Tag Archives: leper

Francis and the leper

Very few conversions happen in an instant. Often conversion is a long process, with various little conversions, until there is a “tipping point,” an event that brings a person to a turning point, where a decision has to be made.

For St. Francis, I think this was his encounter with the leper. As he himself wrote in his Testament:

The Lord inspired me, Brother Francis, to begin a life of  penance in this way: for when 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 on them.  And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body; and afterwards I lingered a little and left the world.

Francis began to see in the poor Christ. Nikos Kazantzakis, in his highly speculative novel Saint Francis, has Francis explain this to Brother Leo:

“This, Brother Leo, is what I understood: all lepers, cripples, sinners, if you kiss them on the mouth—”
He stopped, afraid to complete his thought.
“Enlighten me, Brother Francis, enlighten me, do not leave me in the dark.”
Finally, after a long silence, he murmured with a shudder:
“All these, if you kiss them on the mouth— O God, forgive me for saying this— they all. . . become Christ.”

This, though, is not far from the experience of Francis. Andre Vauchez refers to the Assisi Compilation which has Francis reflecting:

When you see a poor person, he said, you must consider that person in the name of the one who comes, that is, the Christ who took upon himself our poverty and our infirmity. Thus the poverty and infirmity of this person are the mirror in which we must contemplate in love the poverty and infirmity that Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered in his own body in order to save humankind.

To see Christ in the poor person in front of me, to respond in love – that is the beginning of conversion.





The leper and me

In today’s Gospel, Mark 1: 40-45, a leper approaches Jesus, kneels before him and challenges him:

If you want to, you can make me clean.

A leper was not supposed to do that. As the first reading from Leviticus (13: 1-2,44-46) tell us, the leper was supposed to separate himself from all the “clean” people and cry out, “Unclean. Unclean.”

He knew he was unclean, a leper, but he refused to let himself be identified as a leper, as an unclean person. He saw a way out – healing by Jesus.

He did not hide himself – as Adam and Eve hid themselves when they realized that they were naked after having eaten the forbidden fruit.

No he sought the Lord. He sought a change of life. He wanted to be healed.

Lent will start on Wednesday.

Lent is traditionally a time of penance, of conversion.

Perhaps the first step on the road to conversion is recognizing our condition – as sinners, as people who are not perfect and who fail to live up to who we are called to be.

But the second step is essential: we need to turn to the Lord for healing.We must not let ourselves be defined by our condition.

This can be expressed better in some languages, like Spanish, were there is a distinction between two ways of being. “Ser” means to be in the sense of one’s nature, one’s identity, something that defines us: I am a US citizen. “Estar” involves a condition that can change: I am tired.

Sinfulness is our condition. It’s not our identity.

We are called to be holy.

Yes, we sin. But God can change that.

The leper knew that. He did not deny that he had leprosy, but he refused to be defined by his leprosy because he knew of the loving compassion of God, made manifest in Jesus.

Lent is a time to let out sins and faults out into the open – at least to ourselves and God. Then, approaching the throne of grace, we can ask the Lord to heal us.

And, as Jesus said to the leper, he says to us:

I want [to heal you]. Be clean.