Weekly HomilyArchives

Monday, February 06, 2012

“A leper came to Jesus begging him, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’” (Mark 1:40-41)

Man with Leorosy 

February 12, 2012
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 1:40-45 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

The scripture readings we hear this Sunday, from the Book of Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46) and the Gospel of Mark, reference the scourge of leprosy. Just so, ancient medicine being far from a science, the leper label was generously applied to anyone who, as described in Leviticus, exhibited any sort of scab, pustule or blotch. Indeed, so feared was the malady that any condition even remotely resembling it saw the victim banished from the community for fear of contagion. But with increasing medical knowledge, in our own day, leprosy – now known as Hansen’s disease – is a treatable condition that elicits little of the terror experienced in biblical times.

What, then, are we to make of today’s scripture readings in light of leprosy’s lessened threat? I suggest we understand leprosy as a metaphor for any condition of body, mind or soul that inhibits us from participation as responsible citizens in the global human community. Understood in that light, leprosy is still very much with us. These days, though, it’s not a visible skin affliction; rather, it’s a bent of mind – an attitudinal mindset tending toward social dysfunction. And to a troubling extent, this modern-day leprosy is a chosen affliction.

But indulge me, please, an aside before continuing. I must confess an unabashed admiration for the hard-nosed, sharp-tongued and recently deceased Andy Rooney. Even before he made his first appearance on “60 Minutes” in 1978, he was a celebrity in our house. You see, Andy shares a heritage with both my parents – all three grew up together on Partridge St. in Albany during the days of the Great Depression. And more, Andy was their paperboy when they were just kids. When he made his TV debut with CBS News, Dad dared to boast that he’d had a part in Andy’s earliest days of journalism. “Why,” boasted Dad, “when that expertly flung paper landed square on our front porch, I knew he was on his way up in the world.”

The point is this: I’ve rather proudly taken up the curmudgeonly mantle of the late Andrew Aitken Rooney, at least as I deliver the homily I offer today on contemporary social ills as destructive as the leprous scabs, pustules and blotches described in Leviticus. Indeed, this attitudinal affliction must be addressed for its danger to the welfare of the global community.

Facebook provided the subject of today’s homily with its recent circulation of a blurb entitled “11 Rules Your Kids Did Not & Will Not Learn In School,” extracted from educator Charles Sykes’ book Dumbing Down Our Kids. While the author focuses on young people of our day, it’s my experience that more than a few of us adults didn’t learn these rules either. Indeed, leprous attitudes have been infecting humankind for some time, and healing can only begin when they are brought into the sunlight. And so I share the 11 rules with you:

“(1) Life is not fair – get used to it! (2) The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself. (3) You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both. (4) If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. (5) Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity. (6) If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them. (7) Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room. (8) Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life. (9) Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time. (10) Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs. (11) Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”

Indeed, I can easily imagine Andy Rooney reading this very list to us in a concluding segment of “60 Minutes,” his thick white eyebrows gesturing in affirmation of the hard truth contained therein. Then he’d look up, fold his hands, and smile sweetly. And we all just knew, every single one of us, that he was silently accusing us of being one of the slackers, the social lepers, he’d just condemned.

But then – and this is wildly fictional since Andy was an avowed atheist – the old rascal would open the Bible to the Gospel of Mark right on air and begin to read, “A leper came to Jesus begging him, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’” (Mark 1:40-41)

Andy reading the Bible to us on CBS News! Andy gently steering us toward Jesus! I wonder if the sharp-tongued atheist who, in spite of himself, went home to God discovered the greatest truth. I wonder if he who so masterfully exposed the social lepers of our day has discovered the Great Healer of all afflictions. I wonder if Dad welcomed home his old paperboy from depression days with a pat on the back as he exclaimed, “I always knew you were on your way up in the world.”

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