Monday, February 16, 2009

In His Passion, Jesus Became Like a Leper, Made Impure by Our Sins

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus Address of February 15, 2009

On these Sundays, the Evangelist Mark offers a sequence of various miraculous healings for our reflection. Today he presents a very special one -- that of a healed leper (cf. Mark 1:40-45) -- who, coming to Jesus, gets on his knees and says: “If you wish, you can make me clean!” Jesus, moved, stretches out His hand, touches him and says: “I do wish it. Be made clean!”

The man is healed instantly and Jesus asks him not to tell anyone and present himself to the priests to offer the sacrifice prescribed by the Mosaic law. The healed leper is unable to be quiet and proclaims to everyone what happened to him so that, the evangelist reports, still more sick people ran to Jesus from every part to the point of forcing Him to stay out of the cities so as not to be besieged by the crowds.

Jesus says to the leper: “Be made clean!” According to the ancient Jewish law (Lev. 13-14), leprosy was not only considered a sickness but the gravest form of “impurity.” It was the duty of the priests to diagnose it and declare the person afflicted with leprosy unclean. This person then had to keep his distance from the community and stay away from towns until he was certified to be healed.

Leprosy thus constituted a kind of religious and civil death, and its healing was a kind of resurrection. We might see in leprosy a symbol of sin, which is the true impurity of heart, distancing us from God. It is not, in effect, physical malady that distances us from Him, as the ancient norms supposed, but sin, the spiritual and moral evil.

This is way the Psalmist exclaims:

Blessed is he whose fault is taken away
and whose sin is covered

And then, turning to God:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said: "I shall confess my faults to the Lord,"
and you took away my guilt and my sin

(Ps. 31:1, 5 [32:1, 5]).

The sins we commit distance us from God, and, if they are not humbly confessed, trusting in the divine mercy, they will finally bring about the death of the soul. This miracle thus has powerful symbolic value. Jesus, as Isaiah prophesied, is the servant of the Lord who “bore our infirmities, endured our sufferings” (Isaiah 53:4). In His passion, Jesus will become like a leper, made impure by our sins, separated from God: He will do all this for love, with the aim of obtaining reconciliation, forgiveness and salvation for us.

In the Sacrament of Penance, Christ crucified and risen, through His ministers, purifies us with His infinite mercy, restores us to communion with the heavenly Father and our brothers, and makes a gift of His love, joy and peace to us.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the Virgin Mary, whom God preserved from every stain of sin, that she help us to avoid sin and to have frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Confession, the Sacrament of Forgiveness, whose value and importance for our Christian life needs to be rediscovered today.

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