Reaching Out to Others

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What Saint Francis Learned

In his Testament, Francis wrote, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became the source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.”

Francis Did More Than Meet the Leper

Francis’ embrace of the leper was not an isolated instance. No, his ministry to lepers would only expand. Francis would go down to the colony of lepers two miles below Assisi, outside the city walls. Francis and other friars continued to minister to the lepers, feeding them, while also caring for and kissing their wounds. This became an ongoing ministry for Francis and the friars.

Reaching Out to Others

There are many ways today that we can assist those whom society rejects—those with mental illness or those who just don’t fit in because of lifestyle, orientation, or religion. In the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, we can kiss and wash their wounds. We can offer them comfort or compassion. Or we can add to this list people who are seriously ill at home or in a hospital.

Friends, our Gospel for today has to do with Jesus’ healing a leper. There aren’t that many lepers around today, but there are plenty of people that we treat as outsiders or pariahs. Like Jesus, we should be welcoming to them. Now, I have nothing particularly against that way of reading the situation, but I suspect that we’ve all heard it a thousand times.

Let me propose a symbolic reading a little different from the customary one. I propose that the leper here stands not so much for the socially ostracized, but for the one who has wandered away from right worship, the one who is no longer able or willing to worship the true God. That’s why Jesus tells the man to “go show yourself to the priest.” In other words, go back to the Temple from which you’ve been away for so long.

What is so important about worship? To worship is to order the whole of one’s life toward the living God, and, in doing so, to become interiorly and exteriorly rightly ordered. To worship is to signal to oneself what one’s life is finally about. It’s nothing that God needs, but it is very much something that we need.

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