Growing up as the son of a doctor had its perks and its challenges.
I’m sure my parents saved a killing on medical bills, and we could always be diagnosed very quickly. Some of the challenges for us kids were that the remedies were always pretty much the same. “Drink lots of water, you’ll be fine” or “here take this, then drink lots of water and you’ll be fine.” Another challenge was that we could never fake being sick to get out of school. I had classmates that would get out of school in the middle of the day because they had a “headache.” As doctor’s kid, at least in my experience, we had to actually be sick with a stomach bug, or have a fever of 102 or something before we would be allowed to stay home. I may have missed school one day a year, if I was lucky. There was no getting out of school for sniffles. I seemed to have a knack for being sick on weekends or over holidays. Now the only days I’ve really ever been sick as a priest were on my days off, which has happened twice. I certainly praise the Lord that I have pretty good health. Whenever I do have questions about health, I still consult my dad. He always gives sound advice as to what I’m dealing with and what I should be taking. He’s good at calling out my illness.
This weekend’s first reading comes from the book of Leviticus and touches on the topic of leprosy and how Moses and the Hebrew people were to act once they were diagnosed with it. Moses explains “If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants. If the man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head. 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” (Lev. 13:1-2,44-46). This must have been the Old Testament way of quarantining people. I find it interesting that those who were ill had to call out that they were unclean, so as not to spread the disease. They were cut off from the community and were not able to participate in worship. It was a ailment that very much would isolate those that suffered. I also find it interesting that it was the priests who made the call if they were unclean. The priests were also the ones who would judge whether or not one could reenter society if they had recovered or been healed from leprosy.
In this weekends Gospel, Jesus was confronted with a leper, who broke the law by coming near Jesus and asking Him for healing. The story is that “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’ The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them’” (Mark 1:40-43). Note that in this story Jesus reached out and touched the leper, which would have been against the law as well.
The sickness of leprosy is a terrible illness that represents the deadly spiritual illness of sin. We all have this illness as humans. It is important for us to call it what it really is and to accept the fact that we are broken. We need healing, just like the leper who came to Jesus. This leper did not deny that he was a leper, but came to Jesus accepting the fact that he was ill, yet trusting that Jesus could heal him. He would never have received the amazing gift of healing if it were not for his acceptance of the fact that he was ill. The same goes for our sinfulness. We cannot receive the healing, or the forgiveness of God if we are not willing to accept responsibility for our actions and to recognize the harmful nature of our offenses. As the Lord commanded lepers to show themselves to the priests in the Old Covenant, so in the New Covenant we practice the Sacrament of Confession for the forgiveness of grave sin. Within this Sacrament we practice what St. James states in his letter: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Similarly in the Gospel of John, Jesus implies confession of sin to the apostles, when He gives them the authority to forgive sins. He tells them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). If the apostles had been commissioned to forgive and retain sins it makes sense that they would have to have known what those sins were in order to discern.
The confessional provides a beautiful and extremely confidential way to admit our sinfulness before the Lord and ask for His healing and forgiveness. It is our way of calling out the illness, and also the way that the Lord offers us, through His instruments of mercy and forgiveness, the grace of freedom and healing from these sins. I find that the confessional offers me much needed humility, as well as grace, to strive for greater holiness of life. I encourage you to learn and practice calling out your sins and turning to the Lord for His healing and forgiveness. We are about to enter into the season of Lent where we focus our hearts on the passion and cross of our Lord, as well as a continued focus on the renewal in our hearts that we need to become the people that we are being called to be.