St. Onesimus and the Leprosy of Sin

Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings by Tom and April Hoopes.

Feb. 15 is the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Pope is the site to watch videos from the Vatican.

The Vatican has launched its own YouTube channel. It’s being called “PopeTube.” One of the goals of this column is to help Catholics to live their faith “at the Pope’s side” by understanding what he’s up to each week.

There’s no better way to do that than to share this resource that allows you a view at Vatican events. Find a good one to share with the family.

Parish is the site for the Blackfriars Repertory Theater.

Feb. 16 is the feast of St. Onesimus. He is the slave on whose behalf St. Paul wrote the New Testament Letter to Philemon, a moving tribute to Christian kindness.

At St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., parishioners recently got a preview of a play about St. Paul, directed by Magnificat Editor Father Peter John Cameron. The play, by Father Harry Cornelius Cronin, was called “Keeper of the Fire” and starred Dana Sachs as St. Paul.

The plot: St. Paul describes his conversion and the interior “wound” he carries to Onesimus. The play won’t be available for most to see, though it does plan to travel in a very limited way.

But dramatic performances are a good way to drum up interest in the parish. The Venerable Michael McGivney made them a central part of his outreach program in this very same church before founding the Knights of Columbus.


Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Corinthians 10:31 - 11:1; Mark 1:40-45 offers free homily packs for priests.

Our Take

The first reading shows how those with leprosy became literal outcasts. The rest of the readings apply that concept to our own lives.

The second reading, from St. Paul, makes it clear that we don’t become “unclean” from anything outside of us anymore. But we do become “unclean” from sin. Sinners ostracize themselves in much the same way that lepers were ostracized. The Psalm shows the longing we have for freedom from our sin. The Gospel shows where that freedom can be found — in Christ.

Is this all just a lesson in biblical symbolism and esoterica? No, it’s supposed to teach real lessons about our spiritual life: Sin is foul and ugly.

My children delight at the story of Christina the Astonishing, the Belgian holy woman who “could not stand the odor of other people because she could smell the sin in them and would climb trees or buildings, hide in ovens or cupboards, or simply levitate to avoid contact.” Clearly, that’s not the right way to respond to sinful humanity — the Fatima children had the same kind of sensitivity to sin, and it caused them to want to suffer for sinners, not flee them.

But it does drive home the fact that the state of sin isn’t a neutral condition.

We’ve all broken rules and gotten caught. But that’s not the same as being in sin. The feeling we get when being pulled over for speeding, for instance, can be intense: Regret, embarrassment, shame. But when we wrong someone we love, we get regret and shame, plus something else: disgust with ourselves and a helpless sorrow at our own inability to heal the rift.

When it’s God we offend, that rift is deeper, and the consequences are greater than we can imagine. Being in sin isn’t just embarrassment at breaking a rule, but something like a defilement. We have turned this most fundamental relationship inside out. Sometimes a feeling of disgust accompanies it; sometimes it doesn’t. The feeling can be deceiving: It can mislead us to “feel” sinful when we’re not or to feel fine when we’re not.

What matters is the objective matter of our sin. We can test that out in the confessional, where Christ is ready and able to heal us with his touch.