February 11, Leper

In todays’ Gospel Story (Mark 1: 40-45) a person with leprosy says to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean”. Coupled with the general Lenten theme, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, this might offer an insight to how I observe Lent. I can ask Jesus to “make me clean”, take me where I need to go, and show me how I need to change, to grow, perhaps to see things differently, but is this something I really want to do? As I read and reread this Story it seems to lead me to yet more questioning.

Do I want to spend time time with Jesus and say to him, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean, and I trust in you that you will take me where you want me to go, even though I have no idea what this all means”. Can I even doubt that Jesus wants anything other than that each of us grow into the fullness for which we are being created? So what does this mean in my daily living?

In the Story the person with leprosy is an outsider, someone cut off from the community, a person who is excluded and so is hurting. We all want to belong, to be appreciated for who we are and how we see ourselves, and anyone who feels excluded is hurting. Is Jesus calling me to do something with the people in my life who feel excluded and hurt in any way, maybe even because of something I’ve done? As Jesus shows by how he lived, with God nobody is ever an outsider, ever excluded. God accepts each of us as we are, although many others around us do not. Some who consider themselves Jesus’ true followers disagree, focusing on ways to keep “undesirables” out, people who are not living as these folks think they should. This same thing is happening today in some religious traditions, allegedly in the name of God. Jesus fought back against such rules in his day and paid the price. Am I in any way part of that? Do I  think I’m qualified to tell others how they are supposed to live, how to write their story when I’m not sure how to write my own? I don’t have answers, but I do have questions, and I believe the Spirit is in the questioning.

How I understand Lent is important. It affects everything I do around Lent. Is it “something I have to do”, an obligation to follow more rules, get dispensations, fast, abstain, focus on my sinfulness, which is the way it is so often presented. Every year there are numerous laws and regulations promulgated, reinforcing the notion the Lent is strictly a matter of obligation for Catholics, and we do it because we have always done it. The focus on doing penance, giving things up, etc, is seen as a matter of obligation, law and obedience, even sin.

I can choose to see Lent as something joyful, an opportunity I have to listen, to be open to the Spirit inviting me to repent, to grow, to be aware of what is going on in me and around me, and in the people in my life, the signs of the times, etc. If I were seriously to say to Jesus, “if you wish, you can make me clean”, what might I have in mind? Do I have my own idea of what it means, or am I willing to leave it to him? What am I open to accepting, or not? With all that is going on these days, I ask for a graced understanding of where I am in all this, what is going on, and if Jesus is calling me to serve others in some way. I might need to get rid of my own personal agenda, whatever it is, even when I don’t recognize that I have one. The leper might be a symbol of my own unpleasant self-centered qualities which I’m not aware of, although no doubt others are.

While I talk a lot about being open, am I willing to let the Spirit call me to repent, to grow, to change where I look for my happiness? Am I locked in to an agenda that I need to let go of, no matter how much I might talk about freedom and openness? Am I somehow telling Jesus what I will and will not accept, where I will and will not go, what I will or will not do, what I will or will not let go of?

Jesus told the man to “Go show yourself to the priests”. Might these few words be inviting me to understand another facet of service as a priest, that of helping people see God happening in their own life, as difficult and dark as things might be for them? Lately I’m becoming increasingly aware of suffering going on all around me, in relationship difficulties, physical illness or injury, abuses of many kinds. This is disturbingly real especially among folks who suffer greatly from “church hurt”, from they way they are treated by religious organizations claiming to act in God’s name. Each of the people suffering is a reflection of God somehow. Why is this in my life now? Is any of it a call to me for something?

Lent can be as personal for me as I want it to be. I can keep it at a distance, do what I’ve always done for Lent simply because I’ve always done it, or I can freely enter into it, and do more wandering and wondering, growing, maybe to a different and richer awareness of life, of gratitude for the people in my life, people I am aware of, people I don’t know. May I live open to “if today you hear his voice harden not your heart”, to new and unexpected opportunities and people which I might not understand. Dare I ask the grace to be fully open, and mean it? Am I willing to take a chance and trust, maybe go where I would not of myself choose? Am I willing to move toward letting go of my need to feel in control?

I feel a peace-filled joy amid the confusion in my life right now, a gratitude for all that has happened and is happening, for who is in my life, and an excitement at what is coming, though I have no idea of what it might be. I’m in a good place, and it took a while to get here. I wouldn’t change a thing.  Just sayin  .  .  .