“A Search for Sweetness”
St. Francis’s first taste of human freedom had to do with lepers. Hansen’s Disease scared the “Be Jesus” out of this handsome teen from medieval Assisi. He wrote in his 1221 “Testament” many years later… “WHILE I WAS IN SIN, IT SEEMED VERY BITTER FOR ME TO SEE LEPERS. AND THE LORD HIMSELF LED ME AMONG THEM AND I HAD MERCY UPON THEM. AND WHEN I LEFT THEM, WHAT SEEMED BITTER TO ME WAS CHANGED INTO SWEETNESS OF SOUL AND BODY.”
What can turn fear into sweetness? Something better? More beautiful? Not ugly smelly at all? Home? Family? Franciscan spirituality is often said to be search for “sweetness.” What does it for us? What do we spread on our toast in the morning?
This weekend we are invited to embrace those our society considers lepers – those outside ourselves and those inside. We also gently hold that “afraid” part of ourselves that paralyzes us as we get near contagion. Serving lepers is our sanity and sobriety. It makes us real. It eventually gives a pleasure that is sweeter than our most intimate sweetheart.
Paul of Tarsus had one didn’t he? An ugly, judgmental, “zealous” for the Lord…inside he was a leper. He seldom could live up to his own standards. As all of us know…kissing lepers can be hard work. It can be dangerous, frightening…not very popular. Our society still makes lepers of people that don’t understand: the foreigner, aged, handicapped, the dying. We put them in hospitals and prisons after all, …away from respectable people. Overcoming fear of contagion has occupied us this last year of pandemic. We’ve seen great heroism and sadness.
Jesus did not exclude the outcasts of his day. And it is fitting that his disciples imitate his example…Unless we embrace our lepers, open our homes, arms, and pocket- books…to them…We will never be free of fear. Unless we get past that respectable image our society puts in front of us religious folks…we will never personally be whole.
Valentine’s Day marks our last weekend before Lent. Thanks to those couples who will renew vows during the liturgies. Sending our hearts to a wider swathe than our local loved ones is the challenge of the season. All the best. Let’s walk this road to “sweetness” holding on to one another, this unusual year as we walk the road from ashes to Easter.
A gentle week.
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM