Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies


Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
February 15th, 2015
Year B

In the fall of 2008, a high school football game in Texas made a huge difference. The game was played between Gainesville State School and Grapevine Faith Christian School. Grapevine Faith is a private Christian school. Gainesville State is a maximum-security state correctional facility for 285 teenage criminals. Gainesville State lost to Grapevine Faith 33-14 to finish their season 0-9. But ever since that game, the Gainesville State campus hasn't been the same. One teacher put it concisely: “The culture just switched.” Why? Because of how Grapevine Faith hosted the players from the prison. They treated them like real people, not like hopeless outcasts. This is how: First, student fans at Grapevine Faith formed a 40-yard spirit line for the Gainesville players to run through before the start of the game. Then, half the Grapevine fans sat behind the Gainesville sideline and cheered them on - by numbers and even names. Grapevine Faith even loaned Gainesville State their junior high cheerleaders. Even though Gainesville lost, they ended up scoring as many touchdowns in that one game as they had in their eight previous games combined. And Gainesville State is a different place now. “It's like people's hearts have really changed,” the superintendent explained. And not just the hearts of the inmates, but area residents too. They think of the correctional facility differently now; they encourage the young men there; they even come out to their games. This is precisely what is happening in the Gospel reading of today’s Mass.

Notice the stark difference between the first reading and the gospel. In the mindset of the ancient Israelites there were boundaries within nature that should not be crossed. The clearest boundary never to be crossed or confused was that between life and death. Since in ancient times leprosy was essentially a death sentence, lepers were to be avoided at all costs. As such, lepers were treated as outcasts, not even permitted to enter the Temple to participate in God’s heavenly liturgy. The law in this scenario was meant to protect the community and did nothing for the leper. In the gospel, however, this leper makes an extremely bold move. He literally breaks the law and approaches Jesus for obvious reasons – he wants healing, but more than that, he wants to be restored to the community. He wants to be a part of the life of his family and friends. There is far more to this than a simple physical healing. There is a deeply spiritual and social aspect as well. Jesus is “moved with pity” St. Mark tells us. In other words, he is moved with a deep compassion from His heart on seeing this man suffering – not only from a disease that will eventually take his life but also from the torment of being a social outcast.

Reflecting on the meaning behind this gospel and its connection to the first reading, two things come to mind. First, the compassion of Jesus is overwhelming. He desires that we become fully the men and women we have been created to be. And He shows here that only He has the power to heal and restore. Only He can give that gift, if we but go to Him and ask – showing Him where we are in most need of His grace. The second thing that comes to mind is how often we can behave in such a manner that is protective of ourselves and in a way that does not care for or consider the feelings and needs of another person. Thus, in such an attitude, we render another person as an outcast. We may not mean any harm but our actions and attitudes can have a negative effect on others.

In the story of this high school football game, we find an example of how one group of people can have a positive impact on another simply by treating them with respect and the dignity that they deserve as human beings. This is what we are all called to do. This is what Jesus teaches us in the readings of the Mass today. It should not matter to us if a person has “leprosy” – if they are not the most popular, the best looking, the best student, if they have quirks, etc. It is important to realize this because, while our faith is deeply personal it is built upon relationship. This is part and parcel of how we are meant to live our faith – in community and not in isolation because love is built upon relationships. In relationship, in community we learn to be self-giving, self-sacrificial, we learn how to be a gift to one another. This is the essence of love.

This, I believe, is something to think about as Lent approaches. We do not live our lives in isolation. We are created for relationship, to live our faith in the context of community because it is here where we learn to love – precisely what we are meant for, created for: love.

Essentially, the Gainesville HS football team was asking to be loved, the leper sought after Jesus in order to be shown love. May we never back down from the opportunities that God gives us to love Him and to love others as He loves us.


Fr. Jon Reardon

Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.

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