11 February 20186 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
6 Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - Mark 1:40-45

President John F Kennedy invited a bishop to give an invocation. The prayer was endless. Later, a smiling President Kennedy asked a guest, "Did you hear that bishop's speech to God?" There is irony in today's Gospel. Jesus tells the cured man to tell no one of the miracle. The fellow cannot contain himself. He tells everyone. Yet in Matthew 28,19, Jesus tells us to tell everyone about Him. What do we do? That's right. We tell no one. We should bring back the former leper. He was a better public relations person than we. Or we should become like the bishop. As the scene opens, Jesus is walking out of the Galilean mountains. He has delivered His famous sermon on the Beatitudes. He is about to take off the academic gown and hood of the scholar and put on the mantle of the miracle worker.

Though Mark's Gospel is the shortest, it contains the most miracles. Christ was being followed by a huge mob. As He approached a town, a desperate man broke through the crowd and painfully got to his knees before Jesus. The crowd ran away in horror. The fellow was our unnamed leper. Leprosy was a common disease in Palestine. In its late stages, the illness is a bad scene. Substitute foul smelling sores for nose, lips, toes, etc, and one has the picture. The Jews looked upon leprosy not so much as a physical disease but a spiritual uncleanness. The leper carried both physical wounds and the conviction that God hated him. Talk about poor self-image! Jewish law was harsh to lepers. They had to live outside towns. If they came upon a clean person, they had to ring a bell and shout, "Leper, leper." The historian Josephus wrote they "were, in effect, dead men." Imagine the courage of this fellow! The law stated if a leper exposed others to his disease, he was to be stoned to death. Lucky for him that the people around the Teacher were so anxious to get away from the scene. Otherwise they might have well stoned him to death. Would Jesus have put Himself between them and the stones? With you, I answer yes.

A question rises. How did the leper sense that the Christ would not flee in revulsion with everyone else? What quality did he discern in Him that told him Jesus would hold His ground? Mark here is telling us much about Jesus. He signals us He was most approachable. We discover He has time for those whom others consider human garbage. One hears people say, "My sin is so horrible not even God could forgive it." This Gospel gives the lie to such a statement. The mystics tell us God will forgive us not because of who we are but because of who He is. "If you want to, you can cure me." The leper's gut plea is couched in just eight words. People in pain do not speak in pages. They have time only for the essentials. Today's account tells us that the Teacher cured the fellow before Him and touched his running sores. Can anyone here imagine what that stroking must have felt like to the leper? Probably it was the first time in years that someone who was clean placed a hand upon him. If one picture is worth a thousand words, one touch must be worth ten thousand to a leper. Is there anyone here who is still frightened of Jesus the Christ? This miracle is called by scholars an action miracle.

It happened in a nanosecond. This is unlike other miracles in Mark. There the Teacher takes the man aside, looks to the heavens, sighs, puts spittle on the man's ear, etc. But here the Nazarene felt there was no time for preliminaries. This fellow's misery had to be terminated immediately. What does that tell you about the Person whom you worship? Would that we could teach ourselves to have just a fraction of that compassion. Though we may not have a healing ministry, each of us can practice a hearing ministry. Suffering people need to talk. Walt Whitman wrote, "Seeing a wounded soldier on the battlefield, I do not ask who he is. I become the wounded man." So should it be with us. One who is Christ-centered instead of self-centered, said GK Chesterton, is a sane person in an insane world. One final note! The cured man taught us how to pray. His prayer needed only eight words. Jesus showed fondness for short prayers. Check Matthew 6:7, "In your prayers do not use a lot of meaningless words..." Jesus is e-mailing us the information that brief prayers bring quick answers. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
6 Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Unclean!!

This Sunday's first reading from the Book of Leviticus gives just a few of the horrible rules established by the Mosaic community to protect itself from leprosy. In the ancient times leprosy was believed to be deforming, incurable and contagious. Leprosy included most skin disorders: Hanson's disease which is leprosy proper, psoriasis, skin cancer, impetigo, boils and even serious acne. Lepers were ostracized by their families and neighbors, and forced to live outside the villages and towns. They were referred to as the Living Dead. Lepers had to wear ragged clothes. They had to let their hair go uncombed and uncut. As today's reading says, they had to cover their mouths with one hand and call out "Unclean, unclean" as they walked. Anyone who came into any contact whatsoever with a leper was considered to be unclean like the leper. And Jesus, moved with pity, stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, "Be made clean." Jesus did not see the unclean leper, or his disease. He was not concerned with the strict prohibitions of Jewish society. Jesus did not see a leper at all; he saw a human soul in desperate need. He stretched out his hand and touched him. He healed him with his touch.

Jesus gave this power to his disciples. At the conclusion of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus proclaims the signs of the members of his people. Among these signs is this one: they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. We possess the wonderful capacity to be instruments of the healing power of Christ. Therefore, we have the duty not only to pray for the sick and to help them get effective medical help, but also to pray over them and extend the touch of Christ to them. In the second reading for today Paul challenges us to imitate Christ. We are to be ministers of healing. We are to touch not just the physically sick, but all those whose lives are hurting and need healing in any way possible. It is simply not Christian to ostracize anyone for any reason whatsoever. In the Christian society, even those with the most contagious diseases are cared for in a way that gives them dignity and love. How about those who are spiritually sick? How about those who have left the Church, left Christianity?

Are they to be cared for as those who are very sick? Absolutely. Those who have left Christian society are always welcomed back into the society when they seek to return. For example, even in the extremely rare cases of excommunication, such as when someone performs or assists in abortions, that person can always seek forgiveness and re-entry into the community. And yet, many people throw children or relatives out of their lives. "You are no longer my son, my daughter," a parent hisses. Is there ever a situation where there is no longer any possibility of healing, of mercy, of extending the hand of Christ to those who seek reconciliation? Not in Christianity. The Forgiving Father may not have been able to give his Prodigal Son the remainder of the farm.

That belonged to the Elder Brother. But he was able to welcome the prodigal back into the family. The person who has hurt his or her spouse and children may not be able to resume his or her place in the marriage, but that person still can receive the forgiveness, the healing he or she longs for. The convicted murderer may never be able to re-assume a place in free society, but he can be forgiven and given an opportunity to turn to God while incarcerated. When we allow ourselves to be so overcome by hurt and hatred that we refuse to extend the healing hand of the Lord to others, we take upon ourselves the sickness of the other person. Hatred kills. When we allow hatred to be part of our lives, we commit spiritual suicide. We cannot allow hatred to destroy us.

Even in the wake of Moslem terrorism, even faced with the reality that there are many people in the world who hate us and who want us dead simply because we are Americans, we cannot allow hatred to destroy our humanity. Yes, we have to take measures to protect ourselves from those who would destroy us. Still, we do not have the right to hate anyone or any people and at the same time call ourselves Christian. The Gospels often note that Jesus was moved with pity for the people as he preached the Kingdom of God. When he faced the troubled, the abandoned, the sick, when stirred by the blind, when crossing paths with the widow of Nain, and today, when face to face with a leper, Jesus was moved not by disgust, not by antagonism, but by compassion. Having compassion and showing mercy are the Christian qualities of great minds and large hearts. Today we are called to allow our hearts to be enlarged by Christianity.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
6 Ordinary Time
Becoming a Missionary Disciple Week 5: Healing Touch
(February 11, 2018)

Bottom line: You may feel reluctant to let Jesus touch you, but I encourage you to come this Wednesday to receive that cross of ashes on your forehead.
Until quite recently people throughout the world feared leprosy - a disease that attacks the extremities (feet, fingers, nose) causing them to lose sensation and begin to rot. Leprosy consumes the body leading to a painful death. To protect themselves different societies isolated the leper. A person who touches a leper himself becomes unclean. Jesus does a remarkable thing by reaching out and touching the leper. Jesus is telling us something. If we want to help others, we have to touch their wound. People are hurting, wounded. We can help them not so much by giving them something as by touching their wound. It's remarkable that Jesus touches the leper and it's also impressive that the leper approaches him. As we heard in the first reading a leper had to wear torn clothes and cry, "unclean, unclean." This leper dares to approach Jesus and kneel in front of him. He asks for cleansing. "If you wish you can make me clean."

As missionary disciples we need to allow people to approach us. We Catholics tend to be friendly, but we're not so good at welcoming - creating a sense people can get near us. I've commented on our tendency to grab the outside of the pews rather than move toward the center. In other ways we fail to send a welcoming signal to the person who is alone, hurting, wounded. The Gospel says Jesus was "moved with pity." In his book on Discipleship Reflections, Bishop Mueggenborg explains that pity, mercy, compassion refer to more than the feeling we experience when we see someone in distress. Bishop Mueggenborg writes: "For Jesus, however, compassion was not just a feeling or emotion; rather, compassion was a motivation for action." In this case the action involves a healing word and healing touch. Jesus can heal us but we have to ask ourselves this question: Do we really want to be healed? President Lyndon Johnson told a story about man who was losing his hearing.

He goes to a doctor who tests him and then asks how much he is drinking. The man says, "Oh, about a pint a day." The doctor tells him to stop drinking and come back in two months. After the first month his hearing does get better. When he returns to the doctor after 2 months, however, the doctor tests him again. Turns out his hearing is just as bad as before. The doctor asks him if he stopped drinking. "Well," he says, "I tried it for a month and I did hear better. But you know, I like the way I feel after drinking the pint better than I feel after some of the things I been hearing." We're a bit like that man. Deep down we really don't want to be healed. There are some things we'd rather not hear - especially if it means opening ourselves to the wounds and hurts of others.

Last week we talked about how becoming a disciple means to pick up the backpack God has placed in your path. You and I have to pick up that burden and carry it. God has a task for each of us. He wants us to take up that task, shoulder our burden and follow Jesus. You may feel too wounded, too hurting, too broken to take up any burden. If you feel that way, you are exactly the one Jesus is looking for. He wants to speak to you, touch you, heal you. It may not happen in an instant. It may take some time. That's why we have a forty day season called Lent. Jesus wants to heal you through prayer, fasting and generosity.

This year Lent begins on February 14. So for Catholics Valentine's Day is a day of fasting and abstinence. Take advantage of this coincidence to reclaim the deeper meaning of love. Have a special dinner on Tuesday evening then begin Lent well on Ash Wednesday. Jesus will teach you the meaning of love through prayer, fasting and generosity. You may feel reluctant to let Jesus touch you, but please just come this Wednesday. Receive that cross of ashes on your forehead. Say to Jesus, "If you want to, you can make me clean." Allow Jesus to touch you. "I do will it," he says, "Be made clean." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
6 Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Classic
Mark 1: 40.45

Gospel Summary
This passage continues the narrative of Jesus' mission immediately following his baptism in the Jordan and the call of the first disciples. As beloved Son and Messiah, his mission is to proclaim the good news of the coming of God's kingdom. God's rule over all creation would bring to an end the domination of Satan, characterized by all forms of untruth, violence, sickness, and death. That the power of God's rule is present in Jesus becomes evident to the amazement of the people by his teaching with authority, his healing, and his casting out demons. This Sunday's gospel tells us of Jesus' cure of a man afflicted with leprosy (a term referring to any repulsive skin disease). A leper comes to Jesus and begs to be cured. Moved with compassion, Jesus touches the untouchable and cures him. He then sends him to a priest so that he can be reinstated into the community. After curing the leper, Jesus had admonished him not to publicize what had happened.

Mark here anticipates a major theme he will develop more explicitly in his gospel: namely, that people, even Peter and the rest of his disciples, will misunderstand Jesus' mission. The theme reflects an aspect of Satan's attempt to entice Jesus to redefine his mission solely to the satisfaction of people's temporal needs, and thereby to become the messiah of his own earthly, political kingdom. The kingdom of Satan would remain essentially intact had Jesus succumbed to that temptation. John's gospel also alludes to Jesus' concern about the mistaken notion people had of his mission: Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone¦ you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled (John 6: 15:26). Jesus, however, is faithful to his Father's will to the end. Filled with divine compassion, he responds to the temporal needs of people for healing and for food; but ultimately he wants to give the gift of eternal life with God, the only gift that will satisfy the restlessness and the hunger of the human heart.

Life Implications
Since the Church is the means by which Christ extends his mission for the sake of God's kingdom through history, healing will be an essential characteristic of its service. Christians, through the urging of Christ's compassion, must bring healing to the world's sickness, making possible medical care even for the untouchables of our own society. In the Catholic tradition, Christ's compassionate hand touches the sick in a special way through the sacrament of anointing. The Church like Christ will be tempted to reduce the meaning of God's kingdom to the relief of people's obvious and pressing temporal needs. Christ's compassion, however, continues to extend beyond these needs to the deepest human need for personal transformation through communion in eternal, divine life. We can see how Christ's compassionate hand touches the sick in both aspects in the prayers appointed for the administration of the sacrament of anointing. Like Jesus each of us will endure a trial of faith when beset by suffering and approaching death. Am I really God's beloved daughter? Am I really God's beloved son? Is it death that defines the meaning of human existence? The source of our hope is that we share Christ's own unconquerable hope through the gift of his Spirit. Jesus prayed to be delivered from suffering and death; nevertheless, as things worked out, he trusted in God's love through the experience of his suffering, abandonment, and dying. In our time of trial, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12: 2). Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time,
Modern Gospel: Mark 1:40 - 45

Do we have the boldness to ask God to do great and miraculous things? Some years ago in one of my parish assignments a young parishioner whose husband and children were involved in the parish was involved in a serious automobile accident. I vividly remember standing in the ICU unit with her husband praying for her healing. I prayed with confidence that she would be healed, and returned later with the expectation that her eyes would be open, they weren't, and so I prayed again. The next morning I received the call that she had died. I was devastated.

I had prayed with Faith, why didn't God answer my prayer? A short time later I received a call to anoint an elderly woman who had been in and out of the hospital with a condition that the doctor's said would not improve. When I went into her room, I remember her smiling, thanking me for coming, and telling me that she probably wasn't going to make the night, but she was prepared. She wanted me to pray for a peaceful death. At the end of the anointing of the sick I prayed a spontaneous prayer for her to peacefully enter into eternal life. When I left she thanked me.

A few days later she was discharged later, and lived another three or four years. So I wondered why the person I prayed for to be healed wasn't, and the person I prayed for a happy death continued to live on. These experiences made me a little hesitant to pray boldly for particular intentions. I found myself praying "safe" prayers in which I prayed for a particular intention, but not with that a miracle could happen. It took me awhile to realize that I needed to fully surrender to God's will. The struggle is that we don't always understand God's will, and to surrender ourselves to it is to let go of our will and to accept his will, whatever it might be. It means taking seriously that phrase we say so often in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done" in such a way that we don't lose faith when God's will doesn't match our will. The leper in the Gospel shows us how to surrender.

He had the boldness to directly approach Jesus and in doing so he humbled himself by kneeling down before him. He began is request by acknowledging that he would accept whatever Jesus did, "if you wish" then made his request, "you can make me clean". He believed that Jesus could heal him, he asked Jesus to heal him, but only if it was Jesus' wish. Putting it another way, "Thy will be done.? As we prepare for the observance of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season, it might benefit us to surrender, or to surrender anew, our lives to the Lord.

The surrender that has us being able to sincerely pray, "Thy will be done, or to echo the words of the leper, "if you wish ,you can" and to follow that by boldly and humbly placing our needs before the Lord. Jesus can literally open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the minds of our ignorance. Jesus can also do this in a figurative way that would allow us to see him, hear him and understand him with our hearts. What is important is to follow the example of the leper and surrender to the will of God so as to be open to however he wills to answer our prayers. Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
6 Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I once visited a leper colony in the Congo, it was about twenty years ago and the clinic was run by a Religious Sister. There weren't too many lepers in the place at the time because advances in the medical treatment of leprosy now mean that it is no longer necessary for lepers to spend long periods in treatment. There were however a number of people living there whose disfigurement was very great or who had lost limbs as a result of the disease. The Sister explained that the real problem was finding the lepers, because when people in the outlying villages discovered that they had leprosy they were almost always filled with shame and tended to hide themselves away. She spent a lot of her time looking for them, but once she found them she could start them on a course of tablets lasting from between six to twelve months. After one month of treatment the disease is no longer infectious and the patient can return to their village. The medicine is provided free by the World Health Organisation. The Sister explained that if leprosy was caught early enough the disease could be cured, but obviously not the physical effects such as lost fingers or toes and neither could damage caused to the nervous system be repaired. So as far as she was concerned it was absolutely vital to catch the patient early before too much damage had occurred. The big problem is the social stigma caused by leprosy and it is this that causes sufferers to hide themselves away.

I suppose the stigma caused by leprosy is brought about by the way that the wider community has defended itself against leprosy over many hundreds of years. Stringent rules forbidding contact between the general population and lepers extending over many centuries has caused sufferers to experience a deep sense of shame. The victims of leprosy invariably also suffer from extreme poverty because they lose feeling in their extremities and this results in cuts which the sufferer does not feel, leading to the loss of fingers, toes or even whole hands and feet. The nervous and respiratory systems also become damaged. Weakness and lassitude are common and infection of the eyes is frequently present. All these consequences mean that lepers cannot fend for themselves in the normal way and frequently end up facing hunger and homelessness. More than this, because lepers in the past were physically separated from their loved ones for fear of passing on the infection. So besides extreme poverty, a severe loneliness was often a feature of leprosy. In the ancient world diseases such as leprosy were often viewed as being the result of sin. This meant that lepers were very much looked down upon by others. It also explains the fact that in Jewish society they were sent to the priest for diagnosis and if the disease improved it was only the priest who could declare them cured. This reinforced the spiritual dimension of the disease.

We heard last week in our Gospel text how Jesus cured people of all kinds of illnesses. But leprosy was considered by the population as being far more serious than any other sickness. By his curing of the leper Jesus puts himself in the category of a truly outstanding healer. It is interesting to note that during his healing of the leper Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man. This is a clear breach of one of the rules set down by Moses; touch was forbidden for fear of passing on the infection. But, of course, touch is often an important part of the healing process and Jesus does not hesitate to touch the man he is healing. In hospitals the doctors carry out the physical treatment but it is often the tender loving care given by the nurses that actually brings about the real healing. This TLC, as we call it, cannot be truly given without touching. I notice, for example, in the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability where we say mass on Sunday afternoons that the visitors often touch and caress the patients because they are often not able to communicate with them in any other way. I'm sure they find it very reassuring. When we consider the disease of leprosy we can see too that it has many similarities with that other great disease that afflicts mankind, namely sin. Leprosy separates human beings from each other, but sin separates us both from God and from each other. Sin brings division and damages the cohesion of the community.

One other aspect of leprosy and the way it was handled in the Jewish world, was that it rendered a person ritually unclean. In common with many other religions Judaism has this concept of ritual cleanness. A person can be ritually defiled by such things as menstruation, giving birth, touching a dead person, eating an unclean animal or, in this case, touching a person who has leprosy. Once one was rendered unclean then a process of ritual washing was necessary and quite often the passing of a certain period of time. For example, a woman was ritually impure for seven days after giving birth to a child. To a Jew being ritually impure meant that the individual could not enter the Temple or have anything to with whatever is regarded as holy without going though the rites of purification. Anyone who had contact with them while in an unclean state was also regarded as unclean. Uncleanness could spread from person to person as if it was an infection. You can see then that leprosy, being regarded as an unclean state, has a strong link to sin. The disease is associated in the minds of the people as being the very opposite of holy and therefore effectively a sinful state.

All of this puts the healing of the leper into a much higher category than the healing of Peter's mother-in-law from a fever that we read about in last Sunday's Gospel text. Until now there has been no mention of sin in connection with Jesus' healings and, to be fair, it is not explicitly mentioned even in this particular text. But the idea of sin is so strongly associated with leprosy that Jesus is coming close to doing what he does further on in the Gospels which is to say to the person being healed, ?Your sins are forgiven.' With this account of the healing of the leper we have only just got to the end of chapter one of Mark's Gospel, but as the Gospel unfolds we will see Jesus increasingly saying and doing things that properly belong only to God. This will win him the ire of the authorities and lead to his execution at their hands. The leper was told by Jesus to go to the priests and to make the offering for his recovery. But so great is his joy that he first goes around proclaiming to everyone the story of his remarkable healing. This makes things a bit difficult for Jesus, making it hard for him to go around freely. We need to take a lesson from that leper and like him we should go around telling people about our story and about all that Jesus has done for us. Maybe we haven't been cured of leprosy, but without a doubt our lives have been transformed by our encounter with Jesus. Perhaps this is something we definitely ought to be shouting about!

These homilies may be copied and adapted for your own use; however, they may not be commercially published without permission of the author.