Today’s homily is given by Father Scott O’Brien, the student master for St. Dominic Priory in Saint Louis, Missouri.
I was a novice when the news first broke about the spread of HIV/AIDS; that was 35 years ago now. Some things were known about it at the time, like how it might be contracted but little else.
The threat of infection cast a heavy pall over the country from that time until fairly recently at least in the West. The virus was the impetus for panic, recrimination as well as compassion.
Curiously there was some suggestion at the time, that those infected by HIV were also more susceptible to Hansen’s disease or leprosy.
We know that in the biblical world, the reality of plague or pestilence was at times associated with what was called leprosy. Lepers appear in both the Jewish scriptures as we find in today’s first reading and of course in the Gospels.
Whether leprosy was Hansen’s disease or not, the disease elicited fear of contagion, reproach for sin and a very radical form of social distancing. It elicited from Jesus, presence, compassion, healing and reconciliation.
It is hard to imagine a leper who would turn down a cure. Yet remarkably, Naaman the Syrian initially did just that. Instructed to simply wash in the river, he declined, balking at the suggestion; this was beneath him. He expected a much more dramatic and extraordinary gesture from the prophet.
Lowering his expectations and setting aside his pride, he bathed and was made whole again, free of the disease, as well as the shame and stigma. When tempted to react at the growing threat of the coronavirus, we could pray for a dramatic rescue; an extraordinary intervention and indeed we will petition for such a deliverance.
But the miraculous we know is often found in what we rashly consider at first too ordinary, like washing our hands, covering our nose and mouth when we sneeze or cough, avoiding crowds and to self-quarantine when sick.
These precautions are within our reach and are to be followed. Through common sense and a trust in God’s providence, we can each avoid the temptation during this time to either react or retreat. Though the grace of God and the support of one another, we are called to engage and comfort the fearful and anxious, the sick and their caregivers in ways that are available to us. In times of great crisis, fear can run a head of us, panic can set in, and scapegoating can deflect us from what common sense and trust in divine providence would dictate. We pray then for the grace to do what Jesus would have us do at this time; growing in faith, hope and love as disciples who would come to full faith in him.