The first reading stands in harsh contrast to today’s gospel. It
comes from a section of Leviticus (chapters 11-16) that deals with
the laws of purity for daily and religious life. According to
Leviticus, leprosy, or any serious skin disease, was thought to be a
sign of a person’s spiritual uncleanness. That person was declared
"unclean," through no fault of their own, and was to be excluded
from worship and the social life of the community. Israel was to be
a holy people without blemish or disorder. An "unclean" person was
considered to be in stark contrast to the holiness of God, and a
blemish on the community’s purity.
Leviticus was a book of early legislation. Its final form took
shape after the Babylonian exile. It was written by the priestly
school, which set up rules for the community’s worship. According to
the rules of Leviticus, lepers were to be quarantined and not
allowed to participate in worship. Since leprosy was thought to be
contagious, lepers were also excluded from the community’s social
life. In ancient times such expulsion was the equivalent to a death
sentence. What kind of life could such people have without human
relationships? "They shall dwell apart, making their abode outside
One author likens people with leprosy to being "living corpses."
If such a person were cured, it would be like a resurrection, since
it brought the person back into the community’s social and religious
Our Catholic tradition puts emphasis on the community. We are not
solitary "spiritual people" seeking our own salvation. We grow in
holiness and come to full humanity as members of a God-oriented
community. When we sin we not only cut ourselves off from God, but
from the community of God’s people as well. So, in order to return
to God we also need to be reconciled to the community. That is why
Jesus instructs the cured man to go show himself to the priests to
have his cure confirmed and to welcome him back into the social and
religious life of the community.
Today the preacher has an opportunity to speak about the
Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sin is not merely a private affair, but
has consequences in the community. The sin we call "mortal" not only
is a turning away from God, it is also a separation from the
community. We have a choice: to live with God, or live without God.
When we realize we have cut ourselves off from God we believe
forgiveness is readily available to us. The Sacrament of
Reconciliation is our concrete assurance that we truly have been
forgiven and are also reconciled with God’s holy people. The
sacrament is the community’s welcome back to the member who has
turned away from both God and the community.
Ash Wednesday is this week and we begin the season of Lent. We
celebrate the season of repentance and change as members of God’s
people. The community supports us this season of faith, hope and
love by the example of its members and by our liturgical life that
prepares us for Easter. We do not grow in holiness alone, but in
community with one another. We look around at the people celebrating
Eucharist with us today with gratitude for their witness and support
in our commitment to spiritual maturity.
The gospel story follows a familiar pattern common to other
miraculous cures. First, the dire situation is described – the man
has leprosy. Then the cure occurs by word and, in this account, by
touch. Finally, there is a demonstration that a cure has occurred –
the man is told to go to the priest for confirmation, in accordance
with the Levitical law (cf. first reading). The third point shows a
typical theme in Mark called "the messianic secret." The man is told
not to tell anyone about the cure; but he immediately tells
everyone, disregarding Jesus’ instruction.
Let’s pause for a moment and do a brief word study, it may help
us as we interpret the story. When the leper approaches, Mark says
Jesus was moved with pity for the man. In the original language the
word (splanchnizomai) suggests a deep inner groaning. It describes a
very physical, gut-wrenching reaction. Jesus just didn’t feel sad
for the man’s condition, he felt deep-down empathy and was resolved
Such passion for the suffering of others can be a driving force
moving us to do what Jesus did: to comfort and aid the least, the
outcast and the despised. There may be all kinds of social
restrictions about such action: "They are illegal... criminals...
drug addicts, etc." But there are times when we just have to follow
our inner feelings and compassion (splanchnizomai) for the suffering
of others and do something.
Here is a another word from the original language. When Mark
describes Jesus’ healing the man he uses a word (embrimamenos), it
literally means a snorting and anger (v. 43). The anger wasn’t
directed at the leper, but at the debilitating disease and, in their
belief, towards the demon that had control over the man.
Anger – that’s another passion that may move us to act against
the injustice leveled against parts of our society and, yes, even
towards members of our church. We observe an injustice, we see the
innocent oppressed and a righteous anger (embrimamenos) stirs us to
do something about it.
Jesus did not want the man to broadcast what had happened to him;
he didn’t want to be known merely as a wonder-worker. The cross and
resurrection that awaited him would reveal his true identity to the
world. Leprosy was seen as a sign of sin and that is the healing
Jesus wants to offer to all humanity, a deliverance from the slavery
of sin that makes us outcasts to others and even to ourselves. The
man’s spreading the news of his cure caused people to be captivated
by Jesus’ wonders, thus limiting his ability to proclaim what he had
announced at the beginning of Mark’s gospel: "The time is fulfilled
and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good
News" (v. One: 17).
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Corinthians 10: 32
This week, on Ash Wednesday, we begin the Lenten season--our time
to pay attention to our ongoing conversion. This year, the beginning
of our Lenten season also falls on Valentine’s Day, a day when we
honor love. How appropriate then, that as part of our ongoing
conversion, we practice stretching our love to include those we may
not normally be moved to love--the marginalized, the
disenfranchised, the impoverished, the immigrant, the prisoner, the
homeless, the other… Each person has a face and a story, one that
can enrich your life and your spiritual journey. For our parish,
participation in Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl is a tradition
and also a way to exercise our heart muscle. In CRS words:
"We are invited to reflect on how an encounter with our
neighbor—as companions on life’s journeys—can be transformative. We
will see how our prayers, fasting and alms can support those
worldwide who are forced to flee their homes to find safety or
better opportunities. . .
Through prayer, we encounter Christ, present in the faces
of every member of our human family, so often still walking that
long road to Calvary.
Through fasting, we encounter our own obstacles, those
things about ourselves that prevent us from loving God and neighbor.
Through almsgiving, we encounter our brothers and sisters
around the world, asking what we can give up so that others might
have life to the fullest.
Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and
sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting
and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Each day of Lent,
individuals are invited to use the Lenten Calendar—included with
every CRS Rice Bowl—to guide their Lenten almsgiving. These daily
almsgiving activities—for example, give 25 cents for every faucet
found in your home—help families reflect on the realities of our
brothers and sisters around the world and how they can be in
solidarity during the Lenten season."
CRS Rice Bowls will be distributed to Cathedral and Faith
Formation student families and will be available in the narthex next
weekend for others.
Sign up to get weekly Lenten inspiration and/or get the app and
learn more about Rice Bowl, and how it relates to Lent, visit
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
pity, Jesus stretched out his hand,
the leper and said to him,
"I do will
it. Be made clean."
When Mark describes Jesus healing the man he uses a word that
literally means a snorting in anger (v. 43). The anger wasn’t
directed at the leper, but at the man’s debilitating disease. Anger
is a passion that may move us to act against the injustice leveled
against those without voice, or rights. When we observe an
injustice, see the innocent oppressed, a righteous anger should stir
us to do something about it.
So we ask ourselves:
- What injustice do we observe that stirs us to anger?
- How shall we respond to what so moves us?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to
the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal
dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."---Pope Francis
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Carl Moseley #0294214 (On death row since 10/1/92)
- Nathan Bowie #0039561 (2/5/93)
- William Bowie #0039569 (2/5/93)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
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