I was fourteen or thereabouts when I went on a weekend pilgrimage with all night vigil to Lourdes. I remember the grotto and it’s astonishing sense of silence despite the desnsity of the crowds, and I remember the town and it’s astonishingly tacky plastic stuff. But once you had navigated the smelly river and the glow in the dark rosaries, the Basilica and grotto were real holy places where the still small voice could be heard.
If you have never read Robert Hugh Benson’s book on his stay there, I highly recommend it.
Lourdes had a special meaning for me as my grandfather had lived five extra years having taken the waters. He had throat cancer and had been told he wouldn’t make six months. If he had only lived that long I would never have known him. As it was he lived another five years, which, given the state of his cancer and the level of cancer care back then is a pretty neat miracle. I took St. Bernadette as my Confirmation name in gratitude.
I was told that grandad had considered becoming Catholic but had been afraid of the idea of going to Confession. It was a shame.
Today the first reading didn’t seem to have much to do with Liturgy, holiness and prayer. It was the medical requirements for quarentien away from the people of Israel, should someone find themselves infected with leprosy. The rules were that the person with leprosy was to remove themselves to live outside the camp, so as not to spread the awful disease. But there was hope, even the, for anyone cleansed of the disease was to present themselves to the priests to be declared clean.
On a practicle and historical note the leper hospices of England run by the monastories, effectively quarenteened lepers so that the disease was almost eradicated here. I think some of the good work was undone when a certain proflicage king of the Tudar family had all the hospitals closed down and handed over to his mates.
Anyway, back to the readings. In the Gospel a leper approaches Jesus as says the rather heartrending words, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” To which Jesus replies, “Of course I want to!”
Of course the main thrust of all this leprosy talk isn’t so much that it’s about the disease but about being made an outcast from a community. In fact Jesus becomes outcast, in that He can no longer walk in the town thanks to the healed man telling everyone Jesus healed his leprosy.
It’s understandable that when we hear Jesus healed this man because of course He wanted to, that we say “If you want to, you can make me clean too.”
Only you see, there were plenty of lepers and outcasts who never were made clean physically and there are plenty of sick and outcasts today for whom the answer is, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” And He goes out of the town and is alone.
Physical healing isn’t going to happen for everyone – but we can hope that if we approach Him in sorrow we can get the spiritual cleanliness we need; although we will have to go and show the priest in Confession. 🙂 (see how the new fulfils the old and doesn’t negate it?)