Feb 11, 2012

6th Sunday - "Be made clean . . ."

". . . You can make me clean . . ."

Leviticus 13: 1-2,2,44-46
1 Cor 10: 31-11:1
Mk 1: 40-45

Whew! What a week this has been.  The HHS controversy on people of faith and the American Constitution has been a war of words and wills. The rise of tension between the interests of Church and State and the accommodation for people of faith in this Country has been a lesson in American style democracy.  While the issue is hardly ended, we may find some solace in our second reading from St. Paul this Sunday.
When can I exercise my rights as a Christian?  This seems to be the bottom line for us all. The clash between the interests of the secular government, which since our founding has taken a generally neutral and respectful stand towards religion, has been fired up by the recent very serious controversy.  As our Bishops recently stated: “It is the place of the Church, not of government to define its religious identity and ministry.”

St. Paul in ancient Corinth was faced with a diverse population.  Corinth, at the southern end of Greece, was a cross roads of trade and a major Mediterranean sea port.  One could imagine the buzz of commerce, languages, and competing cultures that inter-mixed and were marked by a variety of factions all wanting a place at the table of the “common good.”  Paul and his early Christian community not surprisingly met with much hostility as they too attempted to discern their place in the common culture. The greatest hostility, however, was from the Jewish community who labeled them as dangerous and heretical. For their message was a new one of love and equality; of peace and toleration all centered on an alleged wonder worker from Israel, his claim as the Messiah, across the same Sea with stories of miracles and resurrection. 

Paul knew his mission was not only to isolated communities but ultimately to the world as he preached Christ crucified and risen.  The ancient Judaic Law had a new interpretation of responsibilities. The new Gentile Christians did not need to be Jewish first but would be grandfathered in with a minimum of requirements.  All this new way was perceived as far too much accommodation.

Yet, speak they must.  Paul’s advice urges his Christian followers to: “. . .do everything for the glory of God.  Avoid giving offense . . . just as I try to please everyone in every way . . .” In other words, remain a community of charity and lead by your example and by your faith. Paul himself was an example of consistency and faithfulness to the new way of Christ.  Paul never watered down the Gospel of Christ and vigorously defended it wherever he preached.  But, all with charity rooted in truth.  Is there a lesson here for us today in this age of a war on a common search for a moral framework? Is the opposition coming from the culture around us or from our own ranks? 
In the Gospel story of the leper who sought healing from Jesus, we see a similar bold answer to the social expectations of the time.  Christ came to bring a new vision and open for all humanity a new relationship between God and humankind.  Despite the law of “clean and unclean” restrictions, for to touch a diseased individual brought uncleanness upon the other person, Jesus reached out and healed by touching the leper who was then made clean.  In doing so, Our Lord took upon himself the very disease and brought this unfortunate man afflicted with a death sentence to the hope of new life.

The Gospel of Christ has within it the power to cure and the Church is the agent of Christ whose Gospel we have a right and duty to proclaim and defend. In the midst of all the heated rhetoric this past week lies the very foundation upon which the Social teaching of the Church holds as fundamental – the human person:

We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person. (Catholic Social Principles)

St. Paul calls us to charity, respect and doing everything for the glory of God.  Jesus enfleshes those words as he carries out his mission in which God is glorified as we witness his power, his words and actions, particularly in the privilege he gives to us to carry that same mission to the culture of today.