Dear Believers in Miracles,
Today’s gospel invites us to see life from the point of view of the leper. We may squirm at such a thought and wonder about the wisdom of such a reflection. The leper is not whole. His body is diseased, but how other people treat him is the real leprosy in the story. Lepers in those days were cast apart from loved ones. They were treated as if their disease came from evil. They did not socialize with family or interact with any aspect of civil life.
Jesus breaks the boundaries of such lies. This is His true healing in the story. The leper reaches deep into his pain and isolation and comes to the conclusion that Jesus is there to heal him. I pray that each of us could have such a conviction. Our task is first to know and understand our pain. Only then can we truly understand how we make lepers out of other people.
There are many forms of leprosy today. Migrants are considered by many to carry such distinction. Gay and lesbian people carry such branding by many. People with drug addiction or people who have never held a job are often treated with such disdain. People from the opposite political party live under this name. Still in this day, people born with skin color different from our own are labeled and given only certain recognitions.
I suffered from severe acne when I was young. A dermatologist treated me for eight years. He told me that I was the worst case he had ever treated. I took antibiotics for all those years. The doctor even gave me x-ray treatments as a last measure to cure me. The treatment didn’t change much. He told me that if the treatments didn’t work, he would call me a leper. I knew he was kidding, but the name hurt more than the treatments.
Acne was very socially condemning for me. In fact, while in college seminary, I was told that if I didn’t do something about it, I would not be ordained. Hard to imagine now, but somehow I managed to walk around such a threat.
Sometimes, we never know how people feel marginalized. Sometimes, leprosy is invisible and secretive. People react in acts of self-mutilation and suicide. People abuse their children who are different. People shun, persecute and ignore others. Some are dismissed from their jobs or never given a chance. Some are homeless or their bodies are damaged from wars. Some are born with disabilities. Not just a result of physical appearance, even gossip creates lepers.
Leprosy becomes an opportunity to love when we finally realize that people are people. Our negative reactions to people who are different from our selves, stem from our fear— simply fear.
Healing happens only when we when finally realize that Jesus desires wholeness, hope and integrity for all people. The reason Jesus became flesh is to heal those whose bodies are shunned, alone and frightened. Leprosy is an opportunity for love for us all.
When I read about you being told that you couldn’t be ordained unless you solved your acne problem, I was greatly angered. There are some parts of our church that really go against everything I’ve read in the Gospels. When I converted to Catholicism, my Jesuit instructor explained the difference between “ the church” and “churchmen.” He nailed it!
Gosh, Ron, thank you for sharing that you were told that about your acne! In all our years of formation, I never ever thought about that, or that it could in any way hinder you. I’m so glad you persevered and the gift of “you” and your priesthood is still helping so many to heal and find God’s love. I sang at the 12:00 mass at the LA Cathedral today, and I had such a good feeling, like God was giving me big hug! I think that came through in the music too! Happy Lent, Ron! -Dan