Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies

"Jesus’ Actions Reveal that Sacred Truth to Us"
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
February 12th, 2012
Year B

Very few afflictions in Biblical times were as grotesque as leprosy. Known as Hansen’s disease, it is a bacterial infection that caused the skin to ulcerate, resulting in oozing sores, disfigurement, loss of limbs, and occasionally blindness. Since in ancient times this disease was incurable it was basically a death sentence. Besides the negative physical effects, a person also had to endure being ostracized from the community. Our first reading from the Book of Leviticus describes the public humiliation a person had to endure – crying out in public places, “unclean” and having to live outside the community. The worse part about being a leper was the fact a person was barred from entering the Temple and therefore could not participate in the liturgical worship of the Israelite people. The law of Israel did nothing to help a leper but only served to protect the community from the spread of the disease. A person infected with this disease was basically stripped of his dignity – as if he didn’t exist.

In approaching our Lord, the leper makes a bold move. He not only violates the structure of the law but also risks the normal reaction to a leper – horror and repulsion. Jesus too, makes a bold move by reaching out to the man. He too, violates the law by touching someone who was “unclean.” By law, this would have made Jesus “unclean” as well. Jesus, however, cannot be defiled by the man’s leprosy. He cannot be made “unclean.” Instead, due to the nature of His divinity, His touch has the power to cleanse and to heal. He makes clean, He makes new again – He restores this man’s dignity and brings back into right relationship with society, He brings him back into communion with others.

What strikes me is the role that the law plays in situations such as these. The law does not take into consideration the man infected with a terrifying disease rather had implemented ways to protect others from getting it. It takes preventative measures. The law does not see what Jesus is able to see. Jesus sees the person not the disease. He sees the suffering and agony. He sees the loss of one’s dignity and looks with “pity” upon the man – meaning, with compassion, literally – with misery of the heart (miserere cordia).
There is a striking similarity between our Gospel reading today and what we as Catholics are facing now, right now, regarding the HHS mandate. Even two thousand years ago, the actions of the law served the community at-large and did not consider the dignity of the person. Here, we are experiencing a similar reality. While the nature of law is meant to foster the common good of all people, a person’s inherent dignity cannot be ignored. Jesus’ actions reveal that sacred truth to us. In the mind of Our Lord, what is at stake is not just a person’s physical wellbeing or social welfare but also the dignity of the person – the right to existence, the right to be in relationship, union and communion with others.

In this HHS mandate, the law views contraception, abortion, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization as preventative care. It does not take into consideration a person’s dignity. It devalues and reduces the human person to the level of mere functionality and usefulness. Think about it. The use of this “preventative care” seeks to meet one’s own selfish needs. A person with this sort of attitude does not take into account the good of the other person involved – or the good of the child. It is an attitude of extreme individualism that seeks a notion of freedom devoid of moral truth. The Church, in her teachings, has always been a voice of moral truth. She is committed to building a more just and humane society, one that seeks the common good for all people. In the married state and in society, the Church promotes the union and communion of persons. At the core of this teaching is the dignity of the human person.
Our attitudes must change then. We cannot take the dignity of the human person for granted, nor ignore it. We must take on the mind and actions of Christ – who in this Gospel throws caution to the wind for the good of the leper. Jesus thinks not of Himself in this case but of the other. His actions, here and throughout the Gospels are selfless – culminating in the most selfless act known to man, the giving of Himself up to death for our sakes. We must make selflessness our own. For to seek the good of another person, for that person’s good is simply to love. As one Jesuit theologian of the twentieth century put it:

“If we make self-forgetfulness the basis of the life of charity, the result is joy, common good feeling, tender charity…because when we forget ourselves, the qualities, virtues, talents and aptitudes needed to fashion and enrich life can develop and grow…Self-forgetfulness suppresses almost automatically, if we dare say so, the dangers of vanity and self-seeking.”

In today’s Gospel, both the actions of the leper and Jesus are quite bold. Their actions were risky but were worth it because it was the right thing to do. For our part, change is a bold move. Change may mean going against the current trends of society. But it is worth it because, in the end, living for others, being selfless and seeking that which is good for the other, is the right move.








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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