This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 9, 2022. The audio is available here.
The lepers stood at a distance as Jesus and his disciples passed by.
Though crowds of people from the village came out to meet Jesus on the road, the lepers did not dare to join them.
Too many times, they had heard the sharp words, and felt the sting of rocks thrown by neighbors to keep them away.
So they stood apart, in the shadow of the trees by the side of the road.
But they, too, had heard about Jesus, the healings he had done…
And as the crowd passed by, the lepers looked uncertainly at each other.
Every one of them saw the same thought, the same longing mixed with fear and shame, reflected in the others’ faces.
If they could only get close enough, then maybe, just maybe, Jesus could save them, too.
Like the lepers, sometimes we find ourselves standing at a distance from Jesus.
The fact is that all of us are sick, wounded and broken.
Sin is spiritual disease, and it has left its mark on every one of us.
Whether it’s the festering unforgiveness that divides families and poisons relationships, the secret vice or addiction that slowly consumes us, the subtle pride that isolates us…
Sin spreads through our lives like a cancer.
But unlike leprosy, which is on the skin and visible to everyone, the cancer of sin ravages our invisible souls … and so we can choose to hide it.
As we choose to hide the sick and broken state of our souls, we find ourselves increasingly living a double life, one public version of ourselves that is “Christian,” respectable, and one that is hidden, in the shadows.
We feel constantly guilty, constantly lying, so that no one will see how “messed up” we really are beneath the surface.
And as a result, even our closest relationships become superficial and unsatisfying.
We feel no one really knows us or loves us.
Sometimes, we even hate ourselves … and we believe that God hates us, too.
The lepers felt that hatred, the shame, the isolation, the fear of rejection.
Yet even still, they looked after Jesus with longing as he passed … and at that moment, Jesus turned his head and met one leper’s eyes.
Across the distance that divided them, Jesus and the leper gazed at one another.
And all at once, a cry burst out from the leper’s lips like a pent-up river suddenly breaking through a dam:
And with one voice, the others joined in their cry: “Jesus, Lord! Kyrie, eleison! Lord, have mercy on us!”
Jesus sees us in our brokenness.
And when we cry out to Him in faith to save us, revealing the true condition of our sick and broken souls, Jesus, gazing at us in the truth of who we are with tender love and mercy, says to us what he said to the lepers: “Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As we obey His command, confessing our sins to the priests of the Church, we, too, find ourselves miraculously healed and cleansed, made innocent again like little children, set free from guilt, reconciled with God, at peace with ourselves and others.
In this beautiful sacrament of confession, we reveal our sickness, looking squarely at the sins we have committed and the damage they have done.
We take responsibility for them before God, and we open ourselves up to forgiveness and life in communion with God in the Church.
As we confess our sins, our lives begin to change from the inside out.
We begin to learn the virtue of true patience with ourselves, striving to overcome sin, yet always relying on God’s saving mercy.
Instead of fearing rejection and avoiding connection, we begin to live in community, seeking out other people who are living honestly, in the truth, and being transformed like us by the grace and mercy of God.
Instead of hypocritical self-righteousness and pride, we begin to act graciously, with mercy, toward other broken people, as Jesus acts with us.
And like the leper, we fall at the feet of Jesus every day in constant gratitude for a God who not only accepts us, sick and broken as we are, but who heals all our diseases and restores us to life.
Today, at this Holy Mass, as we meet the gaze of Jesus in the Eucharistic Host, cry out to Him with faith: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Ask Him for the grace to make a good confession.
This week, take 15 minutes to consider in prayer: what sins have left your soul wounded, sick, in need of a savior?
And commit to come to confession here, next Saturday at 3 PM.
To every repentant sinner who cries out to Him in faith and makes a good confession, Jesus says, “Arise and go; your faith has saved you.”
And on the last day, when he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, Jesus will find us, like the leper, washed and waiting for the kingdom of God.