Let me first begin by saying that the ‘leprosy’ that we hear in Gospels is not the ‘leprosy’ that we speak of in today as the Hansan disease. The leprosy in today’s Gospel is a type of skin disease that is contagious. As such, if a person is healed, he has to go to a priest who would then examine and purify him ritually according to the Laws of Leviticus; and if he is pronounced clean, only then will he be reinstated with the community.
The leper in today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed was rejected and ostracised by his community. Jesus, out of deep compassion cured him. Many years ago, one of our parishioners husband (let us call him Jack; not his real name) was admitted to hospital; I believe he had three very severe blocked arteries as he was due for bypass. Jack’s wife, (let us call her Jane) asked me to bless her husband, who was not a Christian. At the hospital, when asked, Jack assured me that he would not mind receiving a blessing. After the blessing, Jane, being a very devout Catholic, rubbed some Lourdes water on Jack’s chest; and we left the hospital.
A few days later Jane called me, and with great joy told me that her husband wants to thank me because a miracle has happened. Her husband need not have the bypass operation after all because all his arteries were cleared after the blessing. Jack said, “Fr Heng had saved his life . . . and $25,000 of medical costs!” I told Jane to tell her husband that it is not Fr Heng who saved him, but it is Jesus who saved him.
All of us would think that from then on, Jack would want to learn more about the Jesus who cured him? Since the miracle, Jane had urged her husband many times to learn about Jesus and consider Baptism. However, Jack keep saying that he is not yet ready. Jane passed away some years ago, but with much sadness in her heart that her husband has still not accepted Jesus. Today, some 15 years or so have gone by, and as far as I know Jack is still searching for God and trying to make sense of the meaning his life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not here to pass any judgment on Jack, but what could be happening is that Jack’s main problem is not so much his physical blocked arteries, but his mental blocks about Jesus and his emotional blocks of one kind or another that is preventing him from accepting Jesus; in spite of the obvious miraculous cure.
The leper in today’s Gospel of St Mark “pleaded on his knees with Jesus, ‘If you want to, you can cure me.” And, Jesus instantly replied, “Of course I want to, be cured!” Jesus did the same thing to Jack, but unlike the leper in today’s Gospel, it was Jack’s wife, Jane, who pleaded with Jesus to cure her husband. Jesus can only offer Jack and all of us His deep Compassionate Love, but He will not impose His Love upon us. Jesus can only heal Jack physically, but He cannot force Jack to accept Him as His Saviour who offers him eternal life. For us to have any relationship with Jesus, there must be a two way acceptance of each other. Jesus is always, open and waiting for us to receive His Love.
However, as for Jack he seems to have “blocks” in his life that are preventing him from accepting the gift of faith in Jesus. Jack seems to need the deeper healings of his mental blocks and emotional blocks. Unless, Jack is freed of such “blocks” it seems to me, Jack would spend the rest of his life living in doubt about Jesus, as the Saviour and Lord of our lives. Hopefully, Jack does not need to experience another crisis in his life before he accepts Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.
How many of us know of people who have similar mental and emotional blocks about Jesus like Jack? Some disguise such blocks by saying that they believe in God, but not in a religion. For such persons, I think the greatest and deepest block they have is the lack of “self-love.”
In one of Fr Augustine Vallooran’s reflection he says, that “every human person longs to love and be loved in return. In an environment where love abounds, life thrives but wherever love is denied, life is stifled, leaving the heart and mind wounded. Hurt or wounded feelings accumulated over the years weigh down the individual burdening and wrecking him or her emotionally.
The problem of poor self-esteem is common in all circles of society. The bruise and shocks inflicted on sensitive hearts and minds in a sustained manner over a period of time, lead many to believe that they are worthless and of no value to anyone. Into the dark recesses of such hearts and minds comes the edifying and refreshing Christian message – the immeasurable love from God our Father, to whom my life is of such immense value that, “He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all” (Rom.8.32.). God through Prophet Isaiah 43:4 says to His people and to you and I today, “You are precious to me.”
My sisters and brother in Christ, let us remember that we can go on searching for meaning, peace and fulfilment in life in the secular world throughout our lives. But, if we are like Jack in our true story, we can be sure that none of our needs will be met. And for those who continue to rationalise that we can believe in God, but need not follow a religion, we are fooling ourselves. In this context, we are very happy to see more than 80 catechumens and candidates who are here today with us, and have decided to accept Jesus as their Saviour and Lord through the Catholic Church.
Without our faith in God and love for Him through the Church, our faith and love for Jesus is in all probability superficial and conditional; and would be live in accordance to “our terms”. If your spouse were to tell you that he or she loves you, but on certain terms, then such conditional love cannot be deep love. Likewise; if our love for Jesus is conditioned by how I want to live my life the way I want to, without any need to obey any Church rules and regulations, as probably in the case of Jack, then we need to pray for the wisdom to have a mental and emotional conversion of heart.
In conclusion, let us be reminded that the leper in today’s Gospel had great faith and trust in Jesus’ divine power to heal him. In response, Jesus’ Compassionate Love for the leper was unconditional. And so, regardless of our different needs, hurts and desires in life; which may even be as desperate as the leper in today’s Gospel, you and I are faced with the same reality: “Jesus’s Compassionate Love for us is unconditional. What about our responses? Are they conditional and influenced by our self-love?”
(cf. “You are Precious to Me,” by Fr Auguestine Vallooran, Pub: Divine Retreat Centre, Kerala, India: 2006; p. 84.)
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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