The WORD in other words by Fr Xene Sanchez SVD – Kinshasa, Congo
Friday 12th Week in Ordinary Time
One day the lepers participating in Father Damien’s Mass were dumbfounded when he said: “We the lepers…” Their beloved priest left his comfortable country to come and join them when he was young, healthy, and full of energy. He was not afraid to go near the lepers. On the contrary, he was on their side. He encouraged them and took good care of them physically, morally, and spiritually. He accompanied them in their sufferings and comforted the dying. Alas, after 16 years, he finally became one of them and earned the title Damien the Leper. He died in 1889 at the age of 49. Pope Benedict XVI canonized him in 2009 as Saint Damien of Molokai.
Leprosy was a dreaded disease already existing in the Old Testament. It was contagious and incurable for centuries. To protect communities from contamination, there were strict rules. Lepers must tear their clothes and cry “unclean, unclean .”Those in good health had the right to throw stones to drive them away. They could not enter a village. Worse, they cannot enter the temple to pray. Leprosy was considered a divine punishment. Banished from others and God, death was a better option.
Jesus, after the Sermon on the Mount, was descending when he saw a leper approaching. He did not chase him away as prescribed by the Law of Moses. On the contrary, Jesus stretched out his hands and touched him. The leper was immediately healed. Jesus is greater than the Temple. Welcoming the leper reversed the thought that he was cursed by God. Henceforth he can go back to the community with his loved ones.
Leprosy, called by the modern world as Hansen’s disease, is now curable. We pray that the “zero leprosy 2021-2030” becomes a reality. We know that sin is worse than leprosy. It gnaws one’s very being and separates him from his family and community. A sinful life is curable too. Let us go near Jesus and be touched by him saying: “Lord, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8, 2)