Reconciler-in-chief12th February is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth and — most historians and scholars consider — our greatest President of America.
The rail-splitter and country attorney from Illinois is revered for his ability to bring warring factions together during the bloody Civil War. Lincoln’s extraordinary ability to bridge political chasms was evident at the outset of his presidency. As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her remarkable book Team of Rivals, Lincoln recruited for his war cabinet the best and brightest minds of his time — even men who openly despised Lincoln. In fact, Lincoln named his three opponents for the Republican nomination — men still angry at Lincoln’s surprising nomination and election — to the principal posts of State, Treasury and War. When a reporter asked Lincoln why he had chosen his political enemies for his cabinet, Lincoln’s answer was straight forward and shrewd: “We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”
“Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his rivals,” Goodwin writes, “he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and open-heartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause.”
Working together despite their differences, Lincoln and his Team of Rivals kept the union together during the Civil War. As the war drew to an end, with the Union on the verge of final victory, Lincoln outlined an extraordinary plan of Reconstruction centered on reconciliation and restoration rather than the retribution and reparations expected (and demanded) by many in the North. He did not seek to destroy the rebel states but reunite them to the nation.
Lincoln spoke of such reconciliation in his second inaugural address, delivered just weeks before his death. At the moment of his greatest political and military victory, the President spoke very humbly and compassionately, more like a prophet than a politician:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin writes of Lincoln’s “indomitable sense of purpose” and his conviction “that we are one nation, indivisible.” Lincoln’s placing the good of the nation over political expediency, his controversial Reconstruction policies that centered on reconciliation rather than punishment, his work to restore enemies to community were all conscious decisions on Lincoln’s part. In today’s Gospel, the leper approaches Jesus with the words, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” The leper’s challenge is addressed to all of us, who seek to imitate Jesus. We possess the means and abilities to transform our lives and world — what is required are the desire, the will, the determination to do so: to heal the broken, to restore lepers to wholeness, to reconcile with those from whom we are estranged. May Lincoln’s words become our prayer: “to finish the work [of] a just and lasting peace.”
Handicap no barrier
Henri Vicardi was born in 1912 in New York City to immigrant parents. He was born without normal legs. He spent most of his early life in a hospital. He did not receive his artificial legs till he was twenty-seven. But what a life he lived! He has become one of the most respected figures in the fields of rehabilitation and education. He has devoted his life to ensuring that severely disabled individuals might have all the opportunities to achieve their fullest potential as human beings. In 1952 he founded the internationally famed Human Resources Centre in Elberton, Long Island. Henri has been an advisor to every president from Roosevelt to Reagan. Once, an interviewer asked him, "Henri where did you get such a positive attitude towards life?" His answer was a classic. He said, "When the turn came for another crippled boy or girl to be sent to the world, God consulted his Council of Ministers and they suggested that they could be sent to the Vicardi's family."
Francis Xavier in 'The World's Best Inspiring Stories'
The leper in today's gospel in spite of being forbidden to associate or draw near to people, boldly approached Jesus and voices his simple prayer: "If you wish, you can make me clean." He did not ask for a cure, his was a statement of belief in the all-inclusive power of Jesus, an affirmation of his own dependence on Jesus, an act of faith. He left himself totally open to whatever Jesus wanted to do with him. Jesus was moved by the approach of the leper, out of sympathy for the afflicted. He stretched out his hand and touched him. Jesus broke all conventions and touched and healed the leper. It was a symbolic act which no doubt shocked the onlookers. Most of us are afraid of the sick, the poor and the outcasts of society. We may give them a few coins, in order to get rid of them but we do not wish to touch them or to be touched by them. Yet we often seek a human touch. We feel honoured when someone important shakes our hands or gives us a pat on the back. "Of course I want to!" Jesus said to the leper. "Be cured!" And the leprosy left him and he was cured. He challenged us, his followers, to reach out to those society rejects today: prisoners, drug addicts, travellers, aids victims. It is amazing what people can do for others. People can rekindle hope, bring back the zest of living, inspire plans for the future, restore self-respect. They can even mirror dimly the infinite charity of God. Jesus had this great understanding of, and feeling for people who were suffering.
Made whole again
In 1981 Peter Cropper, the British violinist, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. As a personal favour to Peter, the Royal Academy lent him their priceless 258-year-old Stradivarius for use in the concert. This rare instrument takes its name from the Italian violin maker, Antonio Stradivari. It is made of 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. Its beautiful sound has never been duplicated. When Peter Cropper got to Finland, an incredible nightmare took place. Going on stage, Peter tripped and fell. The violin broke into several pieces. Peter flew back to London in a state of shock. A master craftsman named Charles Beare agreed to try to repair the violin. He worked endless hours on it. Finally he got it back together again. Then, came the dreaded moment of truth - What would the violin sound like? Beare handed the violin to Peter Cropper. Peter's heart was pounding inside him as he picked up the bow and began to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin's sound excellent, but it actually seemed better than before. In the months ahead Peter took the violin on a worldwide tour. Night after night the violin, everyone thought was ruined forever, drew standing ovations from concert audiences. -The violin story is a beautiful illustration of what happened to the leper in today's gospel. Through the touch of Jesus he was made whole again.
God's Power and you
In this book 'The Spirit of Synergy: God's Power and you', Methodist minister Robert Keck tells how he was racked with pain and confined to a wheelchair by the age of forty. In search of a non-chemical way to manage his pain, Keck explored Christian faith healing, psychic healing, acupuncture, biofeedback and medical hypnosis. Quite suddenly, 80% of his pain disappeared and has not returned. Keck believes that his healing happened when all his research formed a momentary gestalt - that is, a unified peak experience. This was his discovery of synergy, a way of using all the resources of body, mind and spirit for healing and pursuing wholeness. In his holistic approach to health, Robert Keck uses meditative prayer to tap the resources of altered states of consciousness where God's activity frequently takes place. Keck's contention is that if God can speak to us through dreams, why not let him heal us through meditative prayer if he so wills?
Chad Varah was an Anglican priest. In 1953 he buried a girl who had killed herself. The coroner, at her inquest, suggested that she might not have done this desperate act if someone had been around who would have listened to her troubles. Chad Varah decided to use his London church and a telephone to listen to people who were in despair. He put a small advertisement in the local paper, and during the first week he had 27 calls. Soon he was listening and advising people 12 hours a day. There were so many people waiting in his outer office to see him that he asked some of his congregation to come and provide cups of tea for them. Then he found that often people who had come into his outer office in great distress had become different people by the time they reached him, and some did not even wait to see him because one of the helpers had befriended them. So he decided to train a group of his congregation so that they could become more helpful in the way they befriended the clients. That is how the Samaritans were formed.
Your children are not your own
Francis Gonsalves in 'Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds'
He touched me
Some years ago, a man collapsed on a busy corner in downtown Brooklyn. Within minutes an ambulance rushed him to the nearest General Hospital. From time to time he would regain consciousness and would keep calling for his son. In his wallet, the attending nurse found an old letter, which indicated that he had a son, who was a marine stationed in North Carolina. So she called and asked him to come over immediately. As soon as he arrived, the nurse took him to the man's bedside and whispered, "Your son is here! Your son is here!" The old man opened his eyes, and even though he could not recognize the face, he noticed the marine uniform. Reaching out compassionately the young marine took the old man's hand and held it lovingly. Sometime later the nurse urged him to go out and have something to eat and drink. But the marine declined, only asking for a chair, so he could sit by the old man's bedside and keep holding his hand. Sometime before dawn the patient passed away. Stepping up to the marine, the nurse extended her sympathy. "Nurse" he stammered, "who is this man?" The nurse couldn't believe her ears. "Why?" she replied hesitantly, "I thought he was your father." "Quite honestly, nurse, my father died some time ago. I have never seen this man before in my life." "Then why did you not say something earlier?" asked the nurse. "I would have" answered the marine, "but I could see that he was too sick to realize that I wasn't his son. I could also see that he was slipping fast and that he needed the comfort of his son. And so I decided to stay." Compassion is indeed a virtue that makes the love and concern of God a tangible reality for another human being in distress.
God wants us to be whole and bring healing to others! May we be wounded healers!
2: The healing touch of Jesus repeated by St. Damien of Molokai: 85,000 people who gathered in a football stadium in Brussels, to celebrate the centenary of the death of Blessed Damien the, leper priest (beatified by Pope St, John Paul II, in 1995). Father Damien had lived for sixteen years in a remote corner of one of the remotest islands in the Pacific. He worked with lepers and, like Jesus in today’s Gospel, word spread about him far and near. He was written about in newspapers from England to Australia. The day of our gathering was a national holiday in Belgium. The king and queen attended. The whole country was en fete. And all for one man who spent sixteen years working at the back of beyond, but working in Jesus’ name, and doing his work. It coincided – with the centenary of the birth of Adolf Hitler; and there were no celebrations. [Blessed Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, October 11, 2009; his feast day is celebrated May 10th. (Encyclopaedia Britannica on-line).] There is a beautiful song by Marilla Ness called “He Touched Me.” It has a haunting melody, and the words are powerful and moving. “He touched me and oh, the joy that fills my soul; something happened: now I know: he touched me and made me whole.” Today’s Gospel describes how the healing touch of Jesus made a leper whole. (Lyrics & music: (https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/elvispresley/hetouchedme.html, https://youtu.be/96gOjU54YOs )
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
3: Segregation–past and present: In India, the lowest caste people were untouchables for high caste Hindus. Until the Civil Rights Movement, African-American heritage was such a social disability in the U. S. that white shopkeepers would slap a black customer’s change on the counter to keep from touching his/her hands. In some restaurants, dishes or glasses used by blacks would be broken immediately after they had finished eating. If a black swam in a public pool, it would immediately be closed, drained, and disinfected. Even in some of our Catholic parishes, black parishioners had to wait until all the white parishioners had received the Eucharist before presenting themselves at the altar for Communion. The issue, however, is not only a matter of race. It’s a question of all people in our society who are “different” from us. Our modern society ostracizes the gays, the lesbians, the AIDS victims, the alcoholics, and the drug addicts. We tend to marginalize the divorced, the cohabiting, the unemployed single mothers, Gypsies, the homeless, migrant workers, and asylum seekers. People with AIDS also report that they don’t get touched as much as they used to before they became HIV positive. Church workers and volunteers tend to steer clear of teenagers. It’s hard to get people to work among teensf. Their awkward stage of development makes a lot of us uncomfortable. Their music, their dress, their attitudes and thoughts are viewed as alien. But such attitudes are unchristian. They have no place among Jesus’ disciples, as He teaches us today by touching a leper with affection and healing him with compassion. We must open our hearts and minds to those outside the pale of society if we are going to truly follow Jesus. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
4: Healing touch on lepers: Ruth Pfau – Doctor Sister Ruth Pfau, a German nun and medical doctor who devoted her life to combatting leprosy in Pakistan, died on August 10, 2017 at the age of 87. Born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1929, where her home was bombed in World War II, Pfau went to France to study medicine and later joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. Pfau, who was known locally as Pakistan’s Mother Teresa, came to the southern port city of Karachi in 1960 and spent half a century taking care of some of the country’s sickest and poorest people. She was the founder of Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi, where she was being cared for at the time of her death after falling ill two weeks previously. leprosy remained a problem in Pakistan from the 1950s until about 1996 and in that victory Sister Doctor Ruth Pfau played a key role in the efforts by Pakistan and the World Health Organization to bring the disease under control. Pfau’s work earned her the Nishan-e-Quaid-i-Azam, one of Pakistan’s highest civilian awards. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expressed his sadness over her death, saying “she may have been born in Germany, but her heart was always in Pakistan”.
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
5. Jesus in disguise? A leper goes into a bar, sits down and says to the bartender, “Look, before I order, I’d like you to know that I’m aware of how my appearance affects some people, and I’ll fully understand it if you refuse to serve me.” The bartender says, “No, sir, I am a professional, and you are my customer. It is my pleasure to serve you. What would you like?” “A shot of whiskey, if it’s not too much trouble.” “Coming right up, sir.” The bartender pours the drink, then goes to the area behind the bar, ostensibly to wash some glasses, but the leper can hear him puking his guts out. When the bartender returns a few minutes later, wiping the corner of his mouth with a rag, the leper says, “Look, I told you I would understand. You didn’t have to go through that for my sake!” The bartender replied, “I know that, sir, and I would like to assure you that I would have had no trouble, but for the last three minutes or so, the drunk next to you has been hugging you as if he was St. Francis of Assisi and you were Jesus in disguise.”
6: A pastor had a dread of getting leprosy. He had read that the early signs are loss of feeling in the limbs, and was always pinching his legs, and if it hurt, he was reassured. On one occasion at a dinner with the parishioners he reached under the table and pinched his leg. He couldn’t feel a thing. He pinched it again – harder this time. Still no sensation. The pastor visibly blanched and blurted out, ” Oh, no! I’ve got leprosy!” A young lady sitting next to him asked: “But how do you know?” “Well, one of the early signs is loss of feeling in the leg. I’ve just pinched my leg twice and I didn’t feel a thing!” The young lady remarked, “It was my leg you were pinching, pastor.”
25 Additional anecdotes:
1) Covid-19 to leprosy: ostracizing and quarantining people: We are still experiencing the painful isolation of people making an attempt to save the healthy from the sick Covid-19 patients. By December 2020 Covid-19 had sickened 85.5 million people worldwide (although 60 million recovered) causing 1.86 million deaths. Through the centuries, humankind has been beset by a myriad of illnesses, some of which have altered the course of history. For example, in 1348 the so-called Black Death or Bubonic plague first reached Europe from the East. By 1350, more than half the population of the continent had died. Over the next 20 years, the plague reduced the population of the civilized world by 75 percent! In 1918 an epidemic of influenza claimed more than 20,000,000 people worldwide: with more than 548,000 succumbing in the U.S. alone. In the 1940s and 50s, polio swept the world, leaving thousands crippled and maimed in its wake. Nearer to our times, cancers of the lungs, breast, skin, etc., continue to afflict and kill thousands while A.I.D.S. has yet to be completely understood and is far from being controlled. When these and so many other common ailments strike, one of the first reactions is to quarantine the sick so as to protect the healthy. Separated from rest of society, those held in quarantine suffer doubly, first from their illness and its terrors, and then from the isolation. In the ancient world, victims of leprosy knew all too well, this double dose of suffering. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
Conquered and controlled only in the twentieth century, Mycobacterium leprae , or Hansen’s disease (named for the scientist who discovered it), was, in effect, a death sentence for those who contracted it. Once it was determined that one had been stricken with sara’at or leprosy, one was legally obliged to keep one’s clothes torn, one’s head bare and to call out the warning, “unclean,” when approached (Lv 13:45). Ostracized from their family and neighbors, lepers were made to dwell outside the village or in a separate house (Lv 13:45; Nm 5:2; 12:15; 2 Chr 26:21). Many made their homes in caves on the outskirts of towns and villages; all were dependent upon the charity of others for the necessities of life. There is little reason to wonder why those who suffered from this dread disease were referred to as “the living dead.” However, the term sara’at encompassed more than Hansen’s disease or leprosy per se. Dermatological disorders of every sort, e.g., psoriasis, eczema, impetigo, acne, boils, ulcers, rashes, and even dandruff and baldness were so labeled. Unlike leprosy, many of these lesser ailments were curable and the law provided a procedure whereby the afflicted could be reinstated in the community after a lengthy process of purification supervised by the Temple clergy. A sampling of the purification process constitutes today’s first reading. (Sanchez Files)
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
2) “Gentlemen! Gentlemen! I am nothing!” One evening, after a brilliant performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conductor Arturo Toscanini found himself facing a crowd gone wild. They applauded, whistled, stamped their feet and nearly deafened him with shouts of “Bravo! Bravo!” Toscanini bowed repeatedly and then turned to acknowledge the artistry of the orchestra. With a breathlessness in his hushed voice, he leaned in close and said, “Gentlemen! Gentlemen! I am nothing!” This was an extraordinary admission, given his enormous ego. Then the great conductor added, “Gentlemen, you are nothing.” They had heard that same message countless times during rehearsal. “But Beethoven”, said Toscanini with a tone of adoration in his voice, “Beethoven is everything, everything, everything!” Centuries before Beethoven and Toscanini, Paul had come to the same realization as regards Jesus. Christ was “everything, everything, everything” for the great apostle to the Gentiles and he, for his part wished to share his experience of and relationship with Christ with everyone he met. In today’s second reading, Paul was trying to convince his Corinthian converts of the supreme importance of Christ in their lives. For Paul, Christ was everything, everything, everything. (Sanchez Files). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
3) The Healing Touch: Studies show that babies who are not touched may die. Experts tell us that infants need to be held a lot. They have a basic need for physical warmth. Marcel Gerber was sent by a United Nations committee to study the effects of protein deficiency on Ugandan children. She found, to her surprise, that Uganda’s infants were developmentally the most advanced in the world. It was only after two years of age that the children began to be seriously damaged by such things as tribal taboos and food shortages. Ugandan infants were almost constantly held by their mothers and mother surrogates. They went everywhere with their mothers. The physical contact with the mother and the constant movement seemed to be the factors that propelled these infants to maturity beyond Western standards. Many young parents today understand this principle and make it a practice to massage their infants. That’s a wise practice. We all have a need to be touched. Studies have shown that touching has physiological benefits–even for adults. One researcher made numerous studies on the effects of the practice many Christians recognize called “laying on of hands.” She discovered that when one person lays hands on another, the hemoglobin levels in the bloodstreams of both people go up, which means that body tissues receive more oxygen, producing more energy and even regenerative power. Jesus could have healed this man with leprosy simply by speaking, but he reached out and touched him, too. He knew that this was exactly what this man needed. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
4) Elisha, Jesus, and Princess Diana: The story of Naaman found in the Old Testament (2 Kgs 5:1-27) is an interesting contrast to the healing of the leper in today’s Gospel reading. Naaman, the commander of the army of Syria, had leprosy. He heard there was a prophet in Samaria named Elisha, who had the power of healing. So Naaman went to Samaria, knelt outside Elisha’s tent, and asked Elisha to heal him. But Elisha would not touch a leper. He wouldn’t even come out to be near Naaman the leper. Instead, he sent his servant with the instruction that Naaman was to go and dip himself in the River Jordan seven times to be healed. Elisha would not come near a leper. But today’s Gospel tells us, “Jesus, moved with pity, stretched out his hand, and touched him.” Think of the image of Princess Diana, visiting children with AIDS in hospitals around the world. Nothing endeared her more to the whole world than, moved with compassion, she reached out to the forgotten and the suffering of the world. And not only did she touch them, she picked them up, and she held them in her arms. She was royalty, who came to embrace the suffering of the world. We believe that that is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He has sent his Son into the world of sin, suffering and misery to save the world. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
5) “Love never fails.” In the 1850s, there was a leper colony on the Island of Molokai, part of the Hawaiian Islands. People who were found with leprosy on the main island of Hawaii were put into cages, shipped off to Molokai, and literally dumped into the ocean near the Island. There were no medicines, no doctors, no shelters, no blankets–nothing but the hot sun during the day and cold wind beating on them at night. The Catholic Bishop of the Hawaiian Island knew that there were about ten Catholics among the two or three hundred lepers on Molokai. There was a young priest named Damien de Veuster (now Saint Damien de Veuster, or St. Damien of Molokai), who had been a carpenter before he became a priest. The Bishop asked Fr. Damien to go to the leper colony and put together a prefabricated chapel that had already been shipped there. Fr. Damien was instructed to have no contact with the lepers – no anointing, no confessions, and no burial because the Bishop did not have many priests and did not want to lose a zealous young priest. But conquering his fears, Damien became the first non-leper to stay overnight on the island. He immediately began building shelters for the people. He constructed the Church and began saying Mass. He was surprised to find over a hundred people wanting to pray with him, even though only ten of them were Catholics. He was the first to show Christ’s love to them in deeds rather than mere words. A boat came to pick up Fr. Damien after his thirty-day medical visa expired, but Damien refused to go. He built a water system, planted over a thousand trees to protect the people from the scorching sun and continued saying Mass for the people. Lepers of all faiths and no faith went to his Masses. They said, “He holds our hands when we die.” In the end Fr. Damien himself contracted leprosy. Towards the end of Father Damien’s life, Mother (now Saint) Marianne Cope and a group of Franciscan Sisters joined him on the island and continued his work. On a little hill in Molokai there is a cross with three words from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that sum up what was at the heart of St. Damien’s work. The words are: “Love never fails.” Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
6) “You’re going to miss Mother Teresa.” Here is a story about Michael Wayne Hunter who was put on death row in California in 1983, in San Quentin Prison. After his third year on death row something happened. One day he was getting ready to spend time exercising when the guard said, “You’re going to miss Mother Teresa. She’s coming today to see you guys.” “Yea, sure,” he said, “one more of those designs they have on us.” A little later he heard more commotion about it and thought it might be true, that Mother Teresa [now Saint Teresa of Calcutta] was actually coming to see them. Another guard said, “Don’t go into your cells and lock up. Mother Teresa stayed to see you guys.” So Michael jogged up to the front in gym shorts and a tattered basketball shirt with the arms ripped out, and on the other side of the security screen was this tiny woman who looked 100 years old. Yes, it was Mother Teresa. This hardened prisoner wrote about his experience, he said, “You have to understand that, basically, I’m a dead man. I don’t have to observe any sort of social convention; and as a result, I can break all the rules, say what I want. But one look at this Nobel Prize winner, this woman so many people view as a living saint, and I was speechless.” Michael said an incredible vitality and warmth came from her wizened, piercing eyes. She smiled at him, blessed a religious medal, and put it in his hands. This murderer who wouldn’t have walked voluntarily down the hall to see the Warden, the Governor, the President, or the Pope, stood before this woman, and all he could say was, “Thank you, Mother Teresa.” Now listen to what happens: At one point Mother Teresa turned and pointed her hand at the sergeant, “What you do to these men,” she told him, “you do to God.” The sergeant almost fainted away in surprise and wonder. He couldn’t believe Mother Teresa had just said that to him.
That day was a turning point in the life of Michael Wayne Hunter. This San Quentin Death Row prisoner was cleansed by that experience. Life changed. Suddenly there was meaning to it. So drastic was the change, a new trial was set and the death penalty was not sought. The verdict was guilty on two counts of first-degree murder but a new sentence was given: Life. Life, without the possibility of parole. Prosecution did not seek the death penalty because Mr. Hunter was now a model prisoner and an award-winning writer. He is one other thing: A testimony that Christ still is willing to heal, still willing to touch the untouchable, and to make us whole. (eSermons.com Sermons, Brett Blair and Staff). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
7) “Visit us and talk to us; we don’t bite.” Michael Kirwan, a long-time member of the Catholic Community Worker Movement in Washington, DC, who was highly respected for his work of feeding and caring for the homeless in that city, once told the story of how he began his work. “One night I brought down a large gallon plastic jug of split pea soup and set it down on the cement block near the heating vent where the poor and the homeless people gathered. A rather rough looking fellow picked up the jar of soup by surprise and, in one motion, broke the jar over my head.” Instead of running away, I asked the man why he had done that. These were probably the first words I had ever spoken to any of them. He told me that I was doing nothing more than bringing food to the dogs. I was bringing food, setting it down like I was feeding them out of a pet dish and then just walking away. He said, “Talk to us. Visit us. We don’t bite.” “From what happened that night,” Michael said, “I realized that these men and women on the street only wanted to be loved and respected and listened to. They cared that someone cared about them, but just giving food and a blanket was not enough.” In today’s Gospel, by healing a leper, Jesus gives the same message of reaction against the unjust and inhuman religious and social isolation of lepers in his society.
7) Billie Jean Matay, 52, sued Disneyland. Why? Did you know that a few years ago a former Mouseketeer, Billie Jean Matay, 52, sued Disneyland? It’s a fascinating story. It seems that Mrs. Matay sued her former employers in the Disney organization after being robbed in the parking lot of Disney’s Anaheim amusement park. She says that she and her three grandchildren were held for hours by security officers. And she was asking damages because her three grandchildren saw some famous Disney characters getting out of their costumes. The children were allegedly traumatized to discover that the Disney characters weren’t real, but simply human beings in disguises. (John Leo, Syndicated columnist, The Speaker’s Digest, Quote, March 1996, p. 53). Now forget the lawsuit. We don’t even know how it was resolved. Focus instead on the three children. They were forced to come to grips with what they believed about Mickey and Goofy and all the rest of the Disney characters. Our text for today calls us to come to grips about what we really believe about God. A man with leprosy came to Jesus. He knelt in front of the Master and pleaded, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
9) “You’ve got the wrong number!” There is a story about a New York City policeman investigating a case. Dialing a phone number on Day One of the investigation, he somehow knew before he had even finished that he’d made a mistake. The phone rang once, twice – then someone picked it up. “You’ve got the wrong number!” a husky male voice snapped before the line went dead. Mystified, the policeman hit redial. “I said you got the wrong number!” came the voice. Once more the phone clicked down. “How could he possibly know I had the wrong number?” the policeman asked himself. A cop is trained to be curious and concerned. So he dialed a third time. “Hey, c’mon,” the voice said. “Is this you again?” “Yea, it’s me. I was wondering how you knew I had the wrong number before I even said anything.” “You figure it out!” The phone slammed down. He sat there for a while, the receiver hanging loosely in his fingers. He called the man back. “Did you figure it out yet?” the man asked. “The only thing I can think of is nobody ever calls you.” “You got it!” The phone went dead for the fourth time. Chuckling, the officer dialed the man back. “What do you want now?” asked the man. “I thought I’d call – just to say hello.” “Hello? Why?” “Well, if nobody ever calls you, I thought maybe I should.” There may be nobody else in this world that is moved with compassion enough to reach out to you. There are lepers all around us who live isolated lives. And sometimes the only one we have to rely on is God Himself — God Who dials our number and says, “I thought I’d call – just to say hello,” God, Who brings joy to the sorrowful, peace to the troubled and healing to the lepers, God, who embraces the lonely in the shadow of His wings, Who fills the empty, and Who guides those who are without hope. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
10) “God heals; the doctor collects the fee.” Professor Henry Mitchell wrote about a time when his wife was recovering from a critical illness. He approached the doctor to thank him for his attentiveness and care for his wife Ella. The doctor’s response amazed him. The doctor said, “First of all, give God the praise. Then thank the people for their fervent prayers. Then, maybe, I come in somewhere on down the line.” Henry Mitchell thought this was unusual modesty, and maybe even undue modesty, to which the doctor replied that he was just being honest. “You see,” he said, “we doctors don’t ever heal anybody. We may be effective in removing obstacles to healing, such as infections, but the actual healing process is not ours to control.” And that is true. As Mark Twain once said, “God heals; the doctor collects the fee.” We do not understand the ways of God. Why are some people healed and others are not? We don’t know. Truly, only God knows. Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus heals a leper. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
11) “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Rebecca O’Conner is a nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital. When she saw the horrific images of the Asian tsunami, she knew she had to do something, so she flew to Sri Lanka with eight other medical professionals. They set up a makeshift clinic in a downtown Sri Lankan mosque, treating hundreds of people a day with respiratory problems and foot and leg wounds. Then they discovered there was a hospital less than a mile away. So the obvious question was asked, “Why are people coming to us when there is another large hospital clinic so close?” A Sri Lankan friend was quick to answer, “At the hospital someone asks your name, age, complaint and then you are given a sheet of paper and told to wait somewhere. Here you sit down with the person, listen to their story and try to treat what you can.” There is an old proverb that is true: “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Hurting people look for care and compassion. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
12) Jesus’ compassion reflects the compassion of God: Some of you are familiar with a man who is called by an unusual name, Boomer Esiason. Esiason is a former outstanding NFL quarterback. Boomer Esiason and his wife were devastated when, in 1993, they learned that their precious, two-year-old son, Gunnar, had cystic fibrosis, a potentially fatal lung disease. Even with the best treatments available, most cystic fibrosis sufferers don’t make it past their early thirties. Boomer and his wife developed an amazing compassion for children with special needs. They took in many foster children; they also adopted a young boy named Mark. And they started a foundation, which is now the nation’s second largest foundation for Cystic Fibrosis funding. Boomer and his wife, Cheryl, learned to live day by day, and to look for blessings where they could find them. As Boomer once commented on children with special needs, “They are the most fulfilling children to be around . . . I’ve been around a lot of these kids and every one of them has just been special, like they’re angels, like they’re touched by God.” [Todd Richissin, Fathers & Sons (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2000), pp. 131-132.].
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
13) American leper colony: In fact, one of the best ways to understand the history of America is to see it as a kind of “leper colony,” or leper continent. For example, at different points in history: The Puritans who fled England to practice their faith were “lepers” to the hard-liners in the Church of England. The Irish immigrants, Catholic, mostly, were the “lepers” to those of English Protestant heritage. The eastern European immigrants were the “lepers” to the western Europeans. And leprosy, as ever, continues to be a “skin disease.” Leprosy lets us single out and be fearful of whatever color skin is different from our own: black skin, white skin, brown skin, yellow skin, red skin. Since 9/11 it has been too easy to put the leper label on all Muslims. And it was the leper label that terrorists put on America which made it possible for 9/11 to happen. Within each of us are the germs – our own weaknesses, our pet hatreds, our obsessions, our fears, our desires, our diagnoses – of our own form of “leprosy”: that prejudice which rises from our fear of our true selves, and by which we project onto others what we most fear or dislike in ourselves. We can’t forgive others what we can’t forgive in ourselves. What “leprosy” does God want to cure you of this morning? What part of yourself are you afraid of? What part of you are you hiding from?
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
14) Accept illness and give God a chance to heal as the leper did: Byron Janis was a world-class pianist. For the last years of his career he was fighting arthritis. With the kind of cruel irony that life sometimes imposes upon us, the arthritis settled in his hands. For years he continued to play with arthritis, keeping his disease a secret. But after a while he couldn’t hide it. During that period he practiced five or six hours a day to keep his hands limber. Finally they became so swollen and sore that he had to quit. He retreated into his apartment in New York, and retreated into depression. He thought that his life was over. Probably out of that despair, he stopped taking his medicine, then discovered that he was feeling more alert and sensitive to what was going on around him. He felt better. Then began a transformation in his life. First of all he came to terms with his condition. He said — for the first time he could say — “OK, I’ve got arthritis. I can accept the physical deterioration, but life is more than this.” Then he began to consider the things that he could do now with his life. He said, “I could paint, I could write, I could compose, I could conduct.” He wrote, “I can’t control the fact that I have arthritis, but I can control the way I cope with it.” He tried out everything to improve his condition: chiropractors, acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation, diet — the whole carnival of cures. He tried them all. Nothing worked. That is to say, he wasn’t cured, though he got some better. “What helped me,” he said, “is something that surprised me. I can’t explain it. But I developed a personal relationship with God. I think prayer is important. I think the belief in God is healing.” This story in Mark is told to encourage you in that belief. “Lord if you will, you can make me clean.” Byron Janis, incidentally, did get better. In fact, he played a benefit concert at the White House for the Arthritis Foundation. At that concert he made the first public announcement that he had arthritis. He said, “I still have arthritis, but it doesn’t have me.”
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
15) Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ A touching story has been circulating on the Internet. It’s about a little five-year-old boy named Timmy. Timmy’s Mom loved him very much and, being a worrier, she was concerned about him walking to school when he started kindergarten. She walked him to school the first couple of days, but when he came home one day, he told his mother that he did not want her walking him to school every day. He wanted to be like the “big boys.” He protested loudly, so she had an idea of how to handle it. She asked a neighbor, Mrs. Goodnest, if she would surreptitiously follow her son to school, at a distance behind him that he would not likely notice, but close enough to keep a watch on him. Mrs. Goodnest said that since she was up early with her toddler anyway, it would be a good way for them to get some exercise as well, so she agreed. The next school day, Mrs. Goodnest and her little girl, Marcy, set out following behind Timmy as he walked to school with another neighbor boy he knew. She did this for the whole week. As the boys walked and chatted, kicking stones and twigs, the little friend of Timmy noticed that this same lady was following them as she seemed to do every day all week. Finally, he said to Timmy, “Have you noticed that lady following us all week? Do you know her?” Timmy nonchalantly replied, “Yea, I know who she is.” The little friend said, “Well who is she?” “That’s just Shirley Goodnest” Timmy said. “Shirley Goodnest? Who the heck is she and why is she following us?” “Well,” Timmy explained, “every night my Mom makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers ‘cuz she worries about me so much. And in it, the psalm says, “Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ So I guess I’ll just have to get used to it.” (http://monday-fodder.com/ ) As a pun, that is pretty bad: “Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life.” But it’s not that bad as theology. God is with us . . . all the days of our lives. And God is able, writes St. Paul, “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20). The problem is not with God. Something in our modern world has robbed US of a sense of both God’s presence and God’s power. A man with leprosy came to Jesus because he knew that Jesus was able to cure him. Can you say that–that Christ is able to help you with any problem you have today?
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
16) Is God’s power limited? Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He wrote this book after watching his young son, Aaron, suffer from one of the most heart-wrenching conditions which a human being can confront. The boy had progeria, a disease in which the aging process is bizarrely speeded up. Kushner was told that Aaron would never have any hair or grow over three feet tall. At six years of age he would have the skin and bone structure of an old man. Harold Kushner watched his son shrivel up, grow weak, and finally die, all before his fifteenth birthday. Can you imagine anything more horrible? In his book, Kushner said he grew to accept God’s love, but question God’s power. We believe God loves us, yet we still hurt; so the only possible alternative is that God’s power is limited. This side of Heaven, we will never know the answer to why, but we can know the loving care of our Heavenly Father. Rev. Richard Exley says we can do one of two things with our suffering: we can make it into a shrine or we can turn it into a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). When we allow our heartaches to control our lives or harden our hearts, then we are making a shrine to our suffering. But when we turn our heartaches over to God and continue to trust Him, we are turning our heartache into a sacrifice of praise. [Richard Exley. Strength for the Storm (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 18.]
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
17) Come to school to discuss Emily’s problems: In Tillie Olsen’s moving story “I Stand Here Ironing,” she pictures an anxious and impoverished mother standing at the ironing board and thinking about her troubled nineteen-year-old daughter, Emily. A note has come from the school asking her to come in to discuss Emily’s problems, and this starts her mother remembering Emily’s childhood. Emily was a beautiful baby, a miracle, remembers her mother, but when she was eight months old her father abandoned the family, and Emily had to be left during the day with a woman downstairs “to whom she was no miracle at all.” Then, as economic hardship increased, Emily was left in the kind of nursery school which is only a “parking place” for children. Her mother did not know then the pain that was in that place for Emily, but, as she irons and reflects, she admits that knowledge could not have made a difference. She had to hold a job, and the nursery school was the only place for Emily. Emily was a thin girl, and she was dark and foreign looking in a time when little girls were supposed to be blond and plump and cute. She was a “slow learner” in a world where quickness and glibness are valued. She was a child, not of proud love, but anxious love. And now, a note has come from school, but Emily’s mother knows that too much has happened to Emily for there to be any real help for her at the school. As she moves the iron back and forth across the ironing board, thinking of the isolation and poverty and rejection which have been Emily’s inheritance, she cries to herself, and to whatever power of mercy there may be beyond herself. Emily is a modern-day leper, one about whom her culture has sadly shaken its head and said, “I’m sorry. The die has been cast. The scars are too deep. Nothing can be done.” And yet, in her mother’s desperate cry there is a hope beyond all hoping, an appeal to the last resort of grace. “Help her to know,” she prays, “that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless …”[Tillie Olsen, “I Stand Here Ironing” in Tell Me A Riddle (New York: Dell Books, 1971), pp. 20-21.] “If you will,” said the leper to Jesus, “you can heal me.” And Jesus was moved with strong compassion.
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
18) Handicap no barrier: Henri Vicardi was born in 1912 in New York City to immigrant parents. He was born without normal legs. He spent most of his early life in a hospital. He did not receive his artificial legs till he was twenty-seven. But what a life he has lived! He has become one of the most respected figures in the fields of rehabilitation and education. He has devoted his life to ensuring that severely disabled individuals might have all the opportunities to achieve their fullest potential as human beings. In 1952 he founded the internationally famed Human Resources Centre in Elberton, Long Island. Henri has been an advisor to every president from Roosevelt to Reagan. Once an interviewer asked him, “Henri where did you get such a positive attitude towards life?” His answer was a classic. He said, “When the turn came for another crippled boy or girl to be sent to the world, God consulted his council of Ministers and they suggested that they could be sent to Vicardi family.” (Francis Xavier in The World’s Best Inspiring Stories; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
19) Remembering outstanding lives: I was one of 85,000 people who gathered in a football stadium in Brussels, to celebrate the centenary of Blessed (now Saint) Damien the leper priest. He had lived for sixteen years in a remote corner of one of the remotest islands in the Pacific. He worked with lepers and, like Jesus in today’s Gospel, word spread about him far and near. He was written about in newspapers from England to Australia. The day of our gathering was a national holiday in Belgium. The king and queen attended. The whole country was en fete. And all for one man who spent sixteen years working at the back of beyond, but working in Jesus’ name, and doing his work. I couldn’t help but remember at that time that it coincided with the centenary of the birth of Adolf Hitler; and I didn’t hear of any celebrations. (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
20) The Plight of the Untouchables in India: Untouchable, a novel written by Mulk Raj Anand gives a touching account of the plight of the untouchables in India. The story is narrated by Bakha who is a hard-working boy who never disobeys his father despite his father’s repugnance for him and his lifestyle. Bakha endures one of the most humiliating and depressing days of his young life in this story. From sunrise on he is forced to deal with discrimination, hatred and hypocrisy. He is woken this early morning by his father’s shouts. The first chore of the day is to clean the latrines before the rest of the community gets up to use them. When Bakha sleeps in he is chided by a local man who wants to use the toilet, “Why aren’t the latrines clean, you rogue of a Bakha! More humiliation is in store for Bakha before his day is out. His curiosity takes him to a local temple, where he climbs the steps to get a glimpse of the wonders inside. Untouchables are not allowed to see the inside of the temple for purity reasons. While Bakha was peering through the window he was interrupted by the priest shouting, “Polluted! Polluted! “. Soon a crowd had gathered and they all berated Bakha saying they would need to perform a purification ceremony. Bakha ran down to the courtyard where his sister was waiting. The story goes on to show even more examples of the harsh treatment of untouchables. This book exposes the hardships that the untouchables have to face. Nothing in their lives is made easy. All three readings of today contain the Christian teaching on the need for social acceptance even (especially?), when people are different from us.
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
21) Made whole again: In 1981 Peter Cropper, the British violinist, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. As a personal favour to Peter, the Royal Academy lent him their priceless 258-year-old Stradivarius for use in the concert. This rare instrument takes its name from the Italian violin maker, Antonio Stradivari. It is made of 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. Its beautiful sound has never been duplicated. When Peter Cropper got to Finland, an incredible nightmare took place. Going on stage, Peter tripped and fell. The violin broke into several pieces. Peter flew back to London in a state of shock. A master craftsman named Charles Beare agreed to try to repair the violin. He worked endless hours on it. Finally, he got it back together again. Then, came the dreaded moment of truth – What would the violin sound like? Beare handed the violin to Peter Cropper. Peter’s heart was pounding inside him as he picked up the bow and began to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin’s sound excellent, but it actually seemed better than before. In the months ahead Peter took the violin on a worldwide tour. Night after night the violin, everyone thought was ruined forever, drew standing ovations from concert audiences. -The violin story is a beautiful illustration of what happened to the leper in today’s Gospel. Through the touch of Jesus he was made whole again. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by
Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
22) “He touched me, and so I decided to stay.” Some years ago, a man collapsed on a busy corner in downtown Brooklyn. Within minutes an ambulance rushed him to the nearest General Hospital. From time to time, he would regain consciousness and would keep calling for his son. In his wallet, the attending nurse found an old letter, which indicated that he had a son, who was a marine stationed in North Carolina. So she called and asked him to come over immediately. As soon as he arrived, the nurse took him to the man’s bedside and whispered, “Your son is here! Your son is here!” The old man opened his eyes, and even though he could not recognize the face, he noticed the marine uniform. Reaching out compassionately the young marine took the old man’s hand and held it lovingly. Sometime later the nurse urged him to go out and have something to eat and drink. But the marine declined, only asking for a chair, so he could sit by the old man’s bedside and keep holding his hand. Sometime before dawn the patient died. Stepping up to the marine, the nurse extended her sympathy. “Nurse” he stammered, “who is this man?” The nurse could not believe her ears. “Why?” she replied hesitantly, “I thought he was your father.” “Quite honestly, nurse, my father died some time ago. I have never seen this man before in my life.” “Then why did you not say something earlier?” asked the nurse. “I would have” answered the marine, “but I could see that he was too sick to realize that I wasn’t his son. I could also see that he was slipping fast and that he needed the comfort of his son. And so I decided to stay.” Compassion is indeed a virtue that makes the love and concern of God a tangible reality for another human being in distress. That is what Jesus showed to the leper in today’s Gospel. (Anonymous; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
23) God’s Power and you: In this book The Spirit of Synergy: God’s Power and You, Methodist minister Robert Keck tells how he was racked with pain and confined to a wheelchair by the age of forty. In search of a non-chemical way to manage his pain, Keck explored Christian faith healing, psychic healing, acupuncture, biofeedback and medical hypnosis. Quite suddenly, 80% of his pain disappeared and has not returned. Keck believes that his healing happened when all his research formed a momentary gestalt – that is, a unified peak experience. This was his discovery of synergy, a way of using all the resources of body, mind and spirit for healing and pursuing wholeness. In his holistic approach to health, Robert Keck uses meditative prayer to tap the resources of altered states of consciousness where God’s activity frequently takes place. Keck’s contention is that if God can speak to us through dreams, why not let him heal us through meditative prayer if he so wills? (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
24) The Samaritans: Chad Varah was an Anglican priest. In 1953 he buried a girl who had killed herself. The coroner, at her inquest, suggested that she might not have done this desperate act if someone had been around who would have listened to her troubles. Chad Varah decided to use his London church and a telephone to listen to people who were in despair. He put a small advertisement in the local paper, and during the first week he had 27 calls. Soon he was listening and advising people 12 hours a day. There were so many people waiting in his outer office to see him that he asked some of his congregation to come and provide cups of tea for them. Then he found that often people who had come into his outer office in great distress had become different people by the time they reached him, and some did not even wait to see him because one of the helpers had befriended them. So, he decided to train a group of his congregation so that they could become more helpful in the way they befriended the clients. That is how the Samaritans were formed. (Gerard Fuller in Stories for All Seasons; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
25) Do all for the glory of God: A feature story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle of September 18, 1981 revealed a sad personal tragedy. Mrs. Cynthia Fitzpatrick, aged 116, was about to be evicted because of over $1000 of unpaid taxes. It was not that the Rochester finance department officers were intentionally cruel. They were simply enforcing the local law, a law which made no exceptions for centenarians. An alerted public rallied to the cause. A black leader paid the tax installment immediately due; and Cynthia’s minister set up a special fund to help Rochester’s oldest citizen and the 56-year-old granddaughter who lived with her. Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s response was one of deep faith: “It’s what the Master said: Take care of the widows and orphaned children. I can say people have played their part by me.” I would have expected her to comment thus. I had first encountered this deeply spiritual black woman in 1976. When the floating New York State museum called the “Bicentennial Barge” docked at Rochester on September 4, a Lutheran minister and I were invited to say a brief prayer at the local opening. The ribbon-cutting was reserved for a black senior citizen whom I had never met. “That’s Cynthia Fitzpatrick,” a bystander whispered to me. “She was born in 1864 in Mississippi of slave stock.” Cynthia wore a long, attractive dress and a picture hat. She was a woman of smiling countenance and great dignity. When her moment came, she approached the gangplank, her arm linked with that of a friend. The crowd was silent as she took the scissors. Her speech was brief, but she said all that was needed to transform a patriotic event into a spiritual moment. “In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, I cut this ribbon.”…Whatever you do, you should do all for the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31. Today’s second reading.) (Father Robert F. McNamara).
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).