Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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February 14, 2021
[St. Catherine Church, Kapaa]
When the reading from Leviticus was read three years ago, as it is on a three-year cycle, the concept of “unclean” was much more theoretical than it is today, and the idea of “muffling the beard” has also taken on a new meaning during this pandemic as we wear our masks and face shields. “Dwelling apart” was also a theoretical concept, but no more! We now know very well what it means to dwell apart from each other, circulating as much as we are able only in our own household bubbles. When I was with some people the other day and mentioned I had taken a COVID test, they froze up as if to say, “Why is this unclean person being so callous as to talk to us?” – until I told them it was a pre-travel test for going to Kauai, and that I had tested negative. While I do not want to downplay the gravity of leprosy, I think we can all relate a little more to the reality of being “unclean” and to all the protocols and precautions that go with a disease.
Of course we see Jesus healing, as he normally does. But there is a disease more deadly than leprosy and COVID, and Jesus really came to heal us of this. It is a disease that is a true pandemic, affecting all of us in some way, great or small. It is the disease of sin. It may not always be visible, but it rots away the soul of a person and jeopardizes not just this life here on earth but eternal life. It is something we often mask over, sometimes even from ourselves, so that we appear to others to be well and healthy. And it is a disease that always isolates us from others, and, if left untreated, can isolate us eternally.
This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent, a season of penance, fasting and prayer to prepare us for the celebration of the greatest event in the history of the world, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus wants to heal us of all our sins, but like the person with leprosy in today’s story, very often we have to ask for healing. We have to recognize that we are in need of healing. And just as Jesus sent the healed person to the priests as a kind of follow-up therapy, so there are exercises marked out for us that can help us become free of this deadly disease of sin. As we enter Lent, it is easy to give up sweets or treats, but if we do so without giving up sin, what good is that to us or anyone else?
Lent, then, is a time for serious diagnosis, opening ourselves in prayer to Jesus so that he can reveal our most hidden faults, not to condemn us but to free us from them and to heal us to the core. Yes, we fast from food, but we hope this will remind us of our need to fast from gossip or backbiting or sniping at others. When I read the comments on some social media posts, for example, I wonder if anyone realizes how much words can hurt another person. We abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, not because meat is bad, but because doing so can make us more aware that there are brothers and sisters who do not choose to abstain from food but who are forced to do so because of poverty. Our being more aware of them can better motivate us to help them through our almsgiving, our freely and lovingly sharing of our substance so that others can live. To not see them could be one of the most grievous sins, as Jesus reminds us when he told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, or when he reminded those who did not care for those in need that they would be condemned to an eternity where no one cares for us. We examine our consciences more diligently during Lent and turn to the Lord for healing, and he is always willing to pour out his healing and merciful love upon us, especially in the sacrament of Penance.
And perhaps our biggest struggle, not only during Lent but throughout our lives, is to realize that we simply are powerless to heal ourselves. We need to present ourselves to the priest, as Jesus says, not because they are sinless themselves, but because they are entrusted with the sacraments of mercy in which we encounter the healing of Jesus himself in Penance and most of all in the Holy Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus and make it present to us here and now, so that we may know that he is not someone who lived long ago and far away or once upon a time, but someone who is with us every day. And sometimes we appreciate something more fully when we know we need to tell others about it, and that is indeed our mission: to share the Gospel of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection and his continual presence with us with all we meet.
Yes, we are all diseased with sin, and we go about with pretty masks so that others think we are just fine. We accept the social isolation that sin brings, because we think there is no alternative. But Jesus shows us that he is here to heal us, if we only recognize our need for healing, diagnosed in detail, and if we ask him to heal us. Once he does, the Good News of Jesus will spread to others like wildfire so that all may come to know him who is our redemption and we will then do all not for our own glory but for the glory of God.