Leviticus in today’s reading shows a legitimate concern for the spread of disease. However, if taken to the extreme it can separate the sick from the rest of the community. Worse yet the purity laws of Leviticus treat sickness as divine punishment for sin, and separated those who “sinned” from the care required for healing. This kind of attitude has persisted for thousands of years.
St. Francis went to the sick and outsiders before there was any understanding of how disease was transmitted and embraced and kissed the leper rather than allow them to die without the experiencing the love that God calls us to show the afflicted.
Fear and judgment over leprosy persisted in the late 1800’s as witnessed by the leper colony on Molokai, Hawaii. Fr. Damien de Veuster was one who understood that healing of the spirit can take place only by the loving touch of Christ, and he was willing to die rather than abandon the sick to face their death alone. He had to face down the judgmental attitudes based in fear and ignorance associated with sickness and to stand with the leper.
It was this judgmental attitude that increased the suffering of those who became sick in the AIDS epidemic. Many saw this sickness as punishment by God for sinful behavior, and thus they did not deserve our love and healing. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was an early voice in the AIDS epidemic against the kind of judgment that allowed the sick to be ignored and left to die alone. Before there was an understanding of how AIDS was spread, and before there were medicines to cure the sick, Mother Teresa opened hospices to care for the dying.
St. Francis, St. Mother Teresa, and St. Father Damien were simply, but courageously, following the example of Jesus in today’s Gospel. All three of these saints acted with selfless, and unconditional love, just as Jesus had done and as we are all called to do today. Like Jesus, they were willing to lay down their lives for love.
But there is a different kind of sickness that is epidemic in the world today. This is a sickness that allows the strong, the privileged, and the powerful to judge others as undeserving of their love and concern. This sickness knows no bounds and we are all susceptible to contracting this disease of the spirit. If it infects us we can spread it to others and we will tend to separate us our brothers and sisters, not realizing we are carriers of this disease. If we will deny we have contracted this disease it will kill our spirit and others in the process. The disease is to believe we can separate the sacred from the profane. … To “separate the weeds from the wheat.” It comes from disobeying Jesus’ command, “do not judge, lest you be judged.” And it begins with denial of our own sinfulness and it spreads when we, in turn, judge others as sinful.
When I divide the sacred from the profane in myself I become a house divided. If I hide that which I judge to be profane in myself, I let my ego rule my soul rather than be its’ servant. This carefully constructed ego – what I show others – is a kind of “Holy Card Saint,” that is all shiny and perfect. However, if I can admit that the road to wholeness is by way of imperfections and mistakes, then I will slowly learn the connection between wholeness and holiness. This ‘school of hard knocks’ allows my sins to teach me something. If my false ego is the master, I will deny my imperfections and thus render them inaccessible for healing. Like the leper, these imperfections will be forced to live apart and fester until they cause a spiritual death. On the other hand, when I judge myself too harshly, I find I judge others too harshly as well, and I live separate from those I am called to touch and heal. “Those people” are the ones who populate our jails, our slums, and the aliens who are the “huddled masses yearning to breath free,” and who need to experience the healing touch and the shining light of Jesus.
To become a healer, I first have to admit my own imperfections, and then when I see others I tempted to judge as sinful, I instead will treat them with greater love. I will see that there but by the grace of God go I. Then I will be able reach out and touch, and heal others and myself in the process. I will have become a “wounded healer,” who is both sacred and profane, but lifts a lamp to dispel the darkness.