We find lepers in our readings today. The most terrible thing about being a leper in the times of our first reading and our Gospel might very well have been this: the terrible loneliness that came with the disease. No one wanted anything to do with you. They stuck you out in the middle of no place, often by yourself. The first reading tells how things were in those days: the person with leprosy had to run around saying about himself, “Unclean! Unclean!” until he was put outside the city by himself until he died.
How lonely a thing that must have been. In the face of that, we see Jesus….and this Jesus reaches out to him and touches him. Of all things! This shocked everyone! Jesus reached out his hand, embraced this man, and healed him. Now…we are the church, the body of Jesus…which means we gotta do the same. We, as members of Jesus’ body, reach out and embrace and heal those the rest of the world are content to ignore. We the church are there for folks when no one else is. That’s one lesson.
Another lesson is this. We all have moments of leprosy, moments of feeling alone and isolated. I’ve learned this even as a young priest: there’s a lot of loneliness in this world in folks’ lives, and in places you wouldn’t expect to find it either. Perhaps it is a reality of the human condition. Dorothy Day wrote about this in a book she wrote, calling this condition the “long loneliness.”
A lot of times we bring this all on ourselves. We put ourselves on our leper islands. Netflix, endless time on social media, video games, being stuck in front of the television or in bed. A lot of people have put themselves on a leper island.
But in the midst of that all, God gives us the greatest gift, what he gave that leper in the gospel: an outstreched hand! If only we care to take Jesus by the hand when he reaches it out to us, if only we care to accept his outstretched hand! That gift he gives us is the gift of communion…that is, union with him and with one another.
We are never alone, because we always have the eucharist. We are never alone, because we always have the eucharist. This altar, this is the greatest place of communion there could ever be.
And…at the same time…we are never alone, because we always have each other. It’s why we have families, friends…why we have church. You can’t just pray into your pillow; God made it that we grow together as brothers and sisters to heaven. We are a church, a family. Look at the saints. You should have heard the kids at our school chanting the litany of the saints the other day…beautiful. Today is the feast of St. Scholastica. Where you have a Scholastica you have St. Benedict, St. Joachim and St. Anne, Paul and Barnabas, Timothy and Titus, Francis of Assissi and Clare of Assissi, St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross….Philip Neri, Charles Borromeo, John Henry Newman. Saints come in packs!!!!
For Lent, I want to challenge us all…myself included…to be people of greater community. Jesus talks about doing three things during Lent…prayer, fasting, and almsgiving….and what if we worked through these things this Lent in such a way that we became more communal…to grow in communion with God and one another–isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
- PRAY: Pray for others more during Lent, and WITH others. Family rosarys, stations of the cross and fish frys, join a prayer group or the Lenten book study. There are some ways to pray WITH others and FOR other this Lent. Oh…and the church will be open all day.
- FAST: Fast from things that isolate us…like Netflix, or endless video games or hours of television watching or facebook or snapchat…in order to make room for people. Fewer pixels more people.
- GIVE: Give in some way you would not normally give…with your money, with you time.
Point of it is….we cannot be content to remain in our leper colonies. This Lent might be just the perfect time to come closer to the Lord, closer to one another!