On Jesus, the 'Leper'

«Every Barrier Between God and Human Impurity … Is Torn Down»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before and after praying the midday Angelus with crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Last Sunday we saw that Jesus, in his public life, healed many sick people, revealing that God wants man to live, that he wants him to have life in abundance. The Gospel this Sunday (Mark 1:40-45) shows Jesus in contact with the malady considered at that time to be the most grave; those who suffered from it were considered «impure» and were excluded from social relationships. We are speaking of leprosy. A special law (cf. Leviticus 13-14) reserved the task of declaring persons with leprosy impure; and it was also the task of the priest to certify a healing and to permit their re-entrance into normal life.

As Jesus was preaching among the villages of Galilee, a leper met him and said to him: «If you wish it, you may heal me!» Jesus did not flee from contact with him, rather, moved by intimate participation in his condition, he reaches out his hand and touches him — going beyond what the law permitted — and said to him. «I do wish it. Be healed!» In that gesture and in those words of Christ there is the whole history of salvation, there is incarnated the will of God to heal us of the evil that disfigures us and destroys our relationships. In that contact between Jesus’ hand and the leper, every barrier between God and human impurity, between the Sacred and its opposite, is torn down, not to deny evil and its negative power but to demonstrate that God’s love is stronger than evil, even the most contagious and horrible. Jesus took our infirmities upon himself, he made himself a «leper» so that we might be healed.

A splendid existential comment on this Gospel is the celebrated experience of St. Francis of Assisi, which he presents at the beginning of his Testament: «The Lord told to me, Friar Francis of Assisi, to begin to do penance in this way: when I was in my sins, seeing lepers seemed to me something too terrible; and the Lord himself led me among them and had mercy on them. And after I left them, what had seemed terrible to me became sweet to the soul and body. And then I stayed and left the world behind.» Jesus was present in those lepers whom Francis met when he was still «in his sins,» as he says; and when Francis drew near to one of them and, overcoming his own disgust, embraced him, Jesus healed Francis of his leprosy, that is, of his pride, and he converted him to the love of God. This is the victory of Christ, who is our profound healing and our resurrection and new life!

Dear friends, let us turn in prayer to the Virgin Mary, whom we celebrated yesterday, remembering her appearances at Lourdes. Our Lady entrusted to St. Bernadette a message that is always relevant: the invitation to prayer and penance. Through his Mother it is always Jesus who comes to meet us, to free us from every sickness of body and soul. Let us allow ourselves to be touched and purified by him, and let us be merciful with our brothers!

Dear brothers and sisters!

I am following with much apprehension the tragic episodes of growing violence in Syria. In recent days they have claimed many victims. I remember the victims in prayer, among whom there are children, the wounded and those who suffer the consequences of a conflict that is becoming ever more worrisome. Moreover, I renew the call to put an end to the violence and bloodshed. Finally, I invite everyone — and first of all the political authorities in Syria — to prioritize the path of dialogue, of reconciliation and of commitment to peace. It is urgent to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the different groups within the country as well as to the wishes of the international community, concerned with the common good of the whole society and the region.

[After the recitation of the Angelus the Holy Father addressed the crowds in various languages. In English he said:]

I am pleased to welcome all of you to Saint Peter’s Square on this cold morning, especially the students and staff of Sion-Manning School from London. At Mass today, the Gospel tells us of how our Lord willingly cured a leper. May we not be afraid to go to Jesus, beg him to heal our sinfulness, and bring us safely to eternal life. God bless you and your loved ones!

[Concluding in Italian, he said:]

I wish everyone a good Sunday and a good week! Have a good week! I hope to see you next Sunday without snow! Best wishes, have a good Sunday!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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