus is not subject either to the rules of the Old Testament or those of the CDC. In and through the Sacraments, Jesus stretches out his hand and with his tender but powerful touch, he heals us of sin and redeems us from fear. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he heals our soul of anger, frustration, and sin, and in the Eucharist, he unites us spiritually with himself and his heavenly Father, and with family, friends, and fellow parishioners from whom we are physically separated. With the faith of the leper, let us seek the compassion of Jesus!
The Coming Season of Lent
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. What better time for us to approach Jesus, with humility and love, to seek his healing touch, especially by worthily sharing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? If our life of prayer and practice of the faith are lukewarm or haphazard, let us ask the LORD to reignite a lively faith, in ourselves and in our families. If, in this pandemic, we have too readily sought our own comfort, let us ask the LORD to give us a spirit of repentance and self-denial, so that we may reject the self-centeredness that is symptomatic of sin. If, in these past months, we have concentrated too readily on our own needs, let us ask for a generous heart, to share our resources with others, even at a time when we may have less than usual.
As I remarked earlier, we do not know the name of the leper whom Jesus cured, but as Lent dawns upon us, let us ask him anyway to intercede for us – that we may experience Jesus’ healing touch and that, like the leper, we may proclaim widely the wonders of Jesus’ love, especially among those who have quarantined themselves from the Church’s faith, worship, and service. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!