Sometime ago I visited Atotonilco el Grande in Mexico, living among the people so I could be more fluent in the Spanish language to be able to serve the Spanish speaking members of my parish. I could not live in the rectory for it was so cold. The rectory, as well as the church of St. Augustine, was constructed in 1536. It was very old and very cold; no heat. But a family agreed to give me a room in their house. Their 13 year old son gave up his room for me. I lived with a family of Mom and Dad and their three children. But the extended family all live around the area. We would eat breakfast in one of the homes, lunch in another family member’s house and dinner in yet another family member’s home. Everywhere I went people were so welcoming and so willing to help me. I celebrated Masses with them and it was a community celebration. Children ran around everywhere and felt free to speak and play with me. Not once did I feel like a visitor. I was disappointed that the weather was too cold for me, but the family was eager to provide me with a jacket. It was such an adventure to live with a family I didn’t know but felt as if I was part of them. When a teacher invited me to speak to students in elementary school, they were very happy to listen, even to my many blunders in Spanish language. We laughed so hard, and they tried to respond in English to my “gracias”! It made the experience of speaking a new language much easier.
As I reflect on my experience, I am more convinced than ever that the greatest miracle in this world is love, because love shrinks the distance between peoples and makes us one. Love brings together all who have been separated by social, cultural and religious differences. It is the fundamental mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In this Sunday’s scripture readings, Our Lord has to shrink the distance between the man with leprosy and his community. He doesn’t belong to his community because of his leprosy.
Overtime, leprosy has come to symbolize isolation and rejection. A leper had to shout as he moved around, “I am impure”, so that people could hear it and run away from him. Imagine yourself in that situation. Lepers lived close to people but the distance between them was so great that they couldn’t cross over from one to the other. Some families live the same experience: they live close but are so far away from each other because of unresolved issues and selfishness. When God’s love, present in Jesus Christ, touched the leper, he was healed and the distance between him and others shrank.
It is the mission of Jesus Christ to heal all the “leprosy” that separates us from God and others. It doesn’t matter what the “leprosy” is, Jesus isn’t afraid to touch you and heal you, and integrate you back into the community. All miracles come from love because God is love. May no one who comes close to you ever feel like the leper in this Sunday’s readings. Let the love in your heart lessen the distance between you and the people God’s providence puts in your life. Amen