Bring Jesus your “Leprosy”

6th Sunday in O.T.; February 11, 2018

Lv 13:1-2,44-46   Ps 32   1 Cor 10-31-11:1   Mk 1:40-45

Deacon Jim McFadden

          Last Sunday we saw that in his public life Jesus healed many sick people, revealing that God wants us to be well—indeed, that our joy may be full; that we live life to its fullness. Today, Jesus goes further by coming in touch with a form of disease that was so horrible that it caused external separation from others and internal loathing as one was

“unclean” both inside and out.

The man is desperate because the fate of the leper is as bad as it got. Listen to our first reading from Leviticus: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev 13:45-46).   These instructions made the leper the ultimate outsider. They are a symbol of those whom no one can help. Can you imagine that? You have a condition that places you beyond the pale—you have no hope. This is how you would live the rest of your miserable life as you face alone a deteriorating future. The mental anguish, the excruciating isolation must have been devastating. The deep pain of this horrible disease is the growing realization that no one cares: your dwelling is outside the camp, where you have no fellowship.

Brothers and sisters, have you ever experienced this kind of isolation from others and even God. Have you ever felt deformed, ugly, not good enough? When we encounter rejection, betrayal, or failure, we may go to that place where we feel that there is something about me that is repulsive and ugly.

It’s hard to love ourselves as God does. But, until we get out this “leperous” enslavement, we’ll never be free to be in genuine relationship with God and others. The leper in today’s gospel sensed that Jesus could liberate him from his external and internal affliction. He had heard about Jesus and how our Lord had healed people—how he gathered people who were excluded. So, he boldly comes forward, which in itself, broke social taboos and Mosaic law. He had faith that Jesus had the power to cure him. The question was would he? His hesitancy is whether Jesus would be disposed to do it. The leper’s self image was that he was beyond human concern and since he couldn’t worship in the temple or synagogue, God probably didn’t care either. But, the leper made a leap of faith that God does care about our condition no matter what our state may be. So, said, “If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mk 1:40).

Jesus, the Word of God incarnate; Jesus, Yahweh in the flesh, does care. His inner compassion for this pitiable, isolated being moves Jesus to reach out and touch him. As he makes him clean, he welcomes the man back into the circle of relationships with God and humanity. This cleansing is more about God’s outreach to outcasts, those on the margins, than it is about a physical healing. Indeed, it is a revelation of how God acts in salvation history.

How so? Through Jesus’ action and those words, “I do will it. Be made clean” (v. 41b), reveals to us God’s desire to purify us from illness that disfigures us and ruins our relationships. In that simple but radical touch between Jesus’ hand and the leper, every barrier between God and human impurity, disfigurement, between the sacred and its opposite, was pulled down. Through Jesus, nothing separates us from God and others. Jesus’ action does not deny the power of sin or evil, but it does demonstrate that God’s love for us is stronger than any illness, rejection, failure, or betrayal. Even in its most contagious and horrible form, God’s love can transform us into what we really are: a beloved child of God, who is made in God’s image, which is our essential identity. When Jesus touched the leper, he was identifying with the man’s oppressive condition. In so doing, he was taking on his and our infirmities. By touching the man, Jesus symbolically made himself “a leper” so that we may be made clean.

A wonderful comment on this Gospel is taken from the famous experience of St. Francis of Assisi, in which he says, “This is how the Lord gave me, Brother Francis, the power to do penance. When I was in sin, the sight of lepers was too bitter for me. And the Lord himself led me among them, and I pitied and helped them. And when I left them, I discovered that what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness in my soul and body. And shortly afterward I rose and left the world” (FF, 110).

In those lepers whom Francis met when he was still “in sin,” Jesus was present; and when Francis approached one of them, overcoming his own disgust, he embraced him. In so doing Jesus healed him from his “leprosy,” namely his pride and self-absorption, and converted him to the love of God.

Sisters and brothers, this is the kind of healing that awaits us. Do you believe that Jesus can heal you of your “leprosy”? Do you believe that Jesus can transform your condition and convert you to the love of God? Do you believe that Jesus wants to do that for you? If you do, let Jesus touch you. Let him bring profound healing to your life so that you may fully share in his resurrected life!

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Jesus Among the Wild Beasts and Angels

1st Sunday of Lent (B); February 18, 2018

Gen 9:8-15   Ps 25   1 Pet 3:18-22 Mk 1:12-15

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

            Lent is about belonging: staying connected with God, each other, and ourselves. The first readings for all the Lenten Sundays in Lectionary Cycle B celebrate our covenant relationship with God that that is meant to be an inclusive, everlasting relationship that has been “established between God and all living beings—all mortal creatures that are on Earth” (Gen 9:16). Indeed, we might say that Lent is a season of covenant-making in which we take our true place before God. To do that, we need to remember who we are—to live out of our truest self.

At baptism Jesus in his humanity came to full consciousness of who he is: the beloved Son of God. Once Jesus has that awareness, the Spirit drives him into the desert—a place of recognition, a place where he faces his Self and the false interpretations of what it means to be the Son of God. In the desert Jesus is among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. What happens to Jesus must happen to us. These three verses are the spiritual journey in a nutshell; all the necessary parts of the journey are present: Coming to know oneself, facing the wild beasts and being ministered by angels.

The starting point of the spiritual journey is to recognize our True Self and to begin the process of living of that reality We recognize that we are the beloved children of God that we have nothing to prove, nothing to protect. We are who we are in relationship to God. God loves and delights in us. Brothers and sisters, if we feel that we’ve got to prove our self to others, that we’ve got to protect our turf, our tribal loyalties that are in opposition to our Catholic solidarity, then we’re living out of False Self—we’re enslaved by our “wild beasts.”

But, once we know who we truly are, then we’re ready to deal with our Darkness, to wrestle with our “wild beasts.” Their voices will assault us, accuse us. They will tell us what we’re not.

The ancient Desert tradition identified these “wild beasts” as

 

  • food (comfort)
  • sex
  • possessions (having stuff)
  • anger (because we’re not in control)
  • sadness (things are not going my way)
  • apathy (“to Hell with it all”)
  • vainglory (being full of oneself)
  • pride (I and my group is better than you)

 

People of God, we need to contend with the noise generated by the “wild beasts.” But, understandably, we’ll feel lonely as we deal with their seductive voices and lies. Our first response is to take flight, to return to the world of distraction and busyness, to re-absorb ourselves in the drama of our individualistic, self-absorbed, acquisitive culture. Let’s resist that temptation and trust that the ancient Desert tradition was on to something; indeed, they were psychologically astute because we have to go into that place where we find stuff we need to grapple with before we can find. God.

            If we hang in there, if we contend with the wild beasts, we will then be able to collapse into that place where we will hear the voice of God. We’ll hear voices that go beyond the False Kingdom of this world. I promise that if we wait long enough, we’ll hear voices of angels. If we listen close enough, if we face our loneliness, we’ll experience a breakthrough. If we face ourselves for who we are before God, we’ll experience this radical aloneness—that we are radically dependent upon God for life.

            At this point of surrender, we’ll meet the ministry of angels. We will experience consolations, voices that post-modern secular culture cannot name because it is about having, acquiring, domination, and control. The voices that we will hear will call us “beloved, good, a daughter or son of God.” They will be voices that are sweet, that console. These voices do not take away the “wild beasts,” but they do speak deeper and more strongly than “wild beasts” ever can. Brothers and sisters, we need to come into that kind of desert, where we can hear such voices—the ministry of angels.

 

 

Give Me a Drink

SFHS Frosh Retreat; 2-7-18

Esther 5:1-5   Ps 95    Jn 4:5-42

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. Anthony’s C.C.

 

       Have you wondered why the source of “living water” would ask the Samaritan woman, an outsider, for a drink? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Many decades ago as a young college student, I read William Faulkner’s short story, The Bear (one of the few of his I could understand!), in which a hunter is pursuing a bear along a valley floor. Halfway through the trek, the bear (a metaphor for God) circles up the hill, comes down, and now tracks the hunter (a metaphor for us). It’s like the ‘Woman at the well.’ Why should God pursue us? He’s perfect, which means he is complete and does not need anything. Why does he ask us for a drink?

Let’s start at the well, which would have great significance for a Jewish audience, since many special events occurred at a well. Abraham reproached Abimelech at a well over a family dispute. Moses is at the well of Jethro, where he will meet his future wife Zipporah. Jacob also meets his future wife Rachel, probably at this very well, which is called ‘Jacob’s Well.’ So, a first century Jew hearing this story might be thinking that Jesus is looking for a wife!

In a way he is. Jesus is the bridegroom, who is longing to marry his bride. Who is the bride?—it is the Church and we, the People of God, are the Church. Christ is always looking for a bride. Jesus pursued the woman at the well and he’s pursuing you to be in an ‘I-thou” loving relationship that is meant to endure forever. Jesus is trying to re-establish that unity that was lost in Eden, where our first parents were at-one with God, each other, and in harmony with creation. Jesus is looking for a connection; that’s why he stopped at the well; that’s why he has stopped at this retreat.

            “A woman of Samaria came to draw water” (v. 7a) Here comes the Bride, here comes the Class of 2021, who will encounter the Bridegroom, looking for connection.           

“Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink” (v. 7). I love this reference. Throughout the whole Bible, especially the Psalms, we have references of our thirst for God: “As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God” (Ps 42-43:2-3a).  But, here the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Word made Flesh who reveals the inner life of God, and He’s thirsting for us!

            As St. Augustine puts it, “Christ is thirsting our Faith.” Jesus is not some kind of abstraction or spiritual ideal, but a risen Presence who does not wait for us to come to him, but He comes to us in our most alone and isolated places. God thirsts for you, for your Faith.

What does Faith mean in the New Testament? I think it means Trust. Jesus is saying to you, “Trust, trust in me; let go, surrender, give me yourself. Allow me to share with you all that I am, which is Love.”

Sisters, this is so incredible: Christ is thirsting for your trust, for your friendship; He longs to be in relationship with you! Do you want to be friends with Jesus now and forever? If so, may you always be faithful to your baptismal call to trust the Lord. Amen.