Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Casting Out Among Outcasts

Today's readings at Mass (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46, Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11, 1 Cor 10:31-11:1, Mk 1:40-45) have a very simple theme in common: outcasts and how we treat them. The first reading prescribes the ritual treatment of leprosy during a time in which a connection between disease and sin was presumed. For fear of disease and sin, the leper is to remain outside the wandering Israelites' camp, outside the oasis of civilization in a harsh world, until such time as their leprosy is cleared up. While the connection is not certain, it is not stupid, either. As evidence consider that many, but not all, who have cirrhosis of the liver have it from drinking too much. And just as some diseases are catching, so we can learn sins from each other as well. In the Gospel reading, St. Mark recounts our Lord's own trouble with leprosy. He did not catch the disease, but because he healed people with it, he came into such demand that he could not go into towns but had to stay outside in the wilderness. In an unexpected way, he took the consequences of the lepers' disease upon himself. This acceptance of their disease prefigures his acceptance of the sins of all humanity. It specifically prefigures his crucifixion on a barren hill outside Jerusalem.

"There are a lot of people in our world who are hurting," we were reminded by the recorded voice of the Archbishop this morning at every parish in the archdiocese. Some of these people are hurting because of sin, theirs or others'. Some of them are hurting because of dumb bad luck, as much as such a thing exists. Most people are hurting at least a little from both, and some people are hurting tremendously from both. And where there is one, especially the dumb-bad-luck, leprosy kind, we still instinctively assume that the other kind exists as well - that the person has sinned and brought it upon themselves. Homeless people must be either lazy or crazy, we assume - and oh, how our tightening economic straits might soon prove us wrong on this point! We don't want to "judge" HIV/AIDS patients, sure, but we don't want to touch them either, do we? How must that feel, to be looked at ten thousand times in a day, always with a frown, or a smirk, or with averted eyes - and never to be touched, or held, or kissed?

Jesus made no such assumptions, though. He simply went among them and did what He could (which was a lot!) to heal them when they came to Him. And He still does. We in the Church, incorporated by holy baptism into His mystical body and nourished on His Body and Blood, ought to do likewise. It takes some practice, to be sure, because our base instinct is to spend our time and energy on ourselves and to shrink from marred skin and open sores, both physical and spiritual. But remember our Lord's instructions to the fishermen who had thus far caught nothing: "Cast into the deep," (Lk 5:4). Those fishing instructions were nonsensical by the world's standards, but pulled in a catch that could only be seen as a manifestation of the power of God. Generosity of spirit, together with a gift of time and energy, both grounded in prayer and the sacraments, can do amazing, amazing things. If you'd like to see an example of this power of love, I recommend a visit with the Missionaries of Charity. In there houses people presumed about to die have been healed more by love than by medicine. The order founded by Mother Teresa to cast out into the deep, among the poorest of the poor, to those who are avoided by "civilized" folk. The Missionaries have a some houses here in DC: a hospice for poor people on Otis St NE and a soup kitchen and women's shelter on Wheeler Rd SE; and over 500 homes in 133 countries around the world.

The Church will continue to wake up and reclaim Her proper place in the world - priest, prophet, and king - only as much as we, Her children, do so. But what does it mean for the baptized person to be a priest, prophet, and king? I think I'll make that the subject of my next three posts.

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