Updated: Feb 16
As we stand on the threshold of the season of Lent, we are ready to embrace our mission as a parish more intentionally: “to live and share Christ’s call to holiness.” Over the past five weeks we have taken a deeper look at the core values that animate our mission. We have been reminded of who we are—a parish that is rooted in a reverent sacramental life, a family that spurs one another on toward holiness, men and women living in joyful communion with the Catholic Church, and disciples of Christ, forming our hearts and minds so that we can share our faith with others.
Now, the fifth and final of our core values: “We believe in the ardent practice of Christian charity toward all those in spiritual or material need.”
Our service to others is an integral part of who we are, and like our other core values, brings us into closer union with Jesus Christ.
“He Does Not Hesitate To Become One of You”
Our Gospel today speaks of a man with leprosy who comes to Jesus, looking for healing. The scene brings to mind the life and mission of St Damien of Molokai, who lived in the 1800s and served as a missionary priest to a group of 816 lepers in Hawaii. As in the time of Jesus, leprosy was a devastating disease. Those who contracted it had no hope of recovery, which often led to deep depression. The disease disfigured and isolated its victims. The state had confined these men and women to the island of Molokai, with little support. Life was marked by poverty, violence, alcoholism and despair. St Damien longed to bring Christ’s peace to this community.
Upon his arrival on the island, his bishop introduced Damien as “one who will be a father to you and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you, to live and die with you.” Despite overwhelming conditions, Damien loved the men and women of Molokai. He brought them the sacraments, he cared for the sick, he shared meals with them, anointed them and buried them. He had such an impact that years later, a visitor to the island said, “I had gone to Molokai expecting to find it scarcely less dreadful than hell itself, and the cheerful people, the lovely landscapes, and comparatively painless life were all surprises. These poor people seemed singularly happy.” This is the power of God present in us when we serve with Christian charity. It goes far beyond the life of the flesh—it touches the life of the spirit.
“If You Wish…”
At St Mark’s, our fifth core principle is infused with the spirit of St Damien. Our Old Testament reading today describes the laws relating to leprosy. Throughout Scripture, leprosy is a symbol for sin. We read that the lepers were to “dwell apart” from the rest of the community, with their garments rent and heads bare. [Lev 13: 45-46] Just as this terrible disease separated a person from their family and friends, so sin separates us from God and from others. And just as the leper could not heal himself from his disease, so we depend entirely on the grace of God to heal us from our sin.
In our Gospel, the leper says to the Lord, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” He recognizes, perhaps because of his disease, his deep need for God’s mercy. He knows that God can make him clean, or leave him as a leper. He also knows that God is good, and can work through all things for the good of those who love him. [See Rom 8: 28] Was he tempted to think otherwise? The enemy of our souls loves to tempt us to lose hope and believe that we are too “unclean” to be loved by God.
As we begin Lent this Wednesday, let’s ask for the grace to come to our Lord once again in our need, like the leper in our Gospel. Let’s ask our Lord to teach us true charity, and work through us, as he worked through St Damien, to serve others in the ways they need it most.