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Sores on the Head and the Heart

Gospel Reflection for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1:40-45

When this pandemic began, I was afraid to be stuck in my house alone. I wanted to run from the loneliness and latch on to loved ones to keep me company. I was not sure what I would discover in the silence when all of the world’s distractions would be stripped away. Since the world “shut down,” I have been surprised to encounter the heart of Christ in a new, intimate way. Last Lent, I was not expecting to have to “give up” receiving His Body in the Eucharist. I was locked out of the places I used to spend time with Him in Adoration. Somedays, I would sit on the sidewalk outside the wooden doors of my neighborhood parish praying and longing for the day the doors would be open again.

The time in exile was not only a challenge spiritually, but also relationally. The world received instructions to not touch others and remain at a distance so we would not contaminate one another. Family and friends were nervous to gather in person and pretty much all social events were cancelled. My home became a place of worship and a place of refuge. Jesus taught me to run to Him rather than away from Him. I couldn’t leave the house, so He made sure that I knew He was coming to me. Candles on each side of my television were lit for each virtual Mass before I blessed myself with holy water. My fireplace provided the light to pray in the middle of the night on Holy Thursday as I kept Our Lord company in the Garden of Gethsemane. I researched how board games could be played over a Zoom call with loved ones and taught my Grandma how to FaceTime in her 90s. I learned about what mattered in my life and what didn’t. I learned who I missed and who I didn’t. Though I thought the time in isolation would be painful and hard to bear, it ended up being a blessing in disguise as Jesus invited me to participate in healing some sensitive sores and hidden wounds.

As a toddler, my life was bombarded by my quadruplet siblings. Thirty years after their birth, I am learning more about the impact this over-stimulation has had on my personal and relational journey throughout life. I always thought I had to keep up with the rush of life around me. I didn’t know why I was both anxious and exhausted my entire life until the pandemic provided a radical season of rest and reflection. God is accustomed to blessing us in challenging ways. His love story with each one of us is messy, profound, and sacrificial.

It was when He literally took away my voice for a week last year that I began to truly stop and listen to His call to draw closer. It was not a coincidence that Jesus brought The Chosen TV series into my life for the first time a couple of weeks before I received the prescription of quarantine. Though this quarantine is not exactly what those with leprosy experienced, it gave me a sense of how their world may have turned upside down as they were separated from everything and everyone they knew and loved. This time in isolation will always be a turning point in my love story with Our Lord. After all, He is creative in how He heals our every ill.

Jesus, the Wounded Healer, knew that I still had numerous scabs, pustules, and blotches in my heart, mind, and identity. While I poured my heart out in a book a year before quarantine began, I was still learning how hard it was to actually walk the talk. It was much easier to hide my scars and act like all was well. If I just told myself, all would be well, it would be, right? Hiding the scars didn’t mean I was unaware of them. Deep down, I just felt more jaded.

When I learned that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I felt both relieved and stigmatized. I had lived life on the Spectrum for decades and had always felt “weird” in this world. Now, that “weirdness” has a name. No, it’s not a visible illness like leprosy, but it does have mental, social, and emotional implications.

You may not have leprosy or even have visible sores and scabs all over your body, but I can bet you have some sort of invisible sore or scab on your mind or heart. These sores can make us feel inadequate. I will admit that being a single marriage counselor on the Autism Spectrum can make me feel inadequate. Do you have a diagnosis, a traumatic memory, or past relationship that has wounded you? Have you ever felt like you have been excluded from social groups? Have you ever felt unworthy of love or belonging?

As the Church, we are the Bride of Christ. Jesus comes to meet us where we are and speaks to our hearts through His Word and Sacraments. We are invited to receive Him as He is. On this Valentine’s Day, we hear about love in the readings. No, leprosy is not found on any Hallmark Card. (Unless it’s a Valentine from Jesus talking about the scars from Hansen’s Disease: “You go through all the pain and strife/then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast/in an mmmbop they’re gone). Yet, this metaphor feels more real and fitting than anything we may have chosen ourselves.

This weekend, I’ve been trying to spend my commutes on the road with Jesus. I’ve learned that when I actually give Him the space to speak, He does. Imagine that. This past Saturday night, the commute felt more like a wrestling match than a conversation. He wanted to talk about my healing and happiness. I thought I was healed… enough. I thought I was happy… enough.

I try to maintain a positive attitude and continue trying to do. all. the. things. the way I always have. I try to plow through my days bursting with potential more than resting in His peace. This pattern gets me stuck in exhaustion, anxiety, and self-pity.

Jesus prepared me for the Gospel this weekend by pointing out my sores and scabs I try to hide. I encountered the leper in a new way on this day celebrating love. As a marriage counselor, I tend to these types of sores and scabs as people share about their anxiety and depression, doubts and fears, labels and stigmas, breakups and divorce, social isolation from friends and loved ones, and more.

Often my clients feel like they are the problem or are told they are the problem by a loved one who has referred them to therapy. I enjoy helping them to begin to externalize the problem from their core identity. I use a common statement from Narrative Therapy to tell them, “they are not the problem; the problem is the problem.” Like the leper in the Gospel, we can feel ostracized just because of a cross we are carrying. It’s important to remember that the cross does not define us. Jesus gives us our identity as His beloved who, with Him, conquers the cross by carrying it to Him.

Our faith in Christ allows us to believe all is possible with Him. The leper approaches Jesus with humility and zealous faith seeking to be healed by His touch. He expressed a wholehearted eagerness to participate. Rather than letting the leprosy rule him, the leper ran to Jesus for healing. If he was going to let Jesus be the ruler of his life, he needed to surrender to His will.

He knelt and told Our Lord and Savior, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

“The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” Leviticus 13:44-46

There are many reasons throughout the chapters of Leviticus a person is said to be “unclean.” The leper didn’t mention leprosy -- the most obvious reason for his uncleanness. He just asked to be made clean. It makes me wonder what he was expecting when he asked for healing. Did he truly expect to be miraculously healed from this horrible disease in the site of others? Was he asking about the disease itself or about the implications? Was he ready for what was to come? What did he imagine “clean” to look like?

If any of you have lived with another person, you can appreciate that “clean” has many different meanings. What does it mean for a room to be a clean? Or a shirt? Or even a dish?

When it comes to our minds and our hearts, we tend to just want to “tidy up” and make sure the clutter can’t be seen. We can wear the shirt if it’s not too wrinkled, stained, or smelly. We can use the dish if we can’t see any crumbs on it.

Jesus on the other hand wants to give us a deep clean! According to God’s law given to Moses, “As long as the sore is on him, he shall declare himself unclean.” As the Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus tends to each and every sore. He wants to reach the darkest corners and dustiest hide-a-ways in our hearts, minds, and souls. He wants us to smell not with the stink of our past, but with the aroma of hope for the days to come. Anyone who takes on seasonal deep cleaning projects is fully aware that it takes commitment and dedication.

Jesus does indeed will us to be cleaned. The question is, do we?

Jesus doesn’t get out the cleaning supplies while we veg on the couch and watch Netflix. He wants us to join Him in the process. “The leper came to Jesus.”

Christ wants to help us see what He sees. His viewpoint can provide a fresh perspective to the messes that we manage interiorly and exteriorly each day. As the Word is a light to our path, He is also a balm for our hearts. “The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.”

While a friend would be more than welcome to come and hang out, a celebrity may cause too much of a scene in your neighborhood and not even get into the front door. Jesus wants to encounter all of us for the first time like it’s a “meet-cute.” All of you fans of The Holiday know what I’m talking about. He wants to know us. He wants to pursue us. He doesn’t want us to know Him as a miracle worker until we know Him as our best friend.

If a celebrity came to ask you about your scabs and wounds, you probably would question their intentions. Jesus on the other hand wants to earn your trust, stretch out His hand and touch you. Yes, you. Not the crowd that gathers around for photos and entertainment… He wants you! He loves you!

As you kneel before Him waiting on the answer to your prayer for healing, He smiles, lifts up your head, and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

Lent begins this week. How is Jesus reaching out and wanting to make you clean? How will you make room for Him in your mind, heart, and life? What sores are you hiding? He wants to wrap you in His abundant mercy and say, "not too shabby!"

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