Healing Leprous Souls by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.
He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained out-side in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.
As with all His miracles, Our Lord's healing of the leper displays His divine authority (Mk 1:40-45). The physical healing manifests His power over the natural world. The fact that He touches the leper, a thing forbidden in ancient Israel, also demonstrates His authority. Moreover, this cure teaches us something about the nature of sin and the healing our Lord came to bring.
Consider the experience of a leper in our Lord's time. First, even before the disease's onset, a man would hear about leprosy - how it gradually eats away at the body, how it has no cure, how it renders a man an outcast from society, unclean for Temple worship. Then one day he experiences the shocking realization that he has contracted leprosy - he is no longer clean. Gradually, the shock wears away and he makes an uneasy peace with the disease. He learns to live with what will kill him.
With this in mind we can see leprosy as an apt image of sin. Not because (as sometimes was thought) it is a direct punishment for sin, but because sin does to the soul what leprosy does to the body. And the process is the same. As children we are horrified by sin. Even our fallen human nature can recognize how wrong it is to lie, cheat and steal - how simple the commandments of God are and how horrendous it is to break them. Then eventually comes the horrifying realization that we too have sinned, that this sickness has infected us as well. Then, gradually, the horror goes away and we make a disordered peace with sin, even as it eats away at our souls. We learn to live with what will kill us.
One parallel of leprosy and sin is especially intriguing: they both render one unfit for worship. According to the Mosaic Law, a leper was ritually unclean, unable to participate in Israel's liturgical life. He could not worship with God's people. So also sin, since it ruptures our union with God, cripples our ability to approach the Lord in worship. The Church's liturgy and law recognize this truth. So we begin every Mass by asking forgiveness - cleansing - of those daily faults (venial sins) we commit. And if mortal sin infects our souls then we are unable to enjoy the fullness of Catholic worship - that is, unable to receive Communion.
As leprosy and sin share common symptoms, so also they share a common cure. Witness the example of the leper. "A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean'" (Mk 1:40)_. First, although Mosaic law required lepers to stand far off and proclaim to people "Unclean! Unclean!" (cf. Lev 13-45), the leper goes to the Lord. In the presence of the Divine Physician, he could not but approach Him and ask for healing. Second, he displays his faith by kneeling and begging.
"A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean.'" In this one verse the leper gives us an example of repentance. There is no law keeping us from the Divine Physician. Yet many of us act as thought there is. We avoid Him and allow the leprosy of sin to corrode our souls. To be freed from such leprosy, we need only imitate the leper - by going to confession. There we find the Lord through the ministry of the priest. We kneel before Him in faith and say, in effect, "If you wish, you can make me clean."
The leper departed not only physically healed but also - and more importantly - spiritually restored to the people of Israel and once again able to worship the Lord. So also the sacrament of confession frees us from the decay of sin and enables us to offer ourselves more purely in the sacrifice of the Mass.
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