Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
I don’t particularly like the holidays, but this year’s left me spinning. I don’t ever remember a holiday season that left me wondering and feeling more like I needed some healing than this year. I feel like the leper in today’s gospel selection who calls out to Jesus to heal him. I thought last year, when we cancelled all our family gatherings because of COVID-19 was bad. This year was worse. This year we did gather—some of us that is. The rest of us were left out in the cold (just like the holy family when they were looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem) because of our decision to or not to get vaccinated. I am fully vaccinated, two shots and a booster, and I wear a mask when in public or am asked to. No, I don’t want to get sick or be the cause of anyone else getting sick, but I do want to love and respect everyone, even those who think differently than I think. They are not untouchables—they just think differently than I do.
Lepers were the untouchables of Jesus’ time and yet, we read that Jesus reached out and touched the leper. Closer to our day is Saint Damian of Molokai, SS.CC who lived in the mid-nineteenth century and not too different from today, some people in his world were treated as untouchables and were legally shunned and quarantined from the rest of society. These people, like the one Jesus touched in today’s gospel selection were exiled to the island of Molokai where they were expected to fend for themselves. Father Damian left the comfort of his home in Belgium and went to live with the outcasts on Molokai helping them by medically, spiritually and physically providing for them and eventually died from leprosy himself.
I don’t know what the answer is for these crazy times. I especially don’t know what is medically called for today, but I do like Father Damian’s and Jesus’ approaches. There is something more important than me and my well-being. There is us and our well-being. Yes, Damian eventually caught leprosy and died from choosing to touch those he served, as did Jesus for doing and teaching what he taught. Their gifts of themselves gave us a better world.
God, help me love all the people I come in contact with today just as your son Jesus and servant Father Damian did. Help me trust that You are in control, not me. All I have to do is love.
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.