Who are the ‘lepers’ in my life?
Homily for February 11, 2018 (6th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Lev. 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps. 32; 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1; Mk. 1:40-45
He simply wanted to go to confession. He hadn’t seen a priest for months. He was burdened by his sins and overwhelmed by his work. He was happy to hear that a priest was coming to the remote island where he worked. He went to the beach to meet him.
But the priest refused to come on shore. He was afraid of the place. He had heard many horrible things about it and the people there. He said that he would only hear the man’s confession from his boat. So, the man yelled out his sins to the priest from the shore.
The man’s name was Damien de Veuster (1840-1849). The place was Molokai, one of the Hawaiian Islands and home to a notorious leper colony. The conditions there were scandalous. The people had been abandoned. They had internalized their rejection and alienation and abandoned themselves to all kinds of vices. They had leprosy of the soul as much as leprosy of the body.
Fr. Damien responded to this horrible situation with compassion and determination. He became the sheriff, undertaker, doctor, builder and governor of the community. He set up clinics and schools along with a church. He was such a servant of all that he eventually contracted leprosy himself. He died of the disease at age 49. He was canonized a saint in 2009. Due to advancements in public health, the number of people in the world suffering from leprosy is much lower today than even a generation ago. Still, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 200,000 new cases every year.
The biggest danger we face today isn’t physical leprosy. It’s social and spiritual leprosy. Throughout our world, people are marginalized or “set outside the camp” because of who they are, what they look like, when they were born, where they come from, how they speak, or why they came to a new country. As disciples of Jesus, our mission is to go where they are and stand in solidarity with them even when it’s unpopular. Jesus didn’t just express his will that the man with leprosy be cured, he touched him. He risked contamination for the sake of healing and restoration. His ministry was so powerful that even when he tried to retreat to “deserted places,” people kept coming to him.
As we draw closer to Ash Wednesday and Lent, ask yourself: “Who are the ‘lepers’ in my life? Where do they dwell? How can I stand with them and serve them?” Where you find them, you’ll also find Jesus. And where we would find Jesus, we should also find his Church. +