Our theme for this week includes these words: “Let us devote ourselves with all our being to the glory of God and the service of our neighbor.” This reflects what St. Paul urges us in the second reading: “Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Paul shows us by his example that doing all for God’s glory necessarily means that we must serve our brothers and sisters: “I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”
To glorify God in everything, and to serve our neighbor selflessly – this is love, and this is what we were made for. If we all lived this way in each moment we would see brought to fulfillment the vision of ourselves as the spotless bride of Christ which Paul describes in his Letter to the Ephesians: “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the Church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). Sadly, we know that we do not always live in a way which glorifies God and serves our neighbors. We sin. We are sinners, and our sin mars the holiness and purity Christ has in mind for us.
In today’s first reading, God tells Moses and Aaron how to deal with someone who has contracted leprosy. Leprosy is a disfiguring disease. The flesh of its victims deteriorates steadily in such a way that, over time, their bodies no longer function or look the way they originally did. In the reading, God says that a leper is to be considered unclean. He is cut off from the life of the community and must dwell apart.
In the Spiritual Reflection, Pope Francis makes it clear that sin is like leprosy: “Sin: that, yes, is what makes us unclean! Selfishness, arrogance, entering the world of corruption: these are diseases of the heart from which we need to be purified.” Sin damages us such that we are not able to function properly, and we no longer look like Christ in whose image we were created. Sin is spiritual leprosy.
Because sin is so damaging to us, our theme for the week urges us to “make a decision to reject sin in our lives.” This is very important. But in order to reject sin, we must first acknowledge that it exists, and that we are caught in it. We do not deny it. The first reading says of the leper, “As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean.” We cannot be healed of our sin condition if we refuse to admit that it exists. We declare that we are sinners because we are, in fact, sinners. This does not mean that we are forever trapped in shame or self-rejection; rather we are simply to face and accept the truth of our situation.
The psalmist gives us good example in this regard, as he says to God: “I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the LORD,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.” We are not without hope in our sin condition, because God can and will heal us. So we go to him, as the psalmist does: “I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.”
We are about to begin the wonderful Season of Lent. We can consider these few days leading up to Ash Wednesday as a time of preparation. They give us one of the overarching aims of the Lenten Season: we acknowledge our sin and we turn to Jesus for healing.
The leper in the Gospel shows us how we can turn to God for healing. He approaches Jesus with a brief simple statement: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” This is a beautiful attitude. He does not demand that Jesus heal him; he simply presents himself before Jesus with great faith that Jesus has the power to heal him. And Jesus immediately acts with mercy towards him: “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Returning to our theme for the week, it is important to note that we are exhorted to reject sin: “Let us make a decision to reject sin in our lives.” Yes, we are sinners. We fall into sin over and over due to our weakness. But we must never welcome sin. We must never become comfortable with it or make compromises with it. We must never pretend that it does not exist or that it is not harmful. No, we steadfastly reject it. Even though we may fall many times in a day, each time we rise again, ask God’s mercy and healing, and strive to do better. We reject sin because we choose God. We choose to do all that we can to glorify him and to serve our neighbor, and we choose to trust in his power to heal us.
We conclude with these words from Pope Francis: “Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, our Immaculate Mother, let us ask the Lord, who brought wellbeing to the sick, to heal even our inner wounds with his infinite mercy, and thus give us back hope and peace of heart.”
Am I striving to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many? In humility, am I willing to accept and to face the truth and the fact that I am a sinner? As I prepare for Lent, am I welcoming sin and becoming comfortable with it?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.