A Touch of Kindness
We will be commencing Lent next Wednesday. Because the churches are closed you may not be able to receive the blessed ashes, although some parishes will have sachets of ashes available for collection. With or without the ashes you can still observe Lent. During Lent we are encouraged to give up and to take on. Giving up means denying oneself something we like. Taking on means acts of kindness and generosity.
Jesus and the Leper
The Gospel for this Sunday (Mark 1:40-45), the story of Jesus healing a leper, can be taken as an inspiration to works of kindness.
The leper pleaded on his knees, “If you want to, you can cure me.” Jesus replied, “Of course I want to!” He stretched out his hand and touched the leper. In this touch he was acting against all religious and medical protocol. Did Jesus catch the leprosy? No, but the leper caught cleanliness. He was cured.
Who are the outcasts today? Who are the victims of social prejudice? Who are cast out by the limitations of my charity? The leper I must face is within myself – my prejudices, hardness of heart, and areas of unforgiving.
Saint Francis and the leper
An encounter with a leper proved to be a turning point in the conversion of Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis had begun to take God seriously and was giving a lot of time to prayer but he was not clear about what to do with his life. Still clad in fine clothes he was riding his horse when he encountered a leper on the road. He spurred his horse to avoid any possible contact. Then suddenly he recognised that his prayer was hypocritical if he did not act as Jesus did. He turned back, got off his horse, gave the leper what money he had and then embraced him. By so doing he was also embracing the spiritual leprosy of the social prejudice within himself. It was a turning point in his life. In his Testament he wrote that it was the Lord who led him to the leper. And this is how he described the inner conversion he felt: “What before seemed bitter was changed into sweetness of soul and body.”
Lent can be a time to face up to our own inner leprosy, those faults that eat away at my inner soul.
Your own leper
Don’t say that there is no leper on your road of life. There is that one leper whom the Lord wants you to touch. Come off your high horse and go back on your road of memory. Get in touch with those negative areas where you need healing … being judgemental, gossip, a sharp tongue, lack of sensitivity, selfishness, violent, hurtful and so on. Accept your responsibility for your own feelings, prejudices, hurts, addiction and blind spots. Accept ownership of your life story and bring this leprosy to Jesus to be cured. “If you want to, you can cure me.” The Lord will not only bring you inner cleansing but will inspire you to a life of kindness as in this story.
A touch of kindness
A dishevelled man in a nursing home had a nervous habit of swivelling his head and spit … spit … spit. It was upsetting a burly man who hurled abusive names at him. But a sensitive lady took pity on him, sat beside him and asked his name. No answer except spit … spit … spit. Gently she asked again. This time he repeated the hurtful name the bully had given him. “But what is your real name?” Spit … spit … spit.
“Patrick”, he answered.
“Do they call you ‘Pat’?” No spit this time, “Yes”.
She sat beside him at the next meal.
The following morning, he appeared in a clean shirt, his hair groomed. The nervous twitch had gone and the spitting had ceased. “If you want to, you can cure me.” Kindness can work miracles.
This Lent, the restrictions of social distancing will prevent our physical outreach to others, but we can touch lonely lives by a phone call or a written note. Who knows what your contact will mean to a lonely person.
As the leper brought his petition to Jesus, we are moved to bring our needs too.
Jesus felt compassion for the leper who was a social outcast. May his Church on earth show a special concern for the outcasts of today.
We pray for all who work in caring for the sick and elderly. May their hearts be full of compassion and their gentle hands bring God’s healing to the sick and handicapped.
May we overcome all fears and inhibitions which block us from reaching out in kindness to others.
We ask you, Lord, to bless and reward all who have been kind to us.
God of mercy and compassion, look kindly upon us as we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, Amen.
(Extract from Silvester O’Flynn, Gospel Reflections and Prayers, Columba Books)