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 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?
I remember being asked about a research method in grad school. Everyone uses one; some method of negotiating reality, other people, my calendar, my values and my religion. I got a little cheeky in my response. I said, “This one doesn’t peak my fun meter.” The prof was not impressed. He quoted it back to me in ridicule for the next few years of our program. But what peaks our fun meter? What gives us a little zip, a hit of adrenalin?
This weekend we are invited to embrace those our society considers lepers – those outside ourselves and those inside. Serving lepers is our sanity and sobriety. It makes us real. It gives eventually 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 leper. He seldom could live up to his 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.
Jesus did not exclude the outcasts of his day. And it is fitting that his disciples imitate his example… Unless we embrace our lepers, Oopen our homes, arms and pocket books…to them… We will never be free. Unless we get past that respectable image our society puts in front of us religious folks…we will never personally be whole.
Sorry about Sacred Lent’s forty days starting on Valentine’s Day. But 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, the road from ashes to Easter.
A gentle week.
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM