Bottom line: You may feel reluctant to let Jesus touch you, but I encourage you to come this Wednesday to receive that cross of ashes on your forehead.
Until quite recently people throughout the world feared leprosy - a disease that attacks the extremities (feet, fingers, nose) causing them to lose sensation and begin to rot. Leprosy consumes the body leading to a painful death. To protect themselves different societies isolated the leper. A person who touches a leper himself becomes unclean.
Jesus does a remarkable thing by reaching out and touching the leper. Jesus is telling us something. If we want to help others, we have to touch their wound. People are hurting, wounded. We can help them not so much by giving them something as by touching their wound.
It's remarkable that Jesus touches the leper and it's also impressive that the leper approaches him. As we heard in the first reading a leper had to wear torn clothes and cry, "unclean, unclean." This leper dares to approach Jesus and kneel in front of him. He asks for cleansing. "If you wish you can make me clean."
As missionary disciples we need to allow people to approach us. We Catholics tend to be friendly, but we're not so good at welcoming - creating a sense people can get near us. I've commented on our tendency to grab the outside of the pews rather than move toward the center. In other ways we fail to send a welcoming signal to the person who is alone, hurting, wounded.
The Gospel says Jesus was "moved with pity." In his book on Discipleship Reflections, Bishop Mueggenborg explains that pity, mercy, compassion refer to more than the feeling we experience when we see someone in distress. Bishop Mueggenborg writes: "For Jesus, however, compassion was not just a feeling or emotion; rather, compassion was a motivation for action." In this case the action involves a healing word and healing touch.
Jesus can heal us but we have to ask ourselves this question: Do we really want to be healed? President Lyndon Johnson told a story about man who was losing his hearing. He goes to a doctor who tests him and then asks how much he is drinking. The man says, "Oh, about a pint a day." The doctor tells him to stop drinking and come back in two months. After the first month his hearing does get better. When he returns to the doctor after 2 months, however, the doctor tests him again. Turns out his hearing is just as bad as before. The doctor asks him if he stopped drinking. "Well," he says, "I tried it for a month and I did hear better. But you know, I like the way I feel after drinking the pint better than I feel after some of the things I been hearing."
We're a bit like that man. Deep down we really don't want to be healed. There are some things we'd rather not hear - especially if it means opening ourselves to the wounds and hurts of others.
Last week we talked about how becoming a disciple means to pick up the backpack God has placed in your path. You and I have to pick up that burden and carry it. God has a task for each of us. He wants us to take up that task, shoulder our burden and follow Jesus.
You may feel too wounded, too hurting, too broken to take up any burden. If you feel that way, you are exactly the one Jesus is looking for. He wants to speak to you, touch you, heal you.
It may not happen in an instant. It may take some time. That's why we have a forty day season called Lent. Jesus wants to heal you through prayer, fasting and generosity.
This year Lent begins on February 14. So for Catholics Valentine's Day is a day of fasting and abstinence. Take advantage of this coincidence to reclaim the deeper meaning of love. Have a special dinner on Tuesday evening then begin Lent well on Ash Wednesday. Jesus will teach you the meaning of love through prayer, fasting and generosity.
You may feel reluctant to let Jesus touch you, but please just come this Wednesday. Receive that cross of ashes on your forehead. Say to Jesus, "If you want to, you can make me clean." Allow Jesus to touch you. "I do will it," he says, "Be made clean." Amen.
From Archives (Sixth Ordinary Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Ordinary Time leading up to Lent*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru