Have you ever experienced a physical issue that you wanted to conceal or minimize? A swollen eye? A skin rash? Even a blackened fingernail might keep our hands in our pockets.
You know your own hands very well. Look at them and imagine your fingers bent in unnatural positions, several of them missing, mysteriously “eaten away.” You would probably want to hide them from others. What if your face were suffering the same mysterious infection? It is likely that others would look away from you or avoid you.
This is a glimpse into the plight of lepers. Through no fault of their own, lepers have been infected with bacteria that disfigures them completely, causing damage to the organs, eyes, limbs, and nerves. Because of the fear of contaminating others, lepers were considered unclean and were not allowed to be in contact with others. Because of their disfigurement, they were terrible to look at and covered themselves even from their own eyes. They were separated socially, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally from others, forced to live on the outer edge of society and rely on charity, which they received from a distance. They could not be with their families or pray with the community. They were cast aside to watch their disease progressively erode their physical selves.
Who could be in worse shape in the ancient world than a leper?
And yet, we are all lepers, in a sense, because leprosy can be seen as a biblical analogy for sin. Leprosy is to the body what sin is to the soul. Sin disfigures and eats away at our souls, separating us from all that is good and true and beautiful and from one another. Sin drives a wedge in our relationship with God, with other people, and with our own best selves. Sin is the terrible spiritual disease that keeps us from being able to fulfill our true potential in Christ and to live in full communion with God and other people.
That’s the bad news. But the Gospel is Good News, and today’s Gospel proclaims the good news that if we, like the leper, bow down before the Lord, acknowledging that He alone has the power to cure us, and confidently ask to be healed, we can be free. Jesus will not hesitate or draw back; He will touch us with His grace. He says to the leper and to us: “I do will it.” This is why he has come to us!
Unlike the leper, we don’t have to wait for the Master to pass by. We have access to Him 24/7. It is up to us to open ourselves to the healing mercy and grace of Christ through prayer and through the Church in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
During these last few days of Christmastime, let us ask for the grace to open ourselves fully to the infinite mercy Christ came to unleash on the world, and confidently ask Him to set us free.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.