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An unintentional apostle | Gospel of February 11

By 7 February, 2024No Comments
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Gospel according to Saint Mark 1,40-45:

A leper came to Jesus and begged him, «If you so will, you can make me clean». Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, «I will; be clean». The leprosy left the man at once and he was made clean. As Jesus sent the man away, he sternly warned him, «Don’t tell anyone about this, but go and show yourself to the priest and for the cleansing bring the offering ordered by Moses; in this way you will make your declaration». However, as soon as the man went out, he began spreading the news everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter any town. But even though he stayed in the rural areas, people came to him from everywhere.

An unintentional apostle

Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries

Rome, February 11, 2024 | VI Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lv 13: 1-2.45-46; 1Cor 10: 31 - 11,1; Mk 1: 40-45 

Leprosy was manifested by a rough rash on the skin. It was the cursed mark of death that prevented participation in the social and religious life of the Jewish people. In addition to the physical pain of the disease, the leper had to suffer social exclusion, even from those dearest to him -he could not approach or touch anyone- and be considered impure and cursed by God. Despised by everyone, nothing made sense to him anymore. His only goal was to live in misery and wait for death.

It seems difficult to understand that Jesus cured that leper, one more among the thousands that wandered through the country, with that disease and others that were also devastating for all dimensions of the human being.

Why did he cure that leper? Why did he do it, if he knew that he would not respect his rigorous instruction not to say anything to anyone? Why did he allow the foreseeable imprudence of the sick man to spoil his plans to preach in the cities?

In fact, sometimes, his Messiah personality was misinterpreted, because they expected from him a political and military liberation. Now, He ran the risk of appearing as a worker of wonders, something similar to the magicians and sorcerers of so many cultures.

But Christ submits himself to the supreme form of love: mercy. As the Gospel text says, “He had compassion on him.” Compassion does not mean that we can fix all the problems, all the difficulties of our neighbor. Rather, it means that, by our humble presence, they can feel God’s compassion. There is more: I have to live this compassion in the midst of my own burdens, my own setbacks.

It was precisely in this way that a French hero of our time, Raoul Follereau (1903-1977), writer, jurist and Catholic philosopher, lived. In 1935, while in Africa as a special envoy journalist, he first came into contact with the terrible reality of leprosy, when the jeep in which he was traveling had to stop by a pond and saw a group of severely mutilated lepers, desperate for food, emerge from the forest.

When he returned to his country, in the midst of World War II, he gave lectures all over France to raise funds to help the lepers of the Ivory Coast and, later, of the whole world, for which he dared to ask “the cost of a day of war, for peace” to the great world powers. Although the powerful did not want to respond, he obtained millions of small donations and succeeded in building hospitals and facilities for leprosy patients and victims of the calamities of war.

This remembrance of Follereau is not to speak of leprosy, but to give an example of someone who tried to do as Christ did, at a time not appropriate and as dramatic as the World War, but allowed himself to be swept away by mercy and, while he helped the lepers so much, above all he kindled in many people compassion and sensitivity for those who suffer.

Compassion disrupts and disarticulates our best plans, it is stronger than any of our projects. Jesus, who wished to be respectful of the Law, is driven to touch the leper, which was strictly forbidden.

If, in addition, we want to live that compassion in the name of Christ, the difference is that we MUST PUT OUR ENTIRE LIFE into every small act of generosity, which is expressed in the Gospel of St. Matthew (22: 37): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This does not mean that we must make a great physical and mental effort, but that our heart, our mind and our soul cannot be elsewhere.

Compassion, lived in another way, is more like an instinct, which makes us like animals and makes us compassionate only with those who are like us, with those who treat us well. Yes; in living worldlycompassion, my heart is still “in me,” in the intention to feel good, to have a comfortable relationship with others, to earn their appreciation.

—ooOoo—

We know well, but in practice we forget, that the lepers of the Gospel represent those human beings of all times, in whom no one sees a future… not even themselves. For example, people of difficult character or openly rebellious young people or those who do not have many talents. Sometimes we approach them a few times and immediately our rickety compassion withers away.

One of the mechanisms (let’s call it that) that lead us to abandonment is impatience, the inability to face adversity calmly. It is often said that impatience is the lack of patience, but that is a bit superficial, based on the etymology of the word: Impatience = im-patience = absence of patience.

We all have some form of impatience; it is so universal that one author, with irony, said that what is normal in human beings is impatience, which is a mental and physical process that is triggered in specific circumstances, and which leads to specific types of actions, such as changing plans precipitously, distraction, abandonment of people, even violent acts.

Impatience is something we all (also you and me) show at times, let’s say we carry it inside. Patience is rather…the lack of impatience, which is impossible to live fully in all circumstances.

However, beyond our effort of mind and heart to be patient, let us read carefully what St. Paul tells us today, a person who had many of the attributes we associate with genius: He was quick, deeply insightful, highly intellectual, and… impatient. For example, he did not realize that others could not keep up with his pace. But this apostle gives us the spiritual solution, deeply evangelical, to live an authentic patience within the multiple activities and setbacks of our existence: I try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own interest, but that of others, so that they may be saved.

That is the key idea, the motivation that must mark the course of the person who is patient: To save his neighbor. He will convert when God wills; he will change when the time comes, which may be at the same time that he dies; but he will take with him to the door of heaven the mercy and forgiveness he has received from the patient person. Let us not forget that, in the last encounter, when Judas Iscariot betrays and betrays Christ, Christ calls him friend, a word that contains forgiveness, the desire not to abandon him, which perhaps triggered his weeping, beyond death, before God the Father.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul is so sure that seeking the salvation of all (not just that they be happy) is the proper way to follow Christ, that he ends his discourse by setting himself up as a model for the often depraved Corinthians.

Some questions I can ask myself today are: Whom do I consider incurable? Given my negative experiences, who do I think is not worth approaching?

And let us not forget that, the most important thing is not to pretend to change with our minuscule virtue the life of the leper, of the difficult person, but that, by approaching him, it is we who will change. This is what happened, as is well known, to St. Francis of Assisi, whose life was turned upside down… when he dared to embrace a leper.

—ooOoo—

In spite of the flagrant and imprudent disobedience of the leper, who told everyone what had happened to him, it did not occur to Christ to punish him, as perhaps we would have done… by returning the leprosy to his body. Nothing of the sort. This leper, too, acted as St. Paul said, proclaiming the Gospel timely and inopportunely, although our immediate inclination is to condemn his inopportune way of doing so.

Some religious are heard to give advice that the souls they lead should devote themselves to caring for the spiritual life of others. They strive to give them hints that they should do so, even through participation in carefully planned activities. They encourage them by making them see the deplorable situation of so many souls… All this is positive and more than necessary, but if that person who claims to have consecrated himself to God, that religious who intimately considers his life “acceptable”, has not had the experience of today’s leper or – even worse – has not realized all the mercy he has received… everything is useless. He will never be an apostle; no one will ever see in him the presence of God.

People like this leper are the true witnesses of the Gospel, like St. Paul and like the man possessed by demons who ended up first in the pigs and then in the sea (Mk 5: 19-20).

In fact, at another point, Jesus says to those sent by the Baptist: Go back and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead come to life and the good news reaches the poor (Mt 11:5). The healing of a leper was, therefore, much more than a prodigious gesture. It was the proof that the Messiah had come into the world, and that is very difficult and unnatural to reserve for oneself.

Contrary to what the Pharisees thought, it was not the darkness that enters into the light, but the light that erases the darkness. Christ’s caress, his hand touching the leper, represents many gestures that we can make. Not all of us are going to be surrounded by lepers who, although still many in the world, are not a majority. Today’s Gospel scene does not speak of the health situation in Galilee, but of the human condition. We all make bad choices, we are all sinners, we are almost always blind to our faults….

The leper knew, in his ignorance, that Jesus could be his salvation. Many unbaptized people, or simply those who are far from a full life, have this intuition. But the Master – as the fortunate sick man calls him – simply answers: Yes, I am willing. Be made clean. Today, as then, in a thousand different ways, in spite of appearances and statistics, consciously or not, through the honest disciples, what the Gospel text affirms continues to happen: People come to Him from everywhere.

Christ knew how to move among impure people, corrupt publicans, shall we ignore or devour each other for suffering from these forms of leprosy of the soul?

_______________________________

In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Luis CASASUS

President