|14 - Ten Lepers|
As proclaimed by St Paul, in the vision of the Church, even before the foundation of the world, God was purposed to create us in the love of His Son, the “Beloved”; and, having created us, to adopt us in His love as sons and daughters. He wanted to do this. St Paul says that this was according to the good pleasure of His will; that is to say, it gave Him delight to create us just so He could pour out on us every heavenly and spiritual blessing as His adopted sons and daughters. He made us to be holy and blameless so that we could exist and live in the praise of the glory of His grace that He so abundantly gave to us in His Beloved. (Eph 1:4ff.)
When I pass beyond the words and into the reality the words of St Paul are describing, I have to catch my breath from what I see. We were created for praise? What does that mean? Do you not give yourself to praise only when you are overflowing with joy and thanksgiving? Do you not praise only someone whom you love with every fiber of your being? To exist in praise would be to live in a stream of joy and thanksgiving flowing continuously from one’s heart. In the vision of the Church, this pouring forth of joy from the heart is the spontaneous response of the heart in thanksgiving to God who out of the sheer goodness of His immeasurable love, emptied Himself and became one with us just so He could pour out on us all the heavenly and spiritual riches of His own divine nature because He wants to; He voluntarily ascended the Cross and endured the agony of the crucifixion because He wants us to live in His light and His joy in the glorious goodness of His love.
The Church proclaims to those who would listen that we exist for sheer joy in oneness with God. The Church wants to bring us into our heart because that’s where we open onto God. And the Church is the very body and blood of Christ. In His Church, Christ God wants us to become one with Him so that we constantly draw from the riches of His heavenly goodness, our hearts flowing in a perpetual bubbling of joy. Christ wants to make us to become all fire, all light that burns in an unquenchable fire of love, so that in sheer joy we are constantly pouring out praise and thanksgiving not just to “God” as to some impersonal cosmic force, but to the “Beloved”, to the God who is the only Lover of mankind, the Lord who is the greatly Compassionate One.
Nor is this vision the fantastic generation from an overactive religious imagination. It is the concrete, objective reality of the Church that has been revealed to us in the flesh, in the mystery of the “Beloved” becoming incarnate of the Holy Spirit and ever-Virgin Mary. In this morning’s Gospel, we see the Beloved doing the very thing He wants to do to us: He cleanses the ten lepers and gives them life; not just life but the life of His Resurrection, overflowing with the heavenly and spiritual riches of God, life that is bathed in light, life soaking wet with joy and thanksgiving in love for the Beloved who gives Himself ceaselessly to us.
Let’s ponder the cleansing of this Savior as we see it applied to the ten lepers. The lepers were not just diseased. Ostracized from society because of their leprosy, cut off from family, from friends, from loved ones and doomed to spend the rest of his days cut off from human society, a leper was as good as dead. In the same way, are we not cut off from God and from heaven because of the leprosy of our soul caused by our sins? And have we not become so accustomed to our separation from God caused by our leprosy that the vision of the Church sounds to us like a fairy tale; so, we give the desires of our soul over to fantasies and wishful thinking that have no reality. They exist only in our imagination.
Beloved faithful, the very Beloved who became flesh and dwelt among us, and who everywhere He went healed the sick and raised the dead, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, who made the lame to walk, and who finally even destroyed the power of death to unite us to Our Creator by His glorious Resurrection, this same Beloved, brothers and sisters, is the Mystery of the Church, the very Church we stand in this morning. For, the Church is His body that was crucified and is now risen from the dead. The Church is energized by His Spirit, the same Spirit Who raised Him from the dead. The Church, then is all about the healing of our soul and body, the cleansing of our spiritual leprosy, raising us from gloom to joy and from despair to thanksgiving, from fear and anxiety to ceaseless praise of the Creator in the power and glory of His Resurrection that He so graciously pours out on those who receive Him.
The Church is not a school of thought; she is not a religion alongside other possible religions. She is not an organization of “like-minded” individuals who hold to a common philosophy of life as though she were a religious version of a political party. She is the concrete and spiritual reality of the Beloved Son of the Father, and as such, she is all about the healing of our soul and body, penetrating all the way into the tomb of our heart to touch our soul cut off from God in the leprosy of our sins and trespasses and to cleanse our souls, to raise us up so that we are made to live in the joy and thanksgiving of ceaseless praise for the Beloved. If we do not find healing in the Church it’s because we don’t “do” what the Church tells us to do. We don’t “do” the Church. We don’t make the mystery of her Christ, the “Beloved”, our life. We make the world our life; we make the leprosy of sin our life.
Everyone who descends into the baptismal waters of Christ’s Holy Church is immersed into the death and resurrection of Christ and is made soaking wet, within and without, in the love of the “Beloved”. Everyone is cleansed of his leprosy. Everyone is clothed in the Robe of Light, in the glory of Christ’s own crucified and risen humanity that has conquered death by His death. Even so, we are ignorant like little children. We don’t know what to do next. So, the Church in her goodness, in her love for us, in her yearning for us to be healed of our leprosy and to be raised up into the joy of heaven, shows us what to do and how to do it. Embracing us in the joy of her own thanksgiving to the Beloved, she brings us from the font to the Chalice of Holy Eucharist, Holy Thanksgiving, and she gives to us the very body and blood of the “Beloved”; she gives to us His Resurrection as our food and drink, and His life and His glory is incorporated into our very bodies.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is the grace of the Beloved. With whom do you want to find yourself this morning and the rest of your life: with the nine who went their merry way, probably back into the world they had lived in before their leprosy, or with the one who turned back to the Beloved when he discovered he was healed? That is to say, he repented, and he came to fall at the feet of the Savior. Was he forced to do this? No, he wanted to do it, because his heart was melted in love for the Savior who had cleansed him and made him whole. And, in that moment I dare say that the one leper truly was saved, was truly raised to life, for he had become all fire, all light, every fiber of his being pouring forth praise for the Christ, the Beloved in the sheer joy and thanksgiving of that life that is in Him Who alone is the Life and the Resurrection, and who so loved us that He gave Himself for us, whose yearning desire is for our salvation, our cleansing, our healing, our joy.
May the most merciful Savior find us in the company of this one leper. May the most merciful Savior help us to join ourselves to the company of this one. May the most merciful Savior help us who were cleansed of our leprosy in the waters of our baptism to turn back, to repent and to draw near the Savior in the fear of God, with faith and love, so that we may exist from this day, from this hour, from this moment to eternity in praise for the Beloved. Amen.