Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 1:40-45
February 14, 2021

It’s going on two years since my mother died. Certainly, like myself, my family, and her close friends…especially those who showed her so much love and care during her last years here on earth…miss her. Even at my age…it’s possible to feel orphaned.

Nevertheless, over the past several months, everyone who knew and cared about her have, on more than one occasion, expressed their gratitude and relief that Mom escaped the reality of being confined in a nursing home during a pandemic.

For me, those feelings of relief were strongly affirmed as I listened to an interview of a young priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago. Fr. Michael Trail was only three years ordained when it became clear that Covid-19 was serious to the point that drastic measures would be necessary to try to slow the spread of the virus…actually, extreme measures…very much like the kind of dramatic precautions described in our First Reading, intended to stop the spread of leprosy.

So, Fr. Trail volunteered to serve on what is referred to as the Covid Sacramental Task Force. This is an elite group of priests…trained, equipped, and authorized to go into hospitals and other residential care facilities to anoint the sick, many of whom are actively dying.

As he shared his experience of bringing the Sacraments to people in isolation, he offered an image of what our elderly sisters and brothers, those quarantined in care facilities, and especially those infected and hospitalized are experiencing.

The sense of loneliness…the feelings of abandonment…the overwhelming loss of freedom…and total dependance on the charity of strangers.

The loss of dignity.

For many, the realization that they are facing death without the comfort of family at their beside; and, for most, the completely debilitating spiritual ailment of fear and hopelessness.

Here in Saginaw, two of our younger priests made the same commitment…and continue to take the same risks and tell the same kinds of stories. These men have given life…and meaning…to St. Paul’s words that conclude our Second Reading today.

They are imitators of Christ.

It is an easy jump from this week’s readings to the pandemic the world has been struggling with for over a year. And hopefully, hearing our readings proclaimed, and listening to stories about the heroic ministry of those priests…not to mention the stories of doctors, nurses, First Responders, and health care providers, we are inspired to somehow imitate Christ by reaching out to those who…for whatever reason….are lonely or feeling abandoned.

You see, a person doesn’t have to be infected with leprosy…or Covid…in order to find themselves dependent on others. There are any number of things that can cause a human being to experience the loss of dignity, leaving them full of fear and hopelessness.

People need help and healing for all kinds of reasons. Tragically, they are often overlooked, or, shamefully, very often, they are pushed to the side…marginalized…shunned…or quarantined.

That’s exactly where discipleship comes into play. Followers of Jesus Christ are expected to be imitators of Jesus Christ. And you don’t need special training or protective clothing and equipment to imitate Christ. All you need are the graces that inspire the compassion and courage Jesus showed in healing the leper.

With the help of God’s grace, we are empowered to break down whatever barrier has folks isolated when they are in greatest need.

Lent is almost here. This is the time when we are called to make an extra effort to be faithful disciples through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving by reflecting on these readings and listening to the countless stories of selfless courage of men and women who are imitating Christ by extending healing hands to those afflicted.

I am left to wonder if the lesson to be learned from yet another “Covid Lent” is that, besides “giving something up” (which is certainly a worthy Lenten practice) we are called to “give.” Our readings certainly inspire us to “give healing” to those who might otherwise be left behind.

We are literally surrounded by human suffering. If you desire, you can reach out and touch them, and offer them relief. If you desire, you can somehow, some way, be imitators of Christ.

So here is the challenge: The coming 40 days of Lent are a little like…or at least they should be…a desert place. Desert because during Lent, we should try to step away from all the things of our ordinary lives that distract us from discipleship.

So, let’s follow Jesus’s example and escape to a desert state of mind….and wait. People in need of healing will come to us. And because we are leaving everyday distractions behind, we’ll notice them…and be moved in compassion.

If we desire, we can bring them relief.