We are preparing ourselves to celebrate the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, which is the last Sunday before we enter into the Season of Lent. The Gospel presents us with the story of the healing of a man with leprosy.
“The leprosy about which the first reading and the gospel speak today is not to be confused with contemporary Hansen’s disease, medically identified only in 1868 by the Norwegian scientist Gerhard Hansen. A number of conditions, especially those with the signs of scaly skin, swellings, and exuding bodily fluids, are described as “leprosy” in this Sunday’s first reading from the book of Leviticus. Skin that flaked off, fluids that were unnaturally exuded from the body, were considered to be conditions that violated religious-cultural boundaries connected with the integrity, and therefore holiness, of the human body, and so were considered to diminish the worth of the person. People with such conditions were banished from the community, compelled to cry “Unclean!” and make themselves obviously disheveled so that others would avoid them. To be “unclean” was also regarded as a moral failing and therefore sinful. The person who came into contact with such an afflicted one was regarded as contaminated and as ritually unclean and as adding to the moral pollution of the very gregarious Middle Eastern society.
Leprosaria and Hansen’s disease still exist in some parts of the world, but social and religious alienation because of other causes is sadly much more familiar. Who are today’s “lepers,” people whom some consider as “polluting” the homogeneous and often exclusive society by their differences in race, culture, social mores, or physical and intellectual disabilities? The attitudes of the Nazis to the Jews, the Hutus to the Tutsis, the second people to the first and indigenous people of a land, are bred by a “leper” mindset. What are our attitudes to those we might consider as weakening the moral fiber of society – the drug addicts, the HIV/AIDS sufferers, those in prison? Are we on the side of harsh, punitive justice or compassionate restorative justice? …
In the gospel, Jesus is approached by a leper. He makes no attempt to move away from him. What he is moved by is compassion, the deep gut-wrenching response that identifies with the suffering of another, and his hand stretches out to touch the man and affirm his choice to heal him. How long had it been since the leper had felt the touch of another human being on his diseased flesh, had heard words of affirmation rather than insult? We should be more enlightened about the importance of touch – the holding of the hand of the seriously ill or dying person, the silent embrace of the bereaved. Yet for some people there is the almost hysterical avoidance of touching the HIV/AIDS sufferer, or of drinking from the communion chalice lest, contrary to all medical opinion, one might be infected by this. Jesus’s compassion and humanity bridge the gap between the holy and the unclean, freedom and taboos, sickness and health.
Jesus tells the man to observe the Mosaic Law by showing himself to a priest for the confirmation of his healing, and to offer a public sacrifice, an act of worship from which his leprosy had excluded him. By this instruction Jesus shows that he respects the Mosaic teaching, even though he will soon clash with some of the scribes’ interpretation of this. Ironically, the man now goes around publicly and freely, while Jesus must leave the town and go into the country to escape his unwanted publicity. Because he has touched the leper, according to the Law Jesus is also regarded as unclean and excluded. He has taken upon himself another’s infirmity; in his passion and death he will be the Suffering Servant who bears all our infirmities and transgressions for the sake of our salvation (cf. Isa 53:4-5). Yet people still come to him, caring nothing for his “infection” and everything for his miraculous power. As those who come to Jesus, what are we seeking from him? Do we want to be infected with his compassion or with the miraculous? How does Jesus touch us – and how do we touch others?” (Living Liturgy 2021)
It is now confirmed that we are reopening on February 17! And so, since we are reopening this Wednesday, at the same time it is in our Catholic Christian tradition Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Season of Lent. Here at St. Francis Xavier Church we will have three Masses that day: 8:00am, 12:00pm and 7:00pm, during which the distribution of ashes will take place. Please note that the distribution of ashes will be different this year – a priest will say only one time to all present “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. Then, after sanitizing his hands, he will sprinkle the ashes on the head of each person who comes towards him without saying anything. Please note that the reopening, if it takes place next week, will be with the limited capacity of 30%, with social distancing in place, masks mandatory, and sanitizing of hands before entering the church, just as it was before the beginning of the second lockdown.
On Wednesday our 5 elementary schools will participate in a virtual Liturgy of the Word for Ash Wednesday that will start at 9:10am on the parish YouTube channel. If you are homebound, please join our young students for this liturgy and pray with them and for them at the beginning of the Lenten Season. Also on the same day, the 7:00pm Mass (if we are reopened) will be livestreamed for our parishioners who are unable to join us in person.
The 2020 tax receipts are now ready at the parish office, but as you know the office is currently closed (hopefully only until February 16). If you would like to receive your tax receipt electronically, please email our parish office with the following information to confirm your identity and to help us make sure that we don’t send your receipt to the wrong person: your first and last name, your address, telephone number and envelope number. As soon as we have this information, we will be able to provide you with your electronic tax receipt. You can also pick up your tax receipt from the office after it has reopened. All tax receipts that have not been picked up in person or by email by the end of February will be mailed at that time, but if you would like to assist the parish in saving some expenses for stamps then please do so as right now our income is very limited.
In your prayers please remember the soul of our long-time parishioner Tiny Bonds who passed away this week: Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
A reminder of the upcoming Lenten Retreat for Youth and Families which will be held on Sunday evenings during Lent from 7:00-8:00pm over Zoom, as well as the online THINKfast social justice event for youth at the beginning of March. More information about both can be found here.
Our youth ministry community will also be hosting their second online Rosary of the year on Zoom this coming Thursday, February 18 at 7:00pm! All are welcome to participate. Please email Wes at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom invite if you are not already on the contact list. If you are interested in helping to lead the prayers and reflections please let her know.
Join us this Sunday for the celebration of the Mass on the parish YouTube channel at the usual time of 10:00am with the Rosary prayed at 9:30am.