13th Sunday after Pentecost
The cry of distress found in today’s introit, taken from Psalm 73, seems to echo that of the ten lepers of the Gospel who cry out to the Lord for mercy. The psalmist, in a period of social upheaval and catastrophic events, cries out to the Lord to not forget His people, His poor ones who find themselves without aid. The lepers, infected with a shameful disease which placed them on the fringes of society, abandoned by all, turn themselves to the One who alone can bring a remedy.
Saint Augustine tells us that leprosy is the symbol of false doctrines, for as the leper’s skin is in part healthy and in part infected, so those who have part of the truth often mix it with error; such are heretics who pick and choose the dogmas they like, but leave the others aside. This is why it is important that the pastors of the Church denounce error, especially when they see it infecting their faithful. An integral faith is essential to living a truly Christian life, for error, even a small error, can lead to big mistakes and spiritual catastrophes.
More commonly, however, leprosy in Holy Scripture is simply considered as a symbol of sin. The disease, which disfigured those who were infected by it, was also contagious, which explains why they were forbidden from associating with the rest of the population, and had to cry out to Jesus from a distance. Sin is the disease of the soul. It disfigures it, it kills it, by taking away the life of grace, it infects others by bad example. What is the remedy for sin? Divine Mercy. How do we obtain divine Mercy? By praying for it as the lepers did: Jesus, Master, Have mercy on us. But what does Our Lord say to them? Go, and show yourselves to the priest.
In the Old Covenant, when a person was healed of leprosy, they were commanded to go and present themselves to the priest who was invested with the authority to declare them cleansed, pure, and therefore able to associate with others. In the New Covenant, we are also told to go and show ourselves to the priest, but it takes on a new meaning. On Easter Sunday evening, when the Lord appeared to the apostles, He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, saying: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. These words imply that the priest must have knowledge of the sins of the penitent, otherwise he could not know if he is to absolve or not. Go and show yourself to the priest, then, means: Go, and unveil your soul to the priest by confessing your sins. Take yourself to him as the minister of Christ and the physician of your soul. Hide nothing from him. The more open you are about your sinfulness, the better help you will get.
We learn a number of things from this. First of all, the sacrament of penance, or confession, was instituted in order to forgive sins; but sins cannot be forgiven if they are not known. It is therefore not enough to say: I have sinned. One must specify what is wrong and go into some detail, in the same way that when we go to the doctor, we do not say: I’m not well, can you help me? We tell the doctor what’s wrong, exactly where we are hurting; we expose to him the ailing part of our body, even though this can be rather unpleasant and sometimes humiliating.
This is why it is not enough to confess to having violated, for example, the 5th commandment. For each commandment is expressed in general terms, but involves other sins as well. Thou shalt not kill, also entails not hurting others, not speaking ill of them, not reviling them, not judging them rashly, etc. The same can be said of all the other commandments. It sometimes happens that a person does not know exactly how to go about making a good confession, or does not know how to express one’s sins. For this a detailed examination of conscience can be helpful.
Do not be afraid to show yourself to the priest, that is, to unveil the most secret sins, even though they be the most hidden. They must come out in order to be absolved; the wound must be cleansed before it can heal. When one confesses one’s sins to the priest, one might hope to receive some good advice on how to make progress; it is indeed preferable to receive such help. This would depend on the priest’s formation and talents. However, the essential remedy of the confessional is the confession itself. The very fact of avowing one’s sins, bringing them out in the open, as it were, and revealing them to God’s minister, has a healing effect in and of itself. The power of the keys, that is to say, the power to absolve sins, is the supreme medical instrument which cuts into the soul and removes the infection. And in that way, one is made whole again.
The forgiveness of sins through the sacrament of penance, important and essential as it is, serves only to make us worthy to take part in the life of the Church, the culminating aspect of which is the Holy Mass and Holy Communion. The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”, and it is interesting to note that the Gospel mentions this thanksgiving when it tells us that one of the lepers returned after being healed to give thanks to God. And so we see that the two sacraments of Penance and Eucharist are symbolically referred to in today’s Gospel. Let each of us make good use of these gifts of God, these powerhouses of grace, that are at our fingertips, and to which there is no limit. Receive frequently the sacrament of penance, for it contains a most potent grace, to not only be freed from sin, but also to be strengthened against sin in the future. But frequent Holy Mass and Holy Communion as well. Today’s communion verse reminds us that the Holy Eucharist, the true bread from Heaven, contains all that is delicious and the sweetness of every taste.
As we progress in our knowledge of the faith, we should not just find ourselves resisting sin or barely avoiding it. We should grow in virtue. This is why we find in today’s collect the beautiful prayer, asking God to increase within us the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, that we may love, not just obey, but love what God has commanded, and in this way obtain what He has promised.
Christian life is not about avoiding mortal sin, my Friends. That is only the first step, the prerequisite. It is about developing a true life of communion with God, and this is done by knowing Him better through faith, having confidence that He will lead us to a blessed eternity by means of His grace, and loving Him above all things.
Finally, it is not enough to thank God in our heart. We have the duty to give an outward expression of our gratitude towards God. St Bernard observes that those who at first are not so highly favoured, are frequently the most faithful to this duty of gratitude, and thus earn for themselves new and greater blessings. Thy faith hath made thee whole, would seem to indicate that in reward for his faith, the Samaritan received with the cure of his corporal disease not only the first grace of justification, but also a higher grace of sanctity and the crowning blessing of perseverance therein.
So let’s be sure to thank God, not just every now and then, but very often throughout each day. Let those beautiful words “Thank you” be ever on our lips. Let’s learn once again how to say “Thank you” for everything. Let’s thank our neighbour, our family members, our colleagues, strangers who may lend a helping hand, learning to not take things for granted but being appreciative of what each one does for the whole. Above all, let us thank God at all times, for the pleasant and the unpleasant, for the encouragements and for the criticism, for the nice weather and the bad, for the good health and the illness, for the prosperity and the adversity. Gratitude is the secret to obtaining all the graces we stand in need of, for when God sees a soul that is grateful for His gifts, He gives more and more.
In a few moments we will chant the beautiful offertory verse, from Psalm 30: In Thy hands, O Lord, is the time of my life, my entire destiny. Forget not the soul of thy poor servant. In Thee is all my hope. I thank Thee, I love Thee, I repent of having offended Thee, and I want to make the rest of my life a hymn of praise to Thy glory. Amen.