Sunday, February 15, 2015


   Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B  

A bus passed in front of a leper hospital
and two patients, with obvious deformities,
flagged it down and got on board. 
There was an uneasy silence
as they wedged themselves between other passengers. 
When they later asked the bus driver to stop so they might get off,
one reached out her hand to pay the fare. 
The driver—not wanting to touch her hand or the coins
for fear of catching the disease—said,
“Never mind.  Your ride was free.” 
The patient was so very grateful…
…that she immediately grabbed his hand
and wouldn’t stop kissing it! 
The driver nearly fainted.

Whenever reflecting 
on Jesus’ interactions with lepers—
and they are frequent enough in the gospels—
it’s rather common to consider
the plight of those in our own times
who live on the margins as outcasts—
those considered “unclean”
and forced to dwell “outside the camp,”
in the language of Leviticus.
In modern society, it might be
the undocumented immigrant 
who cannot speak English,
the AIDS patient or the addict,
the sex offender 
who’s considered beyond redemption.
In the present day Church, it might be
unwed parents, the divorced and remarried,
homosexuals, or the woman who had an abortion.

This week, at a meeting here in the parish,
I heard a couple of parishioners share an experience
of being pushed to the margins that I never expected—
and which stopped me in my tracks.
They shared—
as very devout and involved Catholics—
how it often feels to them
that when the Church is planning programs,
we’re always catering to the far less committed;
for example: that when we’re making up
the religious education schedule,
we seem much more concerned
about the family which might choose hockey practice instead,
rather than those who make Sunday Mass
and the Catholic upbringing of their children
a priority above anything else.

I haven’t been able to get their comments 
out of my head.

On the one hand, I want to ask in reply,
“But isn’t that what the Church is supposed to do?
To rescue the wandering?  To lead back the stray sheep?
To go out to the ‘peripheries’—in the language of Pope Francis?”
But on the other hand, I must also admit that they have a point.
In an effort to keep our numbers up and the parish viable,
we do worry about keeping as many people on board as possible.
It does sometimes seem like compromise.
I guess I’d never really considered how
it might leave some of our “regulars” feeling left out—
faithfully returning to the table,
but not always satisfied by the way they’re being fed.

Needing some further insight,
I did what I find myself doing more frequently
when facing a parish predicament:
I turned to St. André Bessette for wisdom.
What’s clear to me in this is that we’re all wounded:
for some, our wounds are quite readily apparent;
for others, they’re hidden well out of sight.
So if we’re dealing with open wounds,
why not turn to a man known to be a great healer?

Br. André was widely celebrated
for the many miraculous cures wrought at his hands.
Of course, he always gave the credit
to the powerful intercession of St. Joseph.
Yet in his constant dealings with the sick,
Br. André was much more preoccupied
with the health of their souls than of their bodies.
“If the soul is sick,” he’d say,
“one must begin by treating the soul.”
He’d ask to see if the sick person
went to confession and communion regularly,
and would invite them to do what was necessary
to get themselves back into a state of grace.
But once asked why, in some cases,
the sick were healed right away,
while in others it would take a long time,
Br. André gave an answer opposite what you might expect:
“Those who are healed quickly,” he said,
“are those who do not have faith or have just a little faith,
that they might then have faith;
whereas those who already have a solid faith 
are not healed quickly,
because the good God prefers to test them,
to let them suffer in order to make them holier.”

We are all lepers on this bus.
We are all the walking wounded.
And our woundedness—whatever it’s cause—
makes us feel a bit cast out and cut off.
Maybe it’s some past hurt, as of yet unhealed.
Maybe we’ve got a sort of “spiritual infection”:
unforgiveness or resentment, apathy or anger.
Our wounds are as individual as are our life stories.
In his homespun way,
I think St. André provides us all with some insight
into what it will take to be healed, to be made clean,
to be made whole again.

That being said,
there's certainly a lot more to ponder here.

No doctor can prescribe proper treatment
until we reveal our symptoms to him.
The coming 40 days of Lent are a privileged time
to look deep within our hearts,
to be honest about the wounds we find,
and ask the Lord to touch us there.
On our way to Easter,
we’ll behold Christ’s flesh marked,
not with the sores and blotches of leprosy,
but by the instruments of his Passion.
My friends, 
Jesus does more than identify with us
in our brokenness and rejection;
through his wounds flow hope and new life.

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