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Archbishop Follo: On Begging to be purified

February 8, 2018. We gain the invitation to do as the leper who asked Christ for being purified. Then Jesus will give us health for our body and salvation for our souls and a pure heart, which harbors his love.

Roman Rite – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – February 11, 2018
Lv 13.1-2.45-46; Ps 32; 1Cor 10.31-11.1; Mk 1: 40-45

Ambrosian Rite
Is 54, 5-10; Ps 130; Rm 14.9-13; Lk 18: 9-14
Last Sunday after the Epiphany – called “of the forgiveness”

1) Lord, “Make me clean”

This Sunday’s Gospel passage offers us the healing of a leprosy1 patient. The evangelist St. Mark with this miracle wants to make the listeners of his time and of today understand that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

In fact, the leper who asks to be healed does not say “heal me”, but kneels, as one does before a Lord and begs him saying: “If you wish, make me clean”. He asks to be purified, that is to see his skin and his flesh clean, but he asks also forgiveness from his sins and to be free from all that keeps him away from God and from men.

This is the attitude to have only with God, who alone can purify from the sin that has caused the disease.

To understand this assertion, which may seem absurd, let us briefly examine the first reading of today’s Mass. The chosen passage proposes a part of chapter 13 of Leviticus. In this chapter, leprosy is described including in it quite broadly different forms of skin diseases many of which are curable. In Chapter 14 it is described the ritual of the purification of lepers and of their infected houses.

Therefore, on the one hand, the Leviticus states that the Priests were the competent ones to examine the sick and to diagnose the infection declaring him “unclean” (Lev. 13, 3), on the other hand in chapter 14 we read that the same priest is then in charge of certifying the eventual healing (Lev 14, 1-4). In ancient societies, precautionary rules were indeed the only possible defense against contagious and incurable diseases; hence the harsh norms set forth in vv. 45-46: “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
 “.

The leper is therefore an impure individual, struck by God because of a physical and moral impurity: he is an untouchable and must live banned by society.

This makes us understand why, in Jesus’ times, the lepers were really “unapproachable”. They were the untouchables – an image of what sin does in man. Faced with cry for the help of the leper, who recognizes in Jesus the envoy of God to cure also the lepers, Jesus responds with his divine “compassion”: he extends his hand, touches him – becoming himself impure according to the law – and says: “I do will it, be purified”.

It is against this background that the Gospel story acquires a precise meaning: Jesus touches an untouchable. The Kingdom of God does not take into account the barriers of the pure and the impure: it overcomes them.

There are no men to welcome and men to avoid, men who are close to us and men who are far, men with rights and men without rights. All are loved by God. All are called, and evangelical praxis must be the sign of this divine love that makes no differences.

 

2) Purity.

What is the biblical concept of purity? In order not to make you bored with a lengthy examination of the biblical texts in this regard, I once more dwell on the first reading taken by Leviticus2, in which it is described in what incurs the unclean person. In this book, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, when someone showed symptoms that could be traced to leprosy, precisely because leprosy is an infectious disease, he was immediately declared “impure” by the priest. The consequence was that he had to live alone and outside the camp.

The Jews, like the ancient oriental peoples, considered “everything” that belonged to the sacred sphere and favored the worship of God. On the contrary, they considered “impure” everything that opposed the sacred and was an obstacle to worship. However, a similar distinction did not concern the moral sphere of the person, but only the conditions necessary to be considered fit or not for worship and to be included in the life of the community (a leper was excluded).

At the time of Jesus’ earthly life, this distinction between pure and impure was in force, supported by the Pharisees. But Christ teaches us to give primacy to interior purity, which has its center in the heart of man, from where what truly contaminates his existence may come out (Cf. Mt 15: 10-20; Mk 7: 14-23). We too, following the example of Jesus, must privilege inner and moral purity: the purity of the heart

Being pure of heart means above all to be holy and honest.

The saint is not a superman. The saint is a true man, restored to his truth because he is cleansed from sin. The saint is a true person, who kneels before Christ, recognizes his divinity, implores him to be cleansed by his mercy and lives by the pure love that he shares with his neighbor. Saint is he who – in spite of his weaknesses, indeed precisely because of them and for the awareness of his own nothingness – recognizes the need to be converted, healed and saved by Christ every day. This is why saint is he who follows Him with perseverance and with a wise and intelligent heart along the journey that is Christ himself.

Holy is he who follows Christ sincerely.

Sincerity is the mirror of truth of all the other virtues. The holy person manifests his or her truth in sincerity. This is the virtue that guarantees the truth of the relationships with God and with others. Sincerity is the transparency of the heart. The lack of sincerity obscures our vocation as servants of God. The foundation of sincerity is to stand in the presence of God who is the transparency of Truth. Jesus was sincere. People knew how his heart was. “We know that you are truthful” (Mt 22, 16). His sincerity was printed in his eyes.

Therefore, let us imitate Christ in his sincerity, with simplicity and loyalty be faithful to his Heart that guards our heart and make this prayer our own: “O God, who promised to be present in those who love you and with a right and sincere heart guard your word, make us worthy of becoming your permanent home “(Colletta of the Sixth Sunday of the year).

 

3) Sincerity and virginity.

“What a sweet joy to think that the good God is just, that is, that he takes into account our weaknesses and knows perfectly the fragility of our nature. So what should I be afraid of? “(Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church)

“Chastity is sincerity, so the best protection for chastity is to hide nothing” (Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

A current testimony to the truth of the affirmation of the two Saints is the life of the consecrated virgins. These women give themselves completely to Christ and their love, purified and sanctified by their consecration, becomes the visibility of God’s love. As God loves sincerely, without ulterior motives, without asking for anything in return because He loves to give joy, so the consecrated virgins sincerely love God and the neighbor, to give themselves to God and to chastely give to the neighbor the Holy Love of which they live.

“Totally consecrated to God, they are totally handed over to the brothers, to bring the light of Christ where the darkness is thickest and to spread his hope in the disheartened hearts. The consecrated persons are a sign of God in the different environments of life, they are leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, they are prophecy of sharing with the little ones and the poor. Thus understood and lived, the consecrated life appears to us just as it truly is: a gift of God, a gift of God to the Church, a gift of God to its People “(Pope Francis).

 

Patristic reading

Golden Chain

On Mark 1, 40 -45

Bede, in Marc., i, 7: After that the serpent-tongue of the devils was shut up, and the woman, who was first seduced, cured of a fever, in the third place, the man, who listened to the evil counsels of the woman, is cleansed from his leprosy, that the order of restoration in the Lord might be the same as was the order of the fall in our first parents.
Whence it goes on: “And there came a leper to him, beseeching Him.”
Augustine, de Con. Evan., ii, 19: Mark puts together circumstances, from which one may infer that he is the same as that one whom Matthew relates to have been cleansed, when the Lord came down from the mount, after the sermon. (Mt 8,2)
Bede, in Marc., i, 9: And because the Lord said that He came “not to destroy the Law but to fulfill,” (Mt 5,17) he who was excluded by the Law, inferring that he was cleansed by the power of the Lord, shewed that grace, which could wash away the stain of the leper, was not from the Law, but over the Law. And truly, as in the Lord authoritative power, so in him the constancy of faith is shewn.
For there follows: “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.”
He falls on his face, which is at once a gesture of lowliness and of shame, to shew that every man should blush for the stains of his life. But his shame did not stifle confession; he shewed his wound, and begged for medicine, and the confession is full of devotion and of faith, for he refers the power to the will of the Lord.
Theophylact: For he said not, If thou wilt, pray unto God, but, “If Thou wilt,” as thinking Him very God.
Bede: Moreover, he doubted of the will of the Lord, not as disbelieving His compassion, but, as conscious of his own filth, he did not presume.
It goes on; “But Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will, be thou clean.”
It is not, as many of the Latins think, to be taken to mean and read, I wish to cleanse thee, but that Christ should say separately, “I will,” and then command (p. 34), “be thou clean.”
Chrys., Hom. in Matt., 25: Further, the reason why He touches the leper, and did not confer health upon him by word alone, was, that it is said by Moses in the Law, that he who touches a leper shall be unclean till the evening; that is, that he might shew that this uncleanness is a natural one, that the Law was not laid down for Him, but on account of mere men. Furthermore, He shews that He Himself is the Lord of the Law; and the reason why He touched the leper, though the touch was not necessary to the working of the cure, was to shew that He gives health, not as a servant, but as the Lord.
Bede: Another reason why He touched him, was to prove that He could not be defiled, who free others from pollution. At the same time it is remarkable, that He healed in the way in which He had been begged to heal.
“If Thou wilt,” says the leper, “Thou canst make me clean.”
“I will,” He answered, behold, thou hast My will, “be clean;” now thou hast at once the effect of My compassion.
Chrys., Hom. in Matt., 25: Moreover, by this, not only did He not take away the opinion of Him entertained by the leper, but He confirmed it; for He puts to flight the disease by a word, and what the leper had said in word, He filled up in deed.
Wherefore there follows, “And when He had spoken, immediately, &c.”
Bede: For there is no interval between the work of God and the command, because the work is in the command, for “He commanded, and they were created.” (Ps 148,5)
There follows: “And He straightly charged him, and forthwith, &c.” See thou tell no man.”
Chrys., Hom 25: As if He said, It is not yet time that My works should be preached, I require not thy preaching. By which He teaches us not to seek worldly honor as a reward for our works.
It goes on: “But go thy way, shew thyself to the chief of the priests.”
Our Savior sent him to the priest for the trial of his cure, and that he might not be cast out of the temple, but still be numbered with the people in prayer. He sends him also, that he might fulfil all the parts of the Law, in order to stop the evil-speaking tongue of the Jews. He Himself indeed completed the work, leaving them to try it.
Bede: This He did in order that the priest might understand that the leper was not healed by the Law, but by the grace of God above [p. 35] the Law.
There follows: “And offer for thy cleansing what Moses, &c.”
Theophylact: He ordered him to offer the gift which they who were healed were accustomed to offer, as if for a testimony, that He was not against the Law, but rather confirmed the Law, inasmuch as He Himself worked out the precepts of the Law.
ede: If any one wonders, how the Lord seems to approve of the Jewish sacrifice, which the Church rejects, let him remember that He had not yet offered His own holocaust in His passion. And it was not right that significative sacrifices should be taken away before that which they signified was confirmed by the witness of the Apostles in their preaching, and by the faith of the believing people.
Theophylact: But the leper, although the Lord forbade him disclosed the benefit, wherefore it goes on: “But he having gone out, began to publish and to blaze abroad the tale;” for the person benefitted ought to be grateful, and to return thanks, even though his benefactor requires it not.
Bede, see Greg., Moral., 19, 22: Now it may well be asked, why our Lord ordered His action to be concealed, and yet it could not be kept hid for an hour? But it is to be observed, that the reason why, in doing a miracle, He ordered it to be kept secret, and yet for all that it was noised abroad, was, that His elect, following the example of His teaching, should wish indeed that in the great things which they do, they should remain concealed, but should nevertheless unwillingly be brought to light for the good of others. Not then that He wished anything to be done, which He was not able to bring about, but, by the authority of His teaching, He gave an example of what His members ought to wish for, and of what should happen to them even against their will.
Bede: Further, this perfect cure of one man brought large multitudes to the Lord.
Wherefore it is added, “So that He could not any more openly enter into the city, but could only be without in desert places.”
Chrys.: For the leper everywhere proclaimed his wonderful cure, so that all ran to see and to believe on the Healer; thus the Lord could not preach the Gospel, but walked in desert places.
Wherefore there follows, “And they came together to Him from all places.”
Pseudo-Jerome: Mystically, our leprosy is the sin of the first man, which began from the head, when he (p. 36) desired the kingdom of the world. For covetousness is the root of all evil; wherefore Gehazi, engaged in an avaricious pursuit, is covered with leprosy.
Bede: But when the hand of the Savior, that is, the Incarnate Word of God, is stretched out, and touches human nature, it is cleansed from the various parts of the old error.
Pseudo-Jerome: This leprosy is cleansed on offering an oblation to the true Priest after the order of Melchisedec; for He tells us, “Give alms of such things as ye have, and, behold, all things are clean unto you.” (Lc 11,41)
But in that Jesus could not openly enter into the city, it is meant to be conveyed that Jesus is not manifested to those who are enslaved to the love of praise in the broad highway, and to their own wills, but to those who with Peter go into the desert, which the Lord chose for prayer, and for refreshing His people; that is, those who quit the pleasures of the world, and all that they possess, that they may say, “The Lord is my portion.” But the glory of the Lord is manifested to those, who meet together on all sides, that is, through smooth ways and steep, whom nothing can “separate from the love of Christ.” (Rm 8,35)
Bede, in Marc., i, 10: Even after working a miracle in that city, the Lord retires into the desert, to shew that He loves best a quiet life, and one far removed from the cares of the world, and that it is on account of this desire, He applied Himself to the healing of the body.

1Nowadays we struggle to understand the tragedy of leprosy. This disease is treatable today, yet still every year about 211,000 people get infected and 19,000 of them are children. That is to say that there is a contamination every two minutes. This disease is still present in the world with 700-800 thousand cases. Because of the tragic devastation of the body (it causes deformity of the hands and feet, blindness and other disabilities) and the social consequences of exclusion from the civil and religious community, leprosy was and is still today considered in many parts of the world a divine curse.

 

2In the book of Leviticus (the book of the Bible that is concerned with the religious life of the people of Israel), we find a large section, enclosed in chapters 11-15, entirely dedicated to the distinction between what is pure and what is impure (today, we would say between the sacred and the profane). This section presents the distinction between pure animals (which can be eaten, such as sheep, calves, lambs) and impure animals (which are forbidden to be eaten, such as the camel and the pig) and the statement that the sphere linked to childbirth, birth, death, sexual relations and illness (in particular leprosy) is considered as a source of contamination ( or impurities). Those who had incurred the impurity originating from one of these conditions, before dedicating themselves to worship, had to undergo special rites of purification (such as washing oneself in running water and offering a sacrifice of expiation).

 

 

1) Lord, “Make me clean”

This Sunday’s Gospel passage offers us the healing of a leprosy1 patient. The evangelist St. Mark with this miracle wants to make the listeners of his time and of today understand that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

In fact, the leper who asks to be healed does not say “heal me”, but kneels, as one does before a Lord and begs him saying: “If you wish, make me clean”. He asks to be purified, that is to see his skin and his flesh clean, but he asks also forgiveness from his sins and to be free from all that keeps him away from God and from men.

This is the attitude to have only with God, who alone can purify from the sin that has caused the disease.

To understand this assertion, which may seem absurd, let us briefly examine the first reading of today’s Mass. The chosen passage proposes a part of chapter 13 of Leviticus. In this chapter, leprosy is described including in it quite broadly different forms of skin diseases many of which are curable. In Chapter 14 it is described the ritual of the purification of lepers and of their infected houses.

Therefore, on the one hand, the Leviticus states that the Priests were the competent ones to examine the sick and to diagnose the infection declaring him “unclean” (Lev. 13, 3), on the other hand in chapter 14 we read that the same priest is then in charge of certifying the eventual healing (Lev 14, 1-4). In ancient societies, precautionary rules were indeed the only possible defense against contagious and incurable diseases; hence the harsh norms set forth in vv. 45-46: “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
 “.

The leper is therefore an impure individual, struck by God because of a physical and moral impurity: he is an untouchable and must live banned by society.

This makes us understand why, in Jesus’ times, the lepers were really “unapproachable”. They were the untouchables – an image of what sin does in man. Faced with cry for the help of the leper, who recognizes in Jesus the envoy of God to cure also the lepers, Jesus responds with his divine “compassion”: he extends his hand, touches him – becoming himself impure according to the law – and says: “I do will it, be purified”.

It is against this background that the Gospel story acquires a precise meaning: Jesus touches an untouchable. The Kingdom of God does not take into account the barriers of the pure and the impure: it overcomes them.

There are no men to welcome and men to avoid, men who are close to us and men who are far, men with rights and men without rights. All are loved by God. All are called, and evangelical praxis must be the sign of this divine love that makes no differences.

2) Purity.

What is the biblical concept of purity? In order not to make you bored with a lengthy examination of the biblical texts in this regard, I once more dwell on the first reading taken by Leviticus2, in which it is described in what incurs the unclean person. In this book, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, when someone showed symptoms that could be traced to leprosy, precisely because leprosy is an infectious disease, he was immediately declared “impure” by the priest. The consequence was that he had to live alone and outside the camp.

The Jews, like the ancient oriental peoples, considered “everything” that belonged to the sacred sphere and favored the worship of God. On the contrary, they considered “impure” everything that opposed the sacred and was an obstacle to worship. However, a similar distinction did not concern the moral sphere of the person, but only the conditions necessary to be considered fit or not for worship and to be included in the life of the community (a leper was excluded).

At the time of Jesus’ earthly life, this distinction between pure and impure was in force, supported by the Pharisees. But Christ teaches us to give primacy to interior purity, which has its center in the heart of man, from where what truly contaminates his existence may come out (Cf. Mt 15: 10-20; Mk 7: 14-23). We too, following the example of Jesus, must privilege inner and moral purity: the purity of the heart

Being pure of heart means above all to be holy and honest.

The saint is not a superman. The saint is a true man, restored to his truth because he is cleansed from sin. The saint is a true person, who kneels before Christ, recognizes his divinity, implores him to be cleansed by his mercy and lives by the pure love that he shares with his neighbor. Saint is he who – in spite of his weaknesses, indeed precisely because of them and for the awareness of his own nothingness – recognizes the need to be converted, healed and saved by Christ every day. This is why saint is he who follows Him with perseverance and with a wise and intelligent heart along the journey that is Christ himself.

Holy is he who follows Christ sincerely.

Sincerity is the mirror of truth of all the other virtues. The holy person manifests his or her truth in sincerity. This is the virtue that guarantees the truth of the relationships with God and with others. Sincerity is the transparency of the heart. The lack of sincerity obscures our vocation as servants of God. The foundation of sincerity is to stand in the presence of God who is the transparency of Truth. Jesus was sincere. People knew how his heart was. “We know that you are truthful” (Mt 22, 16). His sincerity was printed in his eyes.

Therefore, let us imitate Christ in his sincerity, with simplicity and loyalty be faithful to his Heart that guards our heart and make this prayer our own: “O God, who promised to be present in those who love you and with a right and sincere heart guard your word, make us worthy of becoming your permanent home “(Colletta of the Sixth Sunday of the year).

3) Sincerity and virginity.

“What a sweet joy to think that the good God is just, that is, that he takes into account our weaknesses and knows perfectly the fragility of our nature. So what should I be afraid of? “(Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church)

“Chastity is sincerity, so the best protection for chastity is to hide nothing” (Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

A current testimony to the truth of the affirmation of the two Saints is the life of the consecrated virgins. These women give themselves completely to Christ and their love, purified and sanctified by their consecration, becomes the visibility of God’s love. As God loves sincerely, without ulterior motives, without asking for anything in return because He loves to give joy, so the consecrated virgins sincerely love God and the neighbor, to give themselves to God and to chastely give to the neighbor the Holy Love of which they live.

“Totally consecrated to God, they are totally handed over to the brothers, to bring the light of Christ where the darkness is thickest and to spread his hope in the disheartened hearts. The consecrated persons are a sign of God in the different environments of life, they are leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, they are prophecy of sharing with the little ones and the poor. Thus understood and lived, the consecrated life appears to us just as it truly is: a gift of God, a gift of God to the Church, a gift of God to its People “(Pope Francis).