In Scotland in the 1600s Catholics were persecuted, both priests and laity had to flee the country or go
into hiding to avoid imprisonment or even death. One day a Bishop wanted to explore his diocese to see who was left of
his flock, and to see how they were faring. And so there he was walking from village to village in the mountains, dressed
like a poor farmer to escape capture. It was winter, and as the sun went down he became lost among the snow covered
hills. Almost exhausted with wandering, he finally saw a dim light in the distance, and made his way towards it. It was a
poor cottage on the edge of the woods; he knocked on the door. The family welcomed him, warmed him at their fire, and
prepared him some food. They were extremely kind and hospitable, and as he ate their delicious food, they conversed politely
and pleasantly. He didn’t see any crucifix or image of Mary in the house, so he concluded they weren’t Catholic. He
didn’t bring up the topic of religion.
As the Bishop sat there he noticed that the family seemed sad underneath their good-natured hospitality. And so he asked
about this, and the mother explained that in the back room, on a bed of straw her father lay dying, but he refused to admit it,
and so he was not preparing himself well for death. The visitor offered to speak with him, and he was led to the back room.
Sure enough, the old man lay there, feeble and clearly dying. The bishop offered words of sympathy, but the old man
seemed to regain strength and said, “No sir, I am not yet going to die. That is impossible.” The disguised bishop asked
why he was so sure, and after hemming and hawing, the old man asked quietly if the visitor was Catholic.
Assured that he was, the dying man gave this explanation. “I also am a Catholic. From the day of my first Communion
until now I have never failed even for a single day to pray to Our Blessed Lady for the grace of not dying without first having
a priest at my bedside to hear my confession and give me the Last Sacraments.” “Now sir, do you think that my heavenly
Mother will not hear me? Impossible! So I am not going to die till some priest comes to visit me.” Tears rolled down
the bishop’s face as he realized that he was God’s faithful answer to this man’s humble and confident prayer. This dying
man in the presence of God’s representative was an example of humility and confidence. He spent his whole life in humble
confidence before God.
Our leper today in the Gospel is also an example of humility and confidence; in fact, he’s very confident. He rushes to Jesus
without even shouting out that he’s unclean. To the first century Jew this would be seen as an act of aggression. Any
leper of that time was to avoid society and if someone inadvertently approached a leper, the leper was to warn him by
shouting, “unclean, unclean!” Yet this leper sees something in Jesus, he sees something extraordinary, he sees the person
where divinity and humanity meet. And so in confident humility he kneels before Jesus asking to be made clean. He says,
“if you wish, you can make me clean.” He appeals to the will of Jesus just like any Israelite would appeal to the will of
God. The leper is confident that this is God standing in front of him.
Now like the old man and the leper we too want to grow in confident humility before God. And there are three things that
we can practice in order to grow in humility and confidence. First, thank God at the end of every day. Focus on the gifts
he’s given throughout the day, and throughout your life. Thank Him for opportunities, for friendships, and for graces. Doing
this we put everything into proper perspective, gratitude reminds us of God’s unbounded goodness, and of our childlike
dependence on Him. Second, be the first to say sorry. Conflicts between two people are almost always the fault of both
people involved, at least a little bit. When we take the first step to make peace, we are following in the footsteps of Christ
himself. And third, go to the sacrament of confession. This is the best exercise because it was invented by God himself.
Confession is the perfect imitation of the leper’s encounter with Jesus. Everything the leper did, we do, every time we go
to confession. We kneel there asking to be made clean.
As sinners we are meant to approach Jesus with confidence. Jesus doesn’t step back when we approach in our sinfulness,
he’s moved with pity and he stretches out his hand to heal us. The Church is the mystical body of Christ it’s the extension
of Christ’s incarnation into our space and time and through the sacraments our Lord’s hand still reaches out to heal us. Let
us always humbly and repeatedly approach Him without fear.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley