Years ago, when I was a young mother, my husband and I decided to adopt a little girl. She had been left alone for long periods of time where she had not been held, cuddled or talked to. Her cries often went unanswered. When she came to live with us at six months old, she was mostly devoid of expression. She did not cry, she did not smile, move her body much, or make eye contact easily. Mostly, she sat in her baby carrier motionless- not doing much of anything. Our family and community began to surround her with attention: we talked to her, played with her, held her, smiled at her, and loved her. It did not take long for this little girl to come to life! She became animated, active and full of smiles. Most noticeable of all- she made full use of her vocal cords- and became loud and expressive. She was a spark in the family- she had found her voice!
In the readings today, we hear about leprosy. What does this word mean to you? In Biblical times, this referred to more than Hanson’s disease. It included many types of skin disruptions and infections. They believed that leprosy was caused by a person’s sin, and deemed them unclean and unfit to dwell in acceptable society. The Greek work for sin in this scripture is Hamartia, meaning to miss the mark or get lost from the path. The path was seen as being in covenant or connection to God.
In today’s Gospel, a leper who has been living separated from community, where he has been untouched, unseen, unheard comes before Jesus in desperation. By law, he should not been seen, heard or touched by anyone but he is so desperate, he is willing to face what may come. Jesus sees the man, hears his plea, and reaches out to touch and heal him. Because of Jesus’ touch, the leper becomes a new man! He has found his voice and can now speak freely, be seen and re-enter the life of the community. Though Jesus asks him to keep the interaction quiet, the man cannot help himself! He is free, he is joyous! He can live the life he was meant to live- connected with God and connected with people.
The story of the leper makes me wonder how I would feel if I was made to live apart from the people I loved and from other people in the community. I would not like it!
And I also wonder- who are the lepers in our world today? Who are the people that feel separated from the norms of life and acceptable society?
In my work as a Hospice Chaplain, I see every day people who live alone and isolated, without the independence to move and interact with others freely. To the elderly, sick and dying, their situations can feel like leprosy where too often they are not heard- their discomfort, loneliness, and life stories can sometimes go ignored. They are not seen- many people live in facilities where few people come to visit them. They are not touched- so many of the elderly long for touch, as many of them have a spouse who has died. The longing for touch is so strong- often the first thing they want to do when they meet me is hold my hand.
There are so many other situations where people know the pain of separation. The homeless, mentally ill, divorced, immigrants, the unpopular, the poor, to name a few, all have felt the sadness of disconnection from community. And we could name more.
Certainly during this pandemic that affects each of us, we are all feeling some sense of isolation. In very real ways, we are not able to see, touch, or interact with our loved ones in ways that we are used to. To different degrees, we are disconnected from the usual norms of society.
And beyond this, things can sometimes happen in our lives that make us feel lost. We feel hurt or angry and it can fester. We can feel distant from God and disconnected from people.
And so I ask myself: What are the wounded places within me that keep me separated from God’s touch? Where are my festering, infected spots?
Am I willing to bring what I need healed to God? Are you?
The invitation before us today is to open ourselves to God and recognize our need. Open ourselves to the one who sees us, hears us, and longs to touch and connect with us. And when this happens, it changes something inside us. God’s touch opens us to see with new eyes- to see and hear those around us who feel separated- those who long to be seen, heard and touched. When we see and hear the need of those around us, we take on the mind of Christ. And the mind of Christ says this, “I am yours and you are mine- imperfect, yes- but highly valued and beloved.
Am I prepared to be a source of healing for today’s lepers?
And so, I offer a prayer for you, for me, for all of us:
I come before you in all my woundedness
I bring you my pain
The hidden, festering places within me.
I open myself to your healing touch.
May your touch change me
Inspire my voice
Animate me to full participation
Remind me of my worth.
Pour out your love through me so that I may take on the mind of Christ:
To love the leper back to health
To remind them who they are: welcome, included, valued, necessary, Beloved Children of God.
Maria Anne McGuire
Maria Anne McGuire
Maria McGuire is from Paso Robles, California. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS degree in Biology, and Loyola University, New Orleans with a Master’s Degree in Theology/Religious Education. She earned a Spiritual Direction Certificate from Mercy Center, Burlingame. She is trained in the Jesuit educational approach, valuing both the academic and spiritual aspects of faith issues. She works as a Chaplain with Hospice, recognizing the sacredness in every season of life. She has written articles in various formats, most recently in the Women In Theology website. She previously taught Religion at St. Rose Catholic School. She has worked in various Church ministries over the years, most frequently in RCIA, Adult faith Formation, and collaborating with retreats and workshops. She has a keen interest in and love for writing. Her theological interests are multi-faceted. Much of her focus centers on the power of metaphor to address common human truths regardless of culture, faith perspective or gender. In particular, she contemplates Scripture with an eye towards Midrash: the stories and metaphor therein are the stories of each human being in every generation. She is interested in the dialogue and intersection between masculine and feminine perspectives on spirituality, believing both contribute to a balanced faith vision. She is attentive to those who experience marginalization in society and is interested in what lies at the threshold of liminality.
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