February 14- Homily- Embracing Christ, Embracing the Leper

Leprosy is probably the oldest known communicable disease in the world. And contrary to popular thinking it has not been eradicated. Way back in 1869, a young Irishman, Wellsely Bailey, was working as a teacher in the Punjab in India. He came across a row of huts inhabited by men and women with serious disabilities and deformities. They were lepers. Bailey was deeply shocked at what he saw. He wrote, “If ever there was a Christlike work in the world, it was to go among these poor sufferers and bring them the consolation of the Gospel”. Back in Ireland in 1874, he held meetings in Dublin to inform people of the plight of the lepers and to raise money to help them. Out of that came the Leprosy Mission which is now a worldwide organization. Two years ago, they published their strategy for eradicating leprosy completely by 2035.

At primary school I was told about the Belgian Leper Priest, Fr. Damien who in 1866 went to live in the Leper Colony of Molokai. His mission was to go among these poor marginalized sufferers and bring them the consolation of the Gospel. He brought the Good News to people who were without hope. He gave them dignity and respect as children of God. Eventually Damien became a leper himself. Damien had chosen to live the life Christ chose for him. He chose to embrace Christ and in so doing embraced the leper. He died during Holy week in 1889 and was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2009.

His, is a fascinating story. But it is no different from that of countless nameless priests and nuns and laity who, in the 19th/ 20th century left everything to be ambassadors of the Good News far from their homeland. God alone knows the good they have done. We may forget them take them for granted or worse still belittle their efforts through ignorance. But they followed in the footsteps of the Christ who went through Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing the sick.

There are perhaps easier or more difficult ways of getting to heaven. And for many people, daily life can be just as challenging as it was for Damien the leper priest, or for the Irishman who established the Worldwide Leprosy Mission. You have only to think of those who take care of Covid 19 victims. They too, consciously, or unconsciously, embrace Christ by embracing the seriously ill in our hospitals May we never forget the work they do or take them for granted. And come Ash Wednesday, I suggest we take to heart our vocation summed up in the words of St. Paul. “Whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God, Be helpful to everyone at all times. Never do anything offensive to anyone. Try to be helpful to everyone. Take Christ as your model.” Do that and come Easter, I think  Ash Wednesday, Lent and the lockdown will have been well handled.