Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 is the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, Cycle II).
Sunday, Feb. 12, 10pm Eastern: EWTN Theology Roundtable: Principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Especially in an election year, it is important to understand what the Church teaches about the principles of life in our communities and nation.
Monday-Friday, 6:30pm Eastern: “Men, Women and the Mystery of Love,” a series in five parts. Edward Sri looks at the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11;1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1; Mark 1:40-45
We all know about the reputation of lepers, even apart from the Bible. When Catholics voted for the Register’s top “pro-Catholic” movies, one of the winners was Braveheart, in which a leper plays a key role.
The father of Robert the Bruce hides in his home because of his leprosy. It makes him bitter and small-hearted.
In his example, it’s easy to see how leprosy is a metaphor for sin.
At several points in the film, Robert the Bruce struggles with his conscience as he decides how to deal with the movie’s hero, William Wallace.
Robert visits and takes counsel from his father. At one point, he is angry and ready to strike out at his enemy.
The leper counsels hate.
“At last, you know what it means to hate,” says the leper father of Robert the Bruce. “Now you’re ready to be a king.”
Robert the Bruce answers bitterly, “My hate will die with you.”
Later, Robert feels a call to do the noble, difficult thing. But the leper has very low standards for loyalty. “All men betray,” says the father. “All lose heart.”
“I don’t want to lose heart,” answers the son. “I want to believe as he does.”
Later, the leper father has defeated his son’s spirit. He observes: “I’m the one who’s rotting, but I think your face looks graver than mine.”
These are the same attitudes sin gives us.
Sin convinces us that love won’t work, that we have to fight for and win what we want; we need to lash out, to never forgive, to hold grudges, to hate.
Sin calls us to reject heroism and resign ourselves to low standards. It reassures us that it is okay to give up on purity, high ideals, sacrifice, and to take the easy low road instead of the difficult high road.
And sin changes us so that we aren’t attractive with the beauty of innocence, but have the rotten look of the proud king who has decided that his principles aren’t worth fighting for and the grim self-loathing look of his defeated son.
Don’t listen to the leper. Don’t listen to sin.
In today’s readings, leprosy takes a center stage as we hear advice from the Old and New Testaments about how to deal with it. Leprosy is said to make men unclean, needing a special treatment from the priest.
But after Christ, we no longer believe in ritual uncleanliness. Now, we realize that what makes us unclean is sin. When Jesus heals the leper, if you substitute “habitual sin” for “leprosy,” the whole character of the Gospel changes. It would read something like this:
A habitual sinner came to Jesus and, kneeling down, begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me holy.”
Jesus said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
“The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. So many people were inspired by his story of freedom and heroism that they gathered at churches everywhere to get to know Jesus.”
Imagine that Robert the Bruce’s father had gone to Jesus instead of hiding in his room and wallowing in his condition. What would he have been like? What would freedom from sin have looked like?
St. Paul describes it:
He would be magnanimous: “Avoiding giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God.”
He would have been kind, “trying to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit, but that of the many.”
He would not live for himself, but would “do everything for the glory of God.”
He would have been the kind of hero that changes the world for the better, instead of being the cynic who hides from the world and mocks it.
Each of us has the opportunity to regain the attractiveness of innocence and the virtues of a holy life. When we receive Communion, we can pray: “If you will it, I can be made clean.”
His answer is always the same, if we are open to it: “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.