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Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Recognize the Gifts of the Lord with Wonder and Gratitude

With the wish of experiencing the fact that a grateful heart is a faithful heart.

Roman Rite

XXVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C- October 13, 2019

2 Kings 5:14-17; 2Tm 2; 8-13; Lk 17:11-19

Faith in Christ that heals and saves

 

Ambrosian Rite

VII Sunday after Saint John’s Martyrdom

Is 66: 18b-23; Ps 67: 2-5 7-8; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Mt 13:44-52

Salvation is revealed to peoples

 

1) Nothing is due to us.

In continuity with the one of last Sunday, today’s Liturgy of the Word proposes the theme of faith, underlining its dimension of gratuitousness and gratitude. As already emerged in the parable of the “useless servant”, we cannot establish a relationship of “giving and having” with God to whom we must pay homage in so far as He does something good for us.

The Samaritan, who returns to Christ to thank him for healing its leprosy, goes to Jesus with a heart full of gratitude for a healing received for free. “This man is not satisfied with having obtained healing through his faith, but ensures that this healing reaches its fullness by returning back to express his gratitude for the gift, recognizing in Jesus the true Priest who, after having raised and saved him, can set him on the way and welcome him among his disciples “(Pope Francis).

It is not enough to be healed to be saved; we must return to Christ, look at him with eyes of faith and thank Him. Indeed, authentic and adult “faith” is manifested in “gratitude”, the “Eucharist” that makes the leper and Jesus a single flesh capable of giving without reserve. The one among the ten who, after experiencing the love of Jesus who “healed him”, “comes back”, converts, and passes from slavery to freedom, from supplication to “praise”, is the one who reaches this kind of faith. It is the decisive meeting: he is not ashamed to “prostrate” before Jesus showing himself in his poverty. He recognizes in him not only the Master but also the only and authentic Priest who, after having “healed” him, can certify the “salvation” of his heart. Only those who have discovered to have being a “Samaritan”, a heretic, a sick and distant man, can give themselves with “faith” to Christ, who loved them to the point of becoming a “stranger” on the Cross, “raising” them in his resurrection and make them “go” into a new life. And we, are we converted going back to Christ?

Without salvation, health serves no purpose because it does not give a life that lasts. Let us go to Christ eucharistically, handing ourselves over to Him to “save” us and make us free to love. We ask the Lord to heal our body and soul because we are not only healed but saved and led to the “land” of freedom and peace. This “land” is not of this world; all the divine plan exceeds history, but the Lord wants to build it with men, for men and in men starting from the place and time in which they live and that he himself has given.

  • The one who asks with faith receives.

       In the first reading and in the Gospel of today’s liturgy we hear about the miraculous healing of the lepers. They had a disease that at that time was considered the worst of all the diseases up to the point that they were considered “impure”[1] and worthy to be excluded from every social relation. The leper was a person excommunicated by life and by humanity. The law (Lev 13-14) gave to the priests the power to declare the person a leper and consequently impure. Later, it was up to the priest to certify his healing and his right to be readmitted to normal life.

Let’s now imagine being the disciples, being with Christ and looking at these sick people who were begging: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” (Lk 17:14).

What do we see? We see poor suffering ghosts avoided by all, disgusting to sight, lucky if they get a piece of bread, a little of water and a hole where to hide, and who speak with difficulty because of their swollen lips.

What do we hear? We hear these living Dead asking the Master for health and for a miracle because they know that he is powerful with words and deeds. How could Jesus avoid them like all the others did? How could His heart not listen to them? How could the Master in his loving almightiness not grant their wish? He does the miracle.

What should we do? Let’ follow the example of Saint Francis of Assisi as described in his Last will: “See in what manner God gave it to me, to me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penitence; when I lived in sin, it was very painful to me to see lepers, but God himself led me into their midst, and I remained there a little while. When I left them, what had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy. A little while after, I quitted the world.”  Jesus was there, in those lepers that Saint Francis had met when he was still “in sin.” When Francis approached one of them and, overcoming his disgust, embraced him, Jesus healed him from his leprosy, his pride and converted him to God’s love.

This is the victory of Christ who is our healing and our resurrection to a new life without the leprosy of sin that has been forgiven.

Such a miracle (healing and forgiveness) is the sign of the renewed friendship of God with his more precious creature: man. This miracle makes us not only healed people but also evangelizers: Jesus makes us living announcers.

  • A miracle under condition? Obedience is not enough. Love and gratitude are required

       Contrary to other healings, this time Jesus, before healing the ten lepers, orders to them to go to the priests (the law required to go to the priest so that he could verify that the person was free from the disease). This is a demonstration of the deep trust that all the ten lepers had in Jesus. (“As they were going, they were cleansed”- Lk 17:15). It is natural to ask why, at the end of the narration, Jesus seems to ascribe faith only to the Samaritan (And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?  -Lk 17:18). He was the only one who showed gratitude for having been healed. Actually, his giving thanks was not a simple act of kindness, but an authentic “act of faith” in the saving power of God, freely manifested in Christ Jesus toward a sick person who was also a foreigner. He came back to thank and to “glorify God.”

The nine lepers had met Jesus, but they saw in him only an opportunity to have their bodies healed and then forget all about it.

On the contrary, the Samaritan, the foreigner, understood in Christ the good Essence of the Mystery that had saved him. He glorified God and welcomed Christ as did Zachary, the father of John the Baptist, Mary, the virgin mother of the Son of God, and Simeon, the old man with a heart so young who was able to recognize Him in the baby brought to the temple by his poor parents that had money only to buy a pair of doves.

The Samaritan is every one of us who welcomes Christ and puts his life in His life. This saved man understood that salvation is the relationship with Him, the source of life and not just the fact that he had been healed from leprosy. He then came back to the Savior.[2] Salvation is not only to be cleansed and to be healed. Salvation is much more; it is not good health because it soon or later goes away. Salvation is something else; it is a relationship with Him, turning to Him and glorifying God.

Glorifying God on our knees as the leper did (“realizing he had been healed, he
returned, glorifying[3] God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet[4] of Jesus and thanked[5] him”
Lk 17:15), let’s pray with the canticles of Zachary, Mary and Simon.

The Benedictus[6] (that is recited in the morning Lauds) is the canticle of the waiting and of the renewed welcoming of God. To welcome God is for us a commitment and a project. The Magnificat[7] (that it is recited at Vespers) is the canticle of thanksgiving for the fulfillment of Christ’s mystery: having welcomed God makes one burst in the hymn of graces. The Nunc dimittis[8] (that is recited at Compline) is a canticle of thanksgiving with which, when evening comes, the faithful puts himself in God’s arms: man melts in an act of pure abandonment to God.

Our prayer begins making ours the lepers’ prayer. Let’s refine it with the attitude of the healed and grateful Samaritan and let’s make it a “job” with the help of the Liturgy of the Hours. The Book of Hours should be considered not just a job for the monks, the nuns and the priests. It is a job that sanctifies the Christian, the Church and gives glory to God. To this job of praise and intercession are called the consecrated Virgins. “Receive the book of the liturgy of the Church; may the praise of your heavenly Father be always on your lips; pray without ceasing for the salvation of the whole world” (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins). These women work in the world not only to earn their living, but they work for the world above all with prayers of intercession. They are an example because they “work” with prayers showing to us that prayer is work, the most efficient one, because it gives us the energy to do good.

Work is prayer, participation to the doing of Christ the Redeemer, and obedience to the word of God who has created the world and saves it.

Prayer is work, not an escape from the world and from the difficulties of everyday life but action in service to the entire world so that God, the only Master of history, may transform it in his Kingdom as Jesus has promised to us and taught us to ask for.

 

Spiritual reading

Meeting of St. Francis of Assisi with the leper,

told by Tommaso da Celano in “The First Life of St. Francis”, 348-349

To Kiss a Leper

One day while Francis was praying fervently to God, he received an answer: “O Francis, if you want to know my will, you must hate and despise all that which hitherto your body has loved and desired to possess. Once you begin to do this, all that formerly seemed sweet and pleasant to you will become bitter and unbearable, and instead, the things that formerly made you shudder will bring you great sweetness and content.” Francis was divinely comforted and greatly encouraged by these words.

Then one day, as he was riding near Assisi, he met a leper. He had always felt an overpowering horror of these sufferers, but making a great effort, he conquered his aversion, dismounted, and, in giving the leper a coin, kissed his hand. The leper then gave him the kiss of peace, after which Francis remounted his horse and rode on his way.

Some days later he took a large sum of money to the leper hospital, and gathering all the inmates together, he gave them alms, kissing each of their hands. Formerly he could neither touch or even look at lepers, but when he left them on that day, what had been so repugnant to him had really and truly been turned into something pleasant.

Indeed, his previous aversion to lepers had been so strong, that, besides being incapable of looking at them, he would not even approach the places where they lived. And if by chance he happened to pass anywhere near their dwellings or to see one of the lepers, even though he was moved to give them alms through some intermediate person, he would nevertheless turn his face away and hold his nose. But, strengthened by God’s grace, he was enabled to obey the command and to love what he had hated and to abhor what he had hitherto wrongfully loved

 

Prayer

Father of all men,

for you, nothing is too small.

No heart for you is too hard

not to love him.

You wanted to need all as,

How could we men not need others?

Teach me how to discover the wonders

of every man and woman.

The beauty, goodness, the splendor, the light

even in the saddest and tormented face is your light.

Let me find out that there is no person

that has nothing to tell me or teach me.

Let me understand how from humble works

in many places depends my daily life.

Each one depends on all

so that humanity be complete

and the body of Jesus your Son to be whole.

I look forward to this fullness with the look

addressed to all those who will come.

Bless all, o Father,

and let me bless them with you.

Amen.

 

[1] Pure and impure for us are moral concepts. In the Bible, as in all the other religions, they are concepts very close to the ones of taboo or sacred. One is “impure” when he gets in contact with a mysterious power that can be good or bad. Then a purification rite must be performed to avoid the contact with such power. Some diseases for example, can make man impure because it is believed that the sick person is under the influence of demons. The contact with God too, can make someone “impure”. Only a few years ago it was possible to read also in some catholic liturgical books: “After Communion the priest “cleanses the chalice” with white linen”. Had the chalice become “impure” (in the moral meaning) because it had in it the blood of Christ? No. It had become “sacred’ because it had entered the sphere of the divine and its purification was a rite of “desacralization” that allowed it to be used again. The woman who has had a sexual intercourse must be purified. We could ask if this one too is a rite of “desacralization”: because she came in contact with God, the source of life. She, giving life, has entered the sexual sphere linked to life itself and must go through a purification rite to be able to carry on her profane existence. The question of pure and impure is very problematic and very much debated. Simplifications always risk distorting reality. However, we can say that: 1. The concepts of pure and impure very often don’t have any moral character but are based on taboos or sacred concepts.  2. Sometimes these words have a moral connotation. The confusion between these two concepts (cultural purification and moral purification) is without any doubt responsible for the disrepute given to sexuality. Where the Bible was talking of impurity in the “sacred” or cultural sense, we have often understood impurity in “moral” sense (E. Charpentier “Reading the Scriptures” Rom 1981).

For a clear and up to date presentation of the subject I’d suggest consulting “purity-impurity” in the Dictionary of Theology (Rom 2006) published under the supervision of Jean- Yves Lacoste.

[2] In the Greek text, it is used the word epistrefo, which means to turn toward someone or to convert.

[3] In the Latin text “magnificans” is used, meaning exalting. In the Greek, doxazon, or glorifying.

[4] Translating from the Greek text, this should read “he fell on his face at His feet.”

[5] In the Greek text, eucharisteo is used, which means to thank, to do Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that we live the faith and the encounter with Him who has saved us.

[6] Canticle of Zacchariah (Lk 1 68-79): ” Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; He has come to His people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour, born of the house of His servant David. Through His holy prophets He promised of old that He would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hates us. He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy Covenant. This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham: To set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our lives. You, My child shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our Lord the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

[7] Canticle of the Blessed Virgin Lk 1: 46-55My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.  He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.d He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

[8] Canticle of Simeon Lk 2:29-32Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel”.

About Archbishop Francesco Follo

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