Risky Business

This Sunday’s Gospel narrates Jesus’ remarkable choice to touch the ‘unclean’ leper in order to heal him, risking uncleanness to cleanse.

This ‘marvelous exchange’ reminded me of that canon of risky-mercy among the saints, St. Damian of Molokai, who echoed the sentiment of this Christ-risk:

I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ…Having no doubts about the true nature of the disease, I am calm, resigned, and very happy in the midst of my people. God certainly knows what is best for my sanctification and I gladly repeat: ‘Thy will be done.’

This resonates, for me, with my experience of those holy souls I have known and admired who bravely witness to Christ even as they walk intimately amid the mass of moral and spiritual leprosy that is human sin and failing, i.e. live in the real world. They achieve effective witness not by railing against the foul stench of this ubiquitous malaise, so that they might hate the illness or hail their own health, but rather they see the leprosy of others as their own and daily suffer its poison sting to heal the wound by mercy’s saving salve.

And as I reflect on that faith-insight, I recalled the story of another saint, an African desert father, Moses the Black:

One of the monks had committed a fault. A council met to offer judgment and Moses was invited, but refused to attend. Someone came to him to let him know the others were waiting, at which Moses went to the meeting. He took a leaking jug filled with water and carried it on his shoulder. When he arrived, the others came out to meet him asking, ‘What is this?’ Moses replied, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ Hearing that, they said no more to the erring brother, but forgave him.

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