Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2012
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

          Leviticus sets the rules for dealing with leprosy and other skin diseases. Out of respect for the community, a leprous person shows themselves to be apart from the community by keeping one’s head exposed and by crying out “unclean, unclean.” Such exclamations were designed to keep others away from harm and contagion with fair warning. It seems barbaric to us today, but it was designed as a civil way of maintaining proper health standards. Only the priest, who acted as doctor and judge, could readmit a restored person to society. Anyone who comes into contact with a leprous person automatically cuts oneself off from the community.

          At the very start of his public ministry, Jesus heals a leprous man, thereby placing himself at the periphery of society. Of course, Jesus wishes to cure the man, but he knows that it comes at great risk. He previously announced that his mission was to travel throughout Israel preaching and teaching the kingdom of heaven is among us. He is set to go from town to town beginning with Galilee to bring the good message of salvation. At the outset, he hits a snag in his plans. No longer can he go into towns, villages, and marketplaces or to synagogues and public meeting places. He cannot go where the people assemble. They now have to come to him. It is like telling a presidential election campaigner that she cannot attend a televised debate. Preaching one’s message is much harder to do when a person cannot use the community’s resources for mass communication. However, this is the risk Jesus takes. His compassion will not allow him to do anything else.

           The scene tells us a great deal about what motivates Jesus. He risks his entire mission for the sake of one man who does not even respect the wishes of Jesus. With an injunction to tell no one about what Jesus did for him, he immediately rushes out and tells anyone he sees about his cure. All the townspeople quickly find out that Jesus has become ritually unclean.

          I remember back to the days when AIDS had a hysteria-like quality to it. As a hospital chaplain, I was asked to pray with a woman covered with leprous-like lesions. I remember reacting to her condition and inwardly wanting to avoid contact with her skin, though I knew that AIDS is not contracted by casual contact. As I read the Gospel of the day to her, the passage made her jump up and scream. She hugged me tight and held onto me. She told me that no one ever touches her anymore and she feels completely shunned. Only her dog licks her wounds. All I could do was to hold her in my arms as she wept. Real human needs beg us to go beyond ourselves deep into the lives of others. I think that this is what Jesus did for the leper.

          I have just finished directing another 30-day silent retreat. I am constantly reminded that Jesus wants to heal the most unlovable part of us - the parts we keep hidden from others and even from ourselves. He wants to place his healing touch on a painful memory that we keep pushing out of our minds or cannot even properly remember. We often do not want to think of these unpleasant memories because of the raw pain they cause us. We have to learn to see that they are the content of prayer and not distractions to be dismissed. When we look at these areas with Jesus, we garner new insights and begin the process of healing. Once the healing begins, we can be restored more fully to our true selves and by extension, to the larger community.

          I think Jesus does not care too much if we go and spread the word about what he has done for us like the healed leper did. I think he is just happy that we are coming a step closer to healing and that we live more fully integrated lives. Our happiness and our awareness that we depend upon him is enough. He needs nothing more. He is only concerned to touch our lives to bring us salvation. Our fuller integration and joy is the only testimony he needs. We only wants us to celebrate with him and say thanks.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  James bolsters the faith of the young community by telling them to persevere in their faith. Cast away doubts and be of one mind. Just as a weak plant withers in the scorching sun, the rich one will pass away in the midst of his pursuits. Every person is tempted by his or her own desires. Receive the gift of faith as grace that comes down from heaven. A faithful person is to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Like God, show no partiality in love. Partiality leads to sin. Instead, love your neighbor as yourself. Faith is to be shown more in deeds than in words. Just as a body without spirit is dead, faith without good works is dead. Beware of the ways you speak. The same mouth can bring forth blessings and curses. It is good for us if we can exercise control of what we say and how we say it. The good will prosper.

Gospel: As the Pharisees approach Jesus for a sign from heaven, he sighs in displeasure and asks, "Why does this generation need a sign?" As the disciples journey on, they realize they have no bread and they begin to grumble. The perplexed Jesus tells them that, even after seeing the multiplication of the loaves and fish, they still do not understand that they have 'bread' among them. They arrive at Bethsaida and the people bring a blind man to Jesus for healing. After putting spittle on his eyes, the man begins to see, but indistinctly. Jesus prays harder and then the man comes to full sight. Jesus pulls his disciples aside and asks, "Who do you say that I am?" to which Peter replies, "You are the Christ." He then predicts his manner of death and the cost of discipleship. Then he brings Peter, James, and John up a high mountain by themselves where he is transfigured before their eyes.

Saints of the Week

February 14: Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop (Ninth Century), were brothers who were born in Thessalonica, Greece. They became missionaries after they ended careers in teaching and government work. They moved to Ukraine and Moravia, a place between the Byzantium and Germanic peoples. Cyril (Constantine) created Slavonic alphabet so the liturgy and scriptures could be available to them. Cyril died during a visit to Rome and Methodius became a bishop and returned to Moravia.

February 17: The Seven Founders of the Servites (Thirteenth Century) were from Florence and they joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin, who were also known as Praisers. They devoted their apostolate to prayer and service and withdrew to a deserted mountain to build a church and hermitage. After adopting a rule and gaining recruits, they changed their name to the Servants of Mary.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Feb 12, 1564. Francis Borgia was appointed assistant for Spain and Portugal.
·         Feb 13, 1787. In Milan, Fr. Rudjer Boskovic, an illustrious mathematician, scientist, and astronomer, died. At Paris he was appointed "Directeur de la Marine."
·         Feb 14, 1769. At Cadiz, 241 Jesuits from Chile were put on board a Swedish vessel to be deported to Italy as exiles.
·         Feb 15, 1732. Fr. Chamillard SJ, who had been reported by the Jansenists as having died a Jansenist and working miracles, suddenly appeared alive and well!
·         Feb 16, 1776. At Rome, the Jesuit prisoners in Castel San Angelo were restored to liberty. Fr. Romberg, the German assistant, aged 80, expressed a wish to remain in prison.
·         Feb 17, 1775. The French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan Ambassadors in Rome intimate to the newly elected Pope Pius VI the will of their respective sovereigns that the Jesuits imprisoned in Castel S Angelo should not be released.
·         Feb 18, 1595. St Robert Southwell, after two and a half years imprisonment in the tower, was removed to Newgate and there thrust into a dungeon known as "Limbo."