Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The Gospel is Mark 1:40-45.
We live in an age of programs. I was talking with a young man the other day who was telling me about a new workout program that is extremely intense but only lasts 25 minutes. Everyday we hear of a new diet program. Even in the Church we hear of program after program. Yet, what if we were told, “here is a program from God Himself”. It contains seven steps, and each of these is extremely helpful for living a close relationship with Jesus Christ, and through Him, living in a close and deep relationship with the Holy Spirit and the Father.
Wouldn’t that be something?
Let’s take a look at the Gospel.
The first thing the leper does is bends his knee. This is a very practical reminder to us of how we behave in the Church. Here in our midst in a very real way is Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. That’s why we don’t behave the same way in the Church as a living room or in a gym. When we pass by the tabernacle, we genuflect-bend the right knee to the floor. We do this with great love, and not with hurry—do we mean it or not? Even if for some reason we are in the church for some kind of meeting, we are in the presence of God almighty. Like this man with leprosy it is a reminder that we are in a sacred space. We are body and soul–so how we physically react and what we physically do does matter.
Now what’s the deal with the leper? The mosaic law required those with leprosy, now known as Hanson’s disease, to live apart from the community, and to declare “unclean” wherever they went. Here we have a man who boldly approaches Jesus asking for healing. Jesus reaches out His hand and heals him. Then he requires the man to show himself to the priest in order to be returned to the community.
We too are lepers, we too isolated ourselves when we sin. Even the most private sin rejects God and rejects others. We know what we have done, and even if we are praying or with good friends, our conscience begins to warn us: “I sinned” and we sense that pit deep within. And yet, we don’t know what to do. In our society today we are told we have to get rid of the guilt—in other words find excuses for the sin—at least I didn’t do big sin x, y, or z. I’m not that bad of a person. Or, “everybody else is doing it, so it must be ok.” Yet, when we find ourselves at a still moment, we can’t even bear to be with ourselves. Saint John Vianney reminds us “if we had faith and were to see a soul in the state of mortal sin we would die of horror” (as quoted by Pope St John XXIII in Sacerdotii Nostri primordia). The leprosy, which the man truly had, is also an image of sin.
How does Jesus treat the leper? With great affection and respect. Yet if this leper had not come to Jesus, he would not have found healing. Our Lord then makes use of others whom He has appointed to reconcile this man to the Chosen People. Our Lord still appoints and utilizes other men to reconcile us to Him and to the family to which we belong—His Mystical Body—when we sin. The man had to be reconciled spiritually and physically—interior and exterior. How appropriate that Jesus uses his priest to bring about this same reconciliation. This is why we need to confess our sins to a priest. This is the great sacrament of Confession—here goes Father talking about confession again!
Maybe it will sound like Father so and so, but it is truly Christ himself who encounters us in the confessional. It is Jesus Himself who pronounces the words of absolution. It is truly Christ who reconciles us once again to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit working through the weak instrument of the priest. It is truly Christ Himself who reconciles us with the Mystical Body—the Church. It is truly Christ who raises His hand and heals us of our leprosy. Everybody else had recoiled in horror upon seeing this man—Saint Luke says that he is “full of leprosy” (Lk 5:12) yet our Lord is not afraid. He is not afraid of going into the darkest parts of our hearts, the deepest sin that we are afraid to bring to Him. We have to, like this leper, bring it to Him. If we try to pretend that we are not sinners, that we are not in need of God’s forgiveness, that is when we are hypocrites. Our sins are a chance to encounter Christ and for Him to bring us great healing. What a powerful thing to be standing in line at a confessional and to see others there—we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.
Confession is available so frequently in order to help us. If there is a struggle with habitual sin, confession can be a great help in overcoming that sin. We shouldn’t wait until there is a big fall—it should be a regular part of our walk with Christ. Yes, we can, and should, go to confession more than once or twice a year.
This man gives us another good lesson—He went and told everybody. What a great thing when people tell the priest “I’m going to bring so and so to confession sometime.” The apostolate of confession. Our family, our friends, our coworkers, maybe there is some fear they have of coming to confession. We can really help them by sharing the joy of a restored relationship with Jesus Christ and with the Mystical Body of Christ—the Church.
Today we celebrate our Lady of Lourdes and it is the World Day of the Sick. The flu and the cold are really going around right now, so what better time to invoke our Blessed Mother. Take up the Rosary with extra love and devotion. Go to her if or when we become ill, knowing we can offer up our sickness and suffering to our Lord through her loving motherly intercession. If we are caretakers and are worn down, go to Mary. Ask her to help us offer up the difficulties we are facing in caring for the sick. She can help the suffering and sickness draw us more into communion with Christ. If you are in a situation where you need a priest, pray to Mary, and then make a phone call. Pray the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoking her under her powerful and beautiful titles which have deep meanings. Mary, health of the sick, pray for us.