HOMILY – 14 TH FEBRUARY 2021
ST. MARK 1:40-45 – JESUS CURES THE LEPER
Today is the last Sunday before Lent – known as Quinquagesima Sunday. Quinquagesima is the Latin for fifty. So, if you go to your calendar and count back from Easter Sunday to today, you will get exactly 50 days – Quinquagesima. Today is also Temperance Sunday. Many of us when we hear the word “temperance” well often associate it with giving up things – like alcohol. As Benedictines we know from the rule of Saint Benedict that temperance does not have a negative connotation – rather Saint Benedict sees temperance as life-affirming, positive and a balanced approach to life.
Today’s gospel from Saint Mark is one of my favourite passages in the entire Bible. It is beautifully written. It is concise, clear, and you are in no doubt as to what it is all about. There is a clear meaning to this story and because it is so well narrated there is nothing much that someone like me can add to it. I am not going to waste your time by repeating this wonderful account from Mark.
I suspect that Mark reveals a certain characteristic of Jesus in this story that is not directly evident in the Gospels – Jesus’ humour. Leprosy has a number of characteristics in common with COVID. Leprosy is an airborne infection and the best way to protect against it is to cover your face. Over the past year or so we have learned only too well about the value of face coverings. There was no cure for leprosy in the time of Jesus and so if you caught the disease you were sentenced to a lifetime of quarantine – total isolation from others. Thankfully today 95% of the world’s population is immune to leprosy or Hansons disease as it is now known. Thankfully, also like COVID, there is a vaccine to counteract the Hansons disease.
We had a senior student in our school who had gone through his time here very much under the radar. He was academically bright but he hardly participated in many extra-curricular activities – legal or illegal! He wasn’t particularly unpopular, he just kept to himself and most of the time he was content with his lot. He didn’t bother anyone and nobody bothered him. A likeable young man. Coming up to the mock exams a third year who was cramming for his junior cert mocks approached him and asked him for help with his maths and science. The older boy agreed. There was only one condition – nobody was to know about this. Amazingly, when the results came out, the third year’s grades were considerably higher than predicted. A bit of an investigation went on and when no foul play was discovered the third year sang like a parrot – “the sixth year helped me”. Needless to say the sixth year wasn’t happy he had been outed. He couldn’t go anywhere in the school without cramming students asking him for help in maths and science.
I can imagine Jesus with a wry smile telling the leper not to tell anyone but knowing full well that the leper had to go public in order to be let out of the life sentence of quarantine he had been subjected to. The tables are now turned between Jesus and the leper. Before he was cleansed, the leper wasn’t allowed into towns or villages and he had to live in the wilderness. Now the leper is free to go into all the towns he wants – but because of his notoriety, Jesus cannot go to populated places any more. And now it is Jesus who has to live outside the towns – in the wilderness. We can learn so much from Mark’s story of Jesus and the leper. The leper wasn’t afraid to go down on his knees before Jesus. He didn’t ask to be “cured”. He asked to be “cleansed”. Let us never be ashamed to ask to be cleansed in the sure and certain knowledge that this is what Jesus wants for all of us no matter our shortcomings and failings. Lastly, today is Saint Valentine’s Day and we extend our best wishes to lovebirds and romantics of all ages and wherever you are. Happy Valentine’s Day. The relics of Saint Valentine are in the charge of the Carmelites in their church in Whitefriar
Street in Dublin. This past week we monks learned a lesson from the story of Saint Benedict and his sister Saint Scholastica. The lesson we learned is that “love conquers all” – “amor vincit omnia”. We can also learn from The Beatles: “all you need is love. Love is all you need”
Fr Denis Hooper OSB