By DR. PETER ROSARIO
The Bible makes numerous mentions of the disease called leprosy. Although rarely seen today, it was very common in ancient times. In fact, any skin ailment was commonly labelled leprosy. Unfortunately, an individual thought to have contracted leprosy was banished from society. They had no or very limited contact with family and friends.
Bodily disfigurement, often accompanying the disease, only strengthened the argument for isolation. A person touching anyone believed to have leprosy would render themselves unclean. What a shock it must have been to the apostles and disciples of Jesus when He touched the lepers He cured.
We don’t have to look back to antiquity to find the same push to isolate present today – different diseases, same societal response. In the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic gave rise to widespread fear of contracting the virus even though it was mainly found in a specific population of men and women.
Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we fear the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants. Once again, distance and isolation are maintained – similar to what transpired in Biblical times. I am not suggesting these maneuvers are outdated, only that these actions are not new.
Fear of contagion is not the only reason we separate ourselves from others. We mustn’t forget the political and social reasons that allow for segregation. Sadly, this division, for many reasons, may extend even into our church communities.
As damaging as this can be, how much more injurious is our separation from God through sin or wanton choice. One of my sons described this as spiritual leprosy. Often, when society segregates, the individual is pushed away by other people or forces. But when we sin, divorcing ourselves from God, we are doing the pushing-away.
The Lord, in His mercy, always allows us to reconnect if we wish. A story recounted in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, describing Jesus’ cure of a leper (Mk 1:40-42), offers hope and a solution for reunion with Almighty God.
The leper approached our Savior and, kneeling down before Jesus, begged to be made clean. He humbly begins the request with, “If you wish….” This statement suggests the leper’s faith allowed him beforehand to know that he could be cured. How do we approach God? How faithful are we to trust in God?
More than ever, we need to reach out to the Lord through prayer and the sacraments. Through prayer and the sacraments – especially the sacrament of reconciliation – Jesus comes to us. He touches us, just as He touched the Leper in Mark’s story, to render us clean. We should know that He wills it. But our Lord will not come uninvited.
You say, “I pray but don’t receive what I ask for.” Our prayers must be a surrender to His will. This takes real faith. What we wish may not be what is best for us. Do we preface our requests with, “If you wish” or end with Jesus’ words spoken in the garden of Gethsemane, “Your will, not mine?” Do we have the necessary faith to accept God’s plan for our lives?
Sadly, more and more people are physically separating from God – and not merely through sin. Church attendance among Catholics is collapsing. More and more people are resorting to trusting themselves or turning toward a secular dimension to cure their problems. Trusting in ourselves over trusting in God will never bring us the grace we need for a healing. And grace is the fuel that feeds our faith.
At times, it may seem that God has abandoned us; that He does not want what is good for us. This is a test of faith. It is in these times that we need to approach the Lord even more vigorously, with greater desire.
Let us realize that sin cannot be ignored or minimized. To do so only further disfigures our consciences and souls, worsening our spiritual leprosy. All the more reason to seek our Lord with greater participation in the sacraments. It is the time to cry out all the more; a time to seek to be made clean no matter how diseased with sin we may be. A cure awaits us.