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People of solitude

“Lord, if you will to do so, you can make me clean.” The leper’s request does not sound to me like a simple declaration of faith. We can also read it as a kind of lament. Take note, he is not presupposing that the Lord wills it.

If you have not yet watched the Gospel TV series entitled THE CHOSEN, I advise you to watch them. Among the ones that have been produced so far, the episode on the healing of the leper, which happens to be our Gospel for today, was the one that I found most moving. In that episode, the disciples are shocked when a leper suddenly crosses their path. According to the Jewish Law, not only is a leper supposed to keep distance from people, he is supposed to shout out loud that he is unclean and should be avoided. But this one dared to approach Jesus and kneel at his feet. And Jesus, instead of running away, stayed put. The leper pleads and says, “If you want to do so, Lord, you can make me well…” He bows to the ground and then looks up with tears in his eyes and says again, “Only if you want it.”

ONLY IF YOU WANT IT. It’s as good as saying, “If you don’t want it, I understand. If you also believe as others do— that maybe I deserve this, that maybe I am accursed, that maybe I am suffering the consequences of my sins or those of my ancestors, and that therefore I am not entitled to a cure. If that is so, then it’s ok.

He does not come with a presumptuous attitude that he is entitled to anything. He sounds very much like the Jews in our first reading, who are exiled in Babylon. They take it for granted that they are being punished for their sins. In their lament, which has been immortalized in that famous Psalm 137, they say, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept. When we remembered Zion. On the trees near that river we hung up our musical instruments. There, our captors asked us to sing our native songs for them but we refused to sing and we said to them, “How can we sing a song as exiles in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten. May my tongue stick to my mouth if I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights.”

A lot of people all over the world are weeping now. People who are sick of Covid19 and are feeling afraid or alone, people whose loved ones are sick or dying and are worried to death about them. We have also heard of drivers who have not been able to earn a living and are begging in the streets. You’ve surely also heard of that boy, a public high school student, who committed suicide because he did not want to burden his parents about having to produce the gadgets and the internet connection he thought were required for the coming school year, which he knew his parents could not afford. We’ve heard of those workers in Saudi who are selling their blood in order to earn some money to support themselves while jobless in the Middle East. And I am sure you also get to read through the comments in this online Mass, that are mostly prayer requests from people all over the world. They are all saying basically the same thing, “If you want to do so, Lord, you can help us. Only if you want to.” Who knows, maybe you are allowing us to suffer because we deserve it, because we have forgotten you during our good times.

And so in Psalm 137, the Psalmist says, “We promise never to forget again. We will refuse to ever sing again. We would rather have our tongues stuck in our palates rather than sing in a foreign land. We would rather have our right hands withered if we do not remember anymore.

IF YOU DON’T WANT IT, we understand. We will endure the suffering, just promise us, Lord, you will never forsake or abandon us. This is the sense of that part about testing in the Lord’s Prayer, which Pope Francis says is poorly translated and understood. The Pope said, it’s not like it is the Lord himself who is leading us to the testing. He prefers the Spanish Y NO NOS DEJES CAER, meaning, do not leave us to fall when we are tested.

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What is most touching about today’s Gospel is Jesus’ way of answering the leper’s request , “If you will to do so you can make me clean.” What does he do? He touches him. It is his way of saying, “Would you really think that I want to see you suffer? Do you really believe that I can just forsake or abandon you? I am here, feel me. I am not up there watching from some remote heaven. I am here.”

We have many passages in the Gospels that tell us Jesus went to the wilderness to be in solitude. I think it wasn’t just to pray. I think he was deliberately going to isolated places to meet the people who are suffering from the solitude of isolation.

The Beatles have a song about LONELY PEOPLE. They say, “Ah, the lonely people, where do they all come from…where do they all belong?” This is what I call the negative solitude. The solitude of isolation and rejection.

But there is also the positive solitude of Jesus, such as when he goes into prayer and enters into communion with his Father. What I find most beautiful about the scene in today’s Gospel is the encounter between two forms of solitude: the solitude of isolation of the leper and the solitude of communion of Jesus.

Jesus did something forbidden by Jewish society: he touched a leper whom he was supposed to avoid, otherwise he could get infected. It is a touch motivated by compassion. It is a touch that has the opposite effect. Instead of him getting infected by the touch, it is the leper who gets affected. It brings about his healing. Yes, the disease is contagious, but the good news is, grace is even more contagious.

One of the most fulfilling things about this Mass for me, is when those with desperate requests and prayers for healing and recovery or even for comfort for the dying, communicate again after a few days to offer thanksgiving intentions for prayers granted.

I feel that you yourselves have created a whole worldwide web of prayer warriors who are able to touch the heart of God who, in turn, is moved to touch your loved ones and bring about healing or recovery, comfort or a peaceful death.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David’s homily for June 26, 2020, Friday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Mat. 8:1-4

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