ON THIS SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME we are reminded in one brief and to-the-point sentence at the end of today’s second reading what our life in Christ should be about: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Folks, each and every one of us is called to imitate Christ and to set the example, like St. Paul, so that others may emulate us. St. Paul is one in a line of saints whose actions were a living commentary on the modern expression, “What would Jesus do?” In today’s Gospel we see what Jesus did and what each of us are called, with St. Paul, to imitate. The leper – an outcast because of their disease – came up to Jesus, knelt down and begged Jesus to cure him. Lepers have a bacterial infection that eats away at their flesh and gives them a sickening odor. At the time of Jesus, leprosy was considered so contagious that those with it were quarantined for life apart from the rest of the community. They had no one with whom to associate with or to care for them — except other lepers. They were cut off from their family, from their jobs, from the synagogue and the temple. These poor people were cut off from all love and mercy. They were outcasts, ostracized from all things human. They had to wear ripped clothes and keep their hair messy so that others would be able to spot them more easily. Whenever they needed to travel to obtain something, they were mandated by Mosaic Law, as we hear in the first reading, to shout out “Unclean!” “Unclean!” They were forbidden to come within a certain distance of others. Anyone who touched a leper became, in Jewish mentality, unclean. That the man with leprosy in today’s Gospel broke all convention at the time to come close to Jesus was already a sign of his desperation. And what was Jesus’ response to this leper? Jesus stretched out his hand and did something unheard of – Jesus actually touched the leper. One can almost hear the shrieks of onlookers two thousand years later. It was probably the first time a non-leper had touched him in years. Then Jesus said the words that were the answer to the man’s prolonged prayers: “Be made clean!” After the leprosy miraculously left him, Jesus gave him instructions to go see the priest and go through the rites of the Mosaic law for testimony of a cure of leprosy so that he, so long an outcast, could return to the human community. Folks, this is the Jesus we’re called to imitate. The Lord turns to each of us today and says, “Come, follow me!” What Christ is calling us to do is to love the outcasts of our world, of our society, with the same love that He does. To “be doers of the word, not hearers only” (James 1:22).
LENT BEGINS THIS WEEK ON ASH WEDNESDAY and each of us will begin our own journey towards the memorial of the climax of our Lord’s life. Lent is a time, repeated every year of our lives – a time to strengthen in ourselves, the grace that Baptism gave us, the grace that we need in order not to sin, and to remain faithful to our calling; the living of life as taught by Jesus Christ. We do this by imitating our Lord and Savior – by following Him always. We also pray – not by putting on a simple costume of prayer, but by withdrawing into our interior and personal selves. And there we are before God, and recognize our utter dependence on His mercy and His blessing. We do this for ourselves, but also for the Church – for the Church is a family, led by the Holy Spirit to care for its members’ needs. And we all need the prayers of others – for with their prayers, comes the sign of care which God holds as the best – the sign of our love for one another, spilled over from the eternal love of His own Son for us. And during Lent, we fast and abstain. We observe the laws of the Church about fast and abstinence, holding ourselves on those special days – Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and abstaining on all the Fridays of Lent. The rules for fasting and abstaining are included in this bulletin. Oddly this “giving up something for Lent” is criticized by some, who suggest that it is better to take up some new good work for Lent, than to give up something. But I think that it is harder for us to give up something that we enjoy, something we think we need, than it is for us to add something new to our already full plates. And the harder the sacrifice, the more meaningful. Think of the pain our Lord endured for our souls, and then consider making His pain just a part of your life during this season of Lent. Finally, when our Lord turned to the unfolding of His public life, His entire meaning became a process of pouring Himself out for us – in His words, in His actions, in His attitudes, and in the witness of the profound impact He made on those who followed Him and who became the Fathers and founders of our Church. This was almsgiving on a Divine scale. We cannot, for even the saints cannot match the perfection of our Lord’s giving. But that does not mean that we cannot try. And this means not just the regular giving which we make to our Church, or to our accustomed and favorite charities. This means, during these forty days, finding a way to give more – and to give not just of our surplus, but of what we would normally keep for ourselves. It may be money, it may be service, it may be attention to things we normally ignore because of our obsession with work, hobbies or sports. But to give until it hurts, even for the short span of forty days, means more to our Lord than anything else we can do. And, as He promised, the Father in Heaven will see what we give, and will reward us. But if we do not give, the Father will see nothing, and we will get nothing. Blunt, but true. For our Faith is not a thing of after-the-fact compromises and overlooked opportunities – our Catholic Faith is a fact of God’s justice. And as St. Paul reminds us: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows. Let us remember that Lent is not a diversion – it is a very serious time for Catholics. And since Catholics are exceedingly faithful to the living of the Gospel, it is even more serious for us. So let us adopt these practices recommended to us by the Lord, and by His Church, and look for a better life, a stronger soul, and a closer relationship with God and with one another as a result of our Lenten works.