Black and White
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 15, 2015
Recently, I was invited to be one of three clergy participants in a “theology on tap” held at a local restaurant. Although publicized in parishes throughout the Diocese, the pastor who organized the event, appreciating how busy life is these days, was hopeful that there might be 10…at tops 20 people responding to the invitation to share faith and beverages in a social setting. In spite of inclement weather, three, maybe even four times that number gathered with a very enthusiastic spirit. This was telling of the fact that Catholics want to learn more about our faith.
It was apparent from looking around the room that the group was very diverse in terms of age. There were seniors, middle-aged folks, and even a table of college students. As the evening progressed, and people began to share thoughts and feelings, it also became apparent that there were a variety of “spiritualities” represented. Some comments carried what might be called a traditional tone, while others were more “exploratory.” It was very heartening to see Catholic Christians with differing approaches to the core truths of our faith, dialogue without debate or argument. The weather outside was unpleasant but the atmosphere in the room was warm and congenial.
The very first question directed to the panel of pastors, which caught and held the attention of everyone, was simply this: What’s going on with the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Everyone put down their glasses and leaned in to catch every word of reply. It’s not possible to even summarize the ensuing 20 or so minutes of discussion which that simple question prompted. However, for the purpose of this reflection, suffice it to say that the core of the Sacrament is unchanged throughout our history, although the way we celebrate it has changed and evolved over the generations. At some point, one of the young college students offered a rather surprising observation. She said something to this effect: “Many people my age, at least the ones I talk with, want things (matters of faith) to be black and white.”
While on the surface, this Sunday’s Gospel is a healing miracle, is it possible that contained within the story of a leper who is made clean, there are some “black and white” facts that help us better understand our Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Consider this. Sin, like leprosy, gets under our skin. Very often, sin has an external impact on our health. It somehow, some way, shows itself to others. It marks us, or scars us. At the same time, it attacks our interior, our spiritual well-being. It leaves us with a gnawing sense of guilt…a queasy feeling we simply can’t shake. Try as we may to ignore the symptoms and effects of sin, we carry it both inside and outside of ourselves and it impacts every aspect of our lives…our relationship with God, with others, and even with ourselves.
Who in their right mind would not do everything possible to be healed from a devastating disease? The burning desire to be made clean prompted the leper to shout out: “Jesus, if You wish, You can make me clean!” When this healing miracle was first recorded in Greek, Jesus’s reply was much more dramatic and powerful than the translation we hear in church this Sunday. Jesus’s answer was something to the effect: “I desire it so intensely that I feel it in my gut!”
Who in their right mind would not want to be freed from sin? And so we sinners call out: “Jesus, if You wish, You can make me clean! You can heal me from the ravages of sin…You can make the scars disappear…You can quiet the guilt and restore my peace…You can put me back into right relationship with God…with others…and with myself.”
And here is the “black and white of it” when we call out in that way. Jesus responds with the same urgency that He answered the leper: “I desire it so intensely that I feel it in my gut!”
But there is a final element in the healing miracle that we might want to take special note of in this discussion. Even though the leper was clearly healed, Jesus referred the man to the priests in the Temple, whose responsibility it was to declare the man clean. And so, even though we know that Jesus need “only say the word” and we will be healed, we look to the Church to prescribe the manner in which we approach the Lord for forgiveness. And the Church, in Her wisdom, often adjusts the manner in which we celebrate the Sacrament to suit the times and circumstance in which we find ourselves.
Still, it is great comfort to know that the leper was healed…even before he showed himself to the priests! That’s “the black and white of it”!