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We are the Lepers. Do we Come Back to Give Thanks?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It was actually through their leprosy that these men met Jesus Christ. Wow! The dreaded disease that kept them from other human relationships led to their encounter with God and their complete transformation. Have we touched the truth of this mystery? Our Christian faith reveals that even undeserved and unmerited suffering, when joined in love to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, can produce extraordinary fruit within us and around us. Our Christian vocation calls us to follow Jesus; to live as Jesus lives, to love as He loves and to become holy as He is holy, by embracing His plans for our life and living differently because of them.  Spiritually we were all lepers, desperately in need of God's mercy. God's mercy came - and always comes - through Jesus Christ. We are now called to become a people who receive and give Mercy - and a people who always come back to give thanks!

CHESAPEAKE,VA (Catholic Online) - There are numerous stories concerning lepers in the Bible. In the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament we read of a leper named Naaman, a Syrian army commander, who encountered the Prophet of God, Elishah and was cured. This cure drew Naaman to faith in the True God. He proclaimed: "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel". (2Kings 5:14-17)

This story is our first reading at Mass today.  The physical cure brought an even greater gift to Naaman, the revelation of the meaning of his existence. He was in a relationship with God.

In the Gospel we hear St. Luke's account of the healing of the ten lepers. (Luke 17: 11-19). They all stood at a distance in the presence of Jesus. This was the requirement of the Jewish Law. Leprosy was highly contagious and deeply scorned in the days when Jesus walked among us in the flesh. Some believed it was punishment for sin.

However, these lepers met Mercy and Love Incarnate on this glorious day of their healing. 

These lepers cried out the prayer which should echo in our heart: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. This prayer is the bedrock of the tradition of prayer in Eastern Christianity called the Jesus Prayer. In its simplicity it reveals who the Lord is - and who we are in relationship to Him.

In that Sacred Name - Jesus - we encounter the Mercy of a God who loves us so much that he always comes to save. It also reveals the truth of who we are, always dependent upon His mercy. We discover the path to our freedom as we follow His commands of love. 

The lepers all teach us the way of prayer as petition. However, one of them points us toward a way of living in ongoing relationship with Mercy Incarnate. They were all corrupted in their flesh by a disease which threatened their ability and would, unless cured, take their life.  They knew that only Mercy could cure them. Only one came back to give thanks.  

In the Christian tradition, sin has been analogized to a kind of spiritual leprosy. It corrupts the inner person. It can only be healed through sincere repentance and the application of the balm, the medicine, the Mercy of God. That mercy is poured out through the sacraments, the mysteries, of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Risen Jesus continues His redemptive mission in His Body, of which we are members.

After they encountered the Mercy of God they were sent to verify their cure. We read in the Book of Leviticus (14:2) the LORD said to Moses, This is the law for the victim of leprosy at the time of his purification. He shall be brought to the priest, who is to go outside the camp to examine him. If the priest finds that the sore of leprosy has healed in the leper, he shall order the man who is to be purified, to get two live, clean birds, as well as some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop.

The Gospel account tells us that it was in their response that the Mercy they received bore its most lasting fruit in their lives.  As they did what they were invited to do by Jesus, they were made new. This reveals wisdom for us to take in today. We are a forgiven people - now sent to participate in the Lords continuing work of Mercy for all men and women. As we respond to His Mercy - and go to tell - we are transformed by that Mercy - and become bearers of Mercy for others.

However, we must also learn to return and give thanks!

As we learn to give thanks, the treasures of heaven can sometimes become manifested in ways which we do not even expect. Let me share a story which always comes to mind when I proclaim this Gospel account - and read those piercing words from the Lord, Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?

In the late nineties, I was the leader of a Catholic citizens association in Washington D.C. dedicated to cultural change. Our first priority in applying the hierarchy of values revealed by the social teaching of the Catholic Church was to help to build a new culture of life. In pursuit of that mission I was engaged, among other things, in lobbying to end partial birth abortion.

At that time the government was going to unveil a statue that had been placed in the Capitol Rotunda to honor early leaders in the just struggle for the rights of women. Unfortunately, these women have too often become identified with a label that, depending upon who uses it, can now stand for very different ideas than what they actually espoused. That label is the word feminist. One has to examine the source when hearing this word used in our day.

Used by movements like Feminists for Life the phrase has an authentic meaning. They are part of a growing number of women s associations which embrace what St. John Paul called the new feminism.  Many of the founders of the original feminist movement, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were authentically committed to ending the treatment of all persons as property. That included their clear opposition to the taking of innocent human life in the womb.

For example, in a publication entitled The Revolution we read that Susan B. Anthony referred to abortion quite bluntly as child murder. She wrote these haunting words: Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton classified abortion as a form of infanticide. In that same publication she wrote, When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit". In fact, she hoped that the enfranchisement of women would end the horror, writing in a letter to a fellow activist "There must be a remedy even for such a crying evil as this. But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women.

At that time they were going to display a statue of the early founders of the feminist movement in the Capitol Rotunda. The Senate was also readying to vote to ban the gruesome procedure called partial birth abortion. As a human rights activist, committed to justice for our first neighbor in the first home of the whole human race, the child in the womb, I saw an opportunity to inform the public that, despite the efforts by some false feminists to sweep these pro-life convictions under the rug, these courageous women stood for authentic freedom.

I wanted to make a broader statement that the issue of the unalienable right to life was not simply a religious issue but a profoundly moral and human one. The timing seemed crucial to me. Part of our strategy was to run a full page ad in one of the major Washington D.C. newspapers with a picture of the statue and to call for ending the horror of partial birth abortion.

I also wanted to run a page in Roll Call, Capitol Hills' number one source for elected officials. Finally, I wanted to call on wayward, unfaithful Catholic public servants to vote in fidelity to the truth about life! Finally, I hoped to do some radio informational announcements urging support of a ban to end this gruesome, barbaric practice.

There was one problem, one of the continual challenges for activists, we had no money.

Knowing the importance of the moment I prayed for the Lord to provide for the effort through His mercy. That week, I received an unsolicited contribution from a man whom I had the privilege of meeting back then because of his courageous move toward and support for the Right to Life. That man was Steve Forbes. I knew that this gift was an answer to my prayer. Gratitude to the Lord of life welled up within me! We ran the ads and did the programs.

After the dust settled, I was praying Morning Prayer. I read the story of these ten lepers. I had read it many, many times before. But that day I had a sense in my spirit that I was the one to go back and give thanks! I called and requested a brief meeting with Steve. He agreed. I met him in the Four Seasons Hotel. I came bearing a gift, the full page newspaper ad framed with an inscription To Steve Forbes: with deep gratitude for your dedication to all human life from some of your Catholic friends.

I approached Steve and handed him the wrapped gift of appreciation. "Mr. Forbes", I said "I know you are familiar with the story of the ten lepers who were cured in the New Testament and only one came back to give thanks?". "Why Yes" he responded. "Well, I am that leper" I said.

"Without your generosity this would not have been possible. You are a champion for life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart." At that moment I saw in his eyes what I came to see characterizes the heart of this good man, genuine humility. He was like a little kid at Christmas, sincerely grateful. In fact, I wondered how many people had ever gone back to give him thanks!

I grew in my appreciation of Steve Forbes over the years I lived in the Capitol region. His generosity in the causes he believes in, like the dignity of human life, is mostly unknown. He does not call attention to himself. He is a man of real faith and solid family values. Later, he also underwrote the momentous trip "Project Reconciliation" to the North of Ireland. My experience of that journey changed my whole life.

It was led by a contemporary saint and hero of mine, Detective Steven McDonald. Steven was rendered quadriplegic by a bullet fired during the commission of a crime. With injuries similar to the late Chris Reeve, Steven has not only survived way beyond what anyone believed possible, but he has traversed the globe, accompanied by his beloved wife and son, proclaiming the message of peace through forgiveness.

I had the honor of being a part of that true peace mission, all made possible by Steve Forbes. To this day, I do not believe anyone even knew that he underwrote that trip. It did not matter to Steve because he is the "Real McCoy", as they say, giving because he follows his heart, not to be noticed.

I will forever connect this story of the leper who came back to give thanks with my experience with Steve Forbes. It taught me about genuine generosity and always coming back to give thanks. Years later, I am still moved by the memory. It always makes me want to give thanks. True gratitude always flows forth from deep within. It also calls for a response of action.

The leper we meet in the Biblical account cried out with a loud voice. Can't you just see him? With reckless abandon, in the presence of the Word Incarnate, he fell at the feet of Jesus. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to be there with him. Well, we can be. Are we a people of gratitude? Do we recognize that everything that is given to us comes from the merciful hands of a loving God?

Let us choose to give thanks and embrace a lifestyle which always reflects our gratitude to God. That is what the word Eucharist actually means, to give thanks. St. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that all things work together for the good to those who love the Lord and are called for His purpose. (Romans 8:28) That includes you and me! It also includes even those things in our life that appear, at least before the eyes of faith reveal otherwise, to be dreadful.

It was actually through their leprosy that these men met Jesus Christ. Wow! The dreaded disease that kept them from other human relationships led to their encounter with God and their complete transformation. Have we touched the truth of this mystery? Our Christian faith reveals that even undeserved and unmerited suffering, when joined in love to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, can produce extraordinary fruit within us and around us.

This is the mystery of suffering in the Christian life. Saint Jose Maria Escriva once wrote "The great Christian revolution has been to convert pain into fruitful suffering and to turn a bad thing into something good. We have deprived the devil of this weapon; and with it we can conquer eternity."

How do we treat circumstances that cause us to struggle? How do we deal with what we find unpleasant? Do we practice an adult form of avoidance and run, acting as if it will all just go away like when children cover their eyes? Or do we believe that even unpleasant things and difficult people can actually be gifts from the hands of a loving God who invites us to walk in the way of His Son?

How do we deal with unresolved conflicts or troubling relationships? Do we work toward resolution, making love our aim (I Cor. 14:1) - or do we avoid them, thinking they will just go away if we pretend they don't exist? How do we approach suffering, struggle and pain?

The Leper who returned shows us all the way to live. He calls us to join the revolution of which this great saint writes. All of us will inevitably experience Gethsemanes in our own lives, times of difficulty, distress, fear and anguish. Friends may have betrayed us, or those whom we love may have rejected us. These sources of pain can become the very path to our encounter with mercy.

Maybe, through it all, things about our lives are being exposed, brought into the light. Maybe though it is uncomfortable, ultimately it will "make us clean". So often it is those times and circumstances that become the very path to holiness if we learn to love as He loves.

Our Christian vocation calls us to follow Jesus; to live as Jesus lives, to love as He loves and to become holy as He is holy, by embracing His plans for our life and living differently because of them.  Spiritually we were all lepers, desperately in need of God's mercy. God's mercy came - and always comes - through Jesus Christ. We are now called to become a people who receive and give Mercy - and a people who always come back to give thanks!

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