A few years ago, during a previous Lent, I attended a mass in which the Gospel reading came from Matthew 8, which included the following passage:

 . . . and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2-3)

     Father began his homily with the question, “Do you consider yourself a leper?”  Well, I had never thought of myself as a leper . . . Father went on to explain that while leprosy was a real physical ailment and Jesus was healing real people, leprosy was also a scriptural metaphor for sin.  Which means that lepers are a metaphor for us. So, I am a leper. We are all infected with sin, and, as Father put it, “sin makes the human person ugly.”  But, he added, “that’s not our true likeness.” Jesus will cure us of our spiritual leprosy, provided that we, like the leper in Matthew’s gospel, are willing to be cured.

“Christ Heals Leper Man” Byzantine mosaic, detail from photo by Sibeaster

     There’s the rub, as Hamlet put it.  We are so used to our sinfulness that it feels, normal, natural.  We wear it like another layer of skin.  It may be a diseased layer of skin, but we’re used to it; its familiarity is comfortable; it’s ours. We have a hard time imagining ourselves without it.

     This is not the post I had planned on writing this week.  I actually spent a lot of time working on a piece drawing on an article on the Crisis Magazine website called “Toxic Chanceries“.  Take a look at the original article if you want to get worked up.  The author makes some very true points about what’s going wrong in the institutional Church. That was all I needed:  I took her piece as my starting point, and off I went, smiting hip and thigh, decrying the lack of holiness in Church leadership . . . but then I stopped.  Who am I to talk?  I’m a spiritual leper.  “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19)    

     Before I go any further, let me say that I believe with all my heart that holiness is the answer, for all of us.  It’s just that it’s so much easier to say than to do.  I was making a distinction in the post (the one I didn’t write) about the difference between “gospel values” and genuine holiness.  The author of the Crisis piece at one point says that “there has been a clamor among pundits that simply returning to gospel values will dispel the current problems affecting the Church.”  I don’t know which pundits she’s talking about, so I don’t know if she’s correctly characterizing what they’re saying. Either way, I would have pointed out (if I had written the other piece) that “values” are a reflection of something deeper, an effect, not a cause. True gospel values are the product of holiness, which is an internal state, a putting oneself completely in the hands of God.  Without true holiness gospel values are an empty show.

     So, yes, genuine holiness would indeed improve the situation in our toxic chanceries.  And while it might not confer administrative skills on bishops and priests, holier clerics would nonetheless lead to a better administered Church . . . a point on which I would have elaborated in the post I didn’t write.

     Maybe I will write that post some day . . .  or maybe not. In any case, today is not that day.  Today is Sunday of the third week of Lent, Laetare Sunday, the mid point of our annual season of penitence.  Holy Week, the culmination of our penitential journey, is quickly coming into view, and I would do well to pay more attention to the beam in my own eye (see Matthew 7:5).  Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.

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