Homilies

SIXTH SUNDAY OF YEAR         February 11, 2018

 

“A leper came, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’”

 

When I was in grade school, one of the heroes held up to us was the Belgian priest, Damian deVuester, who lived with, cared for, and died among the leper colony on the island of Molakai in Hawaii. Technically these people had Hansen’s Disease and not leprosy. The affliction we hear about in the Bible is a very visible defect on the human skin, a repulsive, scaly condition. The visibility of it made social exclusion easy.

 

The reading from the Book of Leviticus which we have heard, made these people spiritually unclean, thought to be contagious, excluded from the community, forced to live apart from the village, required to ring a bell as they approached.

 

The leper in the gospel story approaches Jesus which he is forbidden to do. He must have been frightened. Instead of respecting the law that relegated him to the margins of society, he knelt down in front of Jesus as before one who could help him if he wished. He begs Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

 

Pay close attention to Jesus here for he is the human face of God. Do we want to know how God feels and acts? Then watch and listen to Jesus. Mark says he was moved with pity The Greek word is much more vivid and describes having one’s intestines or insides poured out in response. Jesus responded to the leper from deep within himself.

 

Jesus then touches the leper. He does the unthinkable, exposing himself to impurity as defined by his culture. Jesus acts with compassion from deep within himself. The fear of ritual impurity does not stop him. The barriers and divisions do not hold for Jesus. His touch heals. He touches those who seem beyond hope: outcasts, the sick, women, the poor, sinners. Jesus restores those he touched to the community, to their rightful place among the people of God. All are gathered and embraced by the power of God’s grace, healing and forgiveness. Jesus brings them home.

 

Jesus is the human face of God. This is how God acts towards each one of us. The gospel invites us to enter the mystery of our own disabilities, hidden or otherwise. We can be quite adept at hiding our weakness and the unsightly sinful aspects of our life. Perhaps the worst of it is that we can hide them from ourselves, believing in the image we project rather than the truth of who we are. Our friend the leper would remind us that Christ can only touch and heal what we bring before him. If we don’t bring our genuine self, we will never truly encounter Christ.

 

On this coming Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. It is a graced time that we share with the community of believers throughout the world. It is a time to open ourselves to a God who truly loves us and wants to heal us so that we can live in the light of truth and in real freedom. It is not a time to play games, of merely giving up something. It is a time to be in love and know you are loved. It is a time to find the quiet and space to face ourselves, to bring into the light all the leprous scars which we bear: anger, jealously, sorrow and grief that we dwell in, denial, complicity in the sins of our society such as racism, sexism, other prejudices. God loves us, seeks us out. We are made for love but put obstacles in the way to be loved.

 

To live in the light and bring forth our disabilities is not a matter for guilt, or shame, or self-loathing. It is an invitation to be opened, to be cleansed, to love more fully.

 

To bring this into the light means acknowledging who we are not only to ourselves but to another. Hence the value of confession.

 

The gospel is also an invitation for us to enter into the being of Christ himself. We too can heal. We need not fear the visibly wounded who only remind us of our human frailty. All of us are frail. All of us, indeed, are handicapped. It’s just that some of us can pretend better than others.

 

May we live Lent this year conscious of our need to be truly ourselves and so be open to heal and be healed, to love and be loved.

 

 

 

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT                 FEBRUARY 18, 2018

 

I know many people find it difficult to listen to a homily. Will he ever finish? I have seen a man lift his arm and look at his watch. Well, sometimes it is difficult to get a decent homily together.
Sometimes I struggle to find a focus, an approach to the Word which I have heard many times before. But today is different. The scriptures today are so rich that I don’t know what to leave out: Noah, the flood, a covenant with a rainbow, baptism and Christ’s resurrection, Christ in the desert, temptations, wild beasts and angels, repentance. Well I can leave out Christ in the desert. I will be speaking of that on Tuesday evening at our Lenten Suppers program.

 

So let me turn to Noah. There is a Jewish midrash which depicts a conversation between Noah and God. When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said: “God – how could you have done this!??” God replied – “Oh, Noah, how different you are from the way Abraham will be… He will argue with me on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, when I tell him that I plan their destruction… But you, Noah, - when I told you I would destroy the entire world, I lingered and delayed, so that you would speak on behalf of the world. But when you knew that you would be safe in the ark, that the evil of the world would not touch you… You thought of no one but your family… And – now you complain?”
Then Noah knew – he had sinned!

 

Back to the Book of Genesis we hear God say, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you…” God does not make a covenant just with Noah, or with humanity, but with all creation. 

 

Noah had to learn, as we all have to learn, how easy it is for us to lose track of our responsibilities and connections with our sisters and brothers across the globe – our fellow humans, animals, plants,
the air, water, soils and other earth elements. Everything on the planet is related with everything else. When something happens to one, it affects everyone and everything, nearby and far away.

 

In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls us to “ecological conversion”- to take time to reflect on the many ways you and I are deeply and profoundly connected to all our fellow creatures.

 

Lent is a time of repentance. But we have to go beyond our own small little peccadillos – impatience, unkindness, gossiping, and realize we are also complicit in Social Sin. We have systemic sins
that are part of the culture we breathe – racism, sexism, consumerism, militarism, individualism, greed. These are systems that oppress human beings, violate human dignity, stifle freedom and impose
great inequality. We need to awake to how these sins are part of each of us and what we can do to change.

 

Let us reflect on one systemic sin that is in the news – violence. We have paid lip-service to Jesus’ teachings on non-violence. We just don’t accept it. Violence erupted this week in the killings of
seventeen young people in Florida. There are things to do to change this reliance on violence but it requires some conversion. Violence prevails in movies, on television, in sports, in our reliance on
military solutions and neglect of human needs.

 

Each one of us has to begin with ourselves. Violence first dwells in our hearts and minds. When we look down on another, negate the gifts of others, compete with others, we are being violent. Violence passes into our speech when we lack respect and civility to others, including those we might tend to despise or look down on. Violence then finds expression in our anger and rage, in how we treat
others, whether those close-by or others such as immigrants, migrants, women, blacks, anyone different than  ourselves.

 

God has made a covenant with us. We have failed and sinned. With Jesus we are called into the desert to pray and awake to our own part in sinful situations. We need to know and feel that we are connected to every other living creature. This conviction will then call us back out of the desert. Being in relationship with God is about being in relationship with other people. In today’s gospel, Jesus battles with beasts and angels to come to know what he must do. He must call people to build the kingdom of God where all are related and care for each other. The very first words that Jesus utters in the Gospel of Mark, are these: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

 

Lent is the special time we have, in union with believers throughout the world, to purify our vision of our inter-dependence with all creation,  to repent of our failures to live that way, and to commit
ourselves to follow Jesus and live the values of God’s kingdom.

 

In these forty days of Lent, let this be our prayer:
          Sovereign of the universe, your first covenant of mercy was with every living creature. When your beloved Son came among us, the waters of the river welcomed him, the heavens opened to greet his arrival, the beasts of the wilderness drew near as companions.  Washed into new life through baptism, lead us and all people in the way of your new creation, the way of mercy, justice and peace.

 

 

 

 


 

 

Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL