6th Sunday of Ordinary Time [Sunday before Ash Wednesday], 14 February 2021; Bible Readings for Mass: I: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; Responsorial: Psalm 32; II; I Corinthians 10: 31-11:1; Gospel: Mark 1: 40-45
It is the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time. And this year it is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. As we anticipate this time of holy discipline and joy many will be thinking of that which they may “give up for Lent”. Many will be wondering how our Lenten journey will work as we also continue our journey with the Covid 19 pandemic and other challenges of this world.
Might the Holy Spirit be calling us to a time, a pilgrimage of renewal in our following of Jesus? These past months have been truly difficult for most all of us. And our faith is not as comfortable and routine as it was a year ago. And that is ok. The storms, often intense, of life do occur. And the journey brings us to a courageous call of renewal of faith, purpose and love for Christ and His Kingdom. To help us on this pilgrimage of renewal we will be sharing and exploring, over the season of Lent, places of faith and places of the heart that, with our Lord, we may realize the Liberty of Lent.
But as we anticipate this Lenten journey we must prayerfully allow the words of Ash Wednesday to prepare our hearts. “Repent and believe the Gospel” are the words that will accompany the sharing of ashes (in whatever way is deemed safe and best).
That call we will hear with the faithful is of course, a call to turn away from our sins and to believe in, turn to God. But as we reflect upon those words in the light of the Scriptures for this Sunday we may well recognize there is one temptation, or sin especially that would hinder us from an ever fuller conversion and faith in God. For in our pilgrimage with Jesus we will be faced with…fear. And it is our choice whether we will place our faith in those fears or…in God. Fear, in itself is NOT sin. But when we allow our doubts and fears to take the rightful place of Jesus they become evil idols that can cripple and bind. And it is why Jesus in leading His disciples continually brought them to fearful places and events. Christ calls us all to these places to face our fears, to exercise courage and grow on with Him, in His Kingdom.
It is no coincidence, in this time of challenges and fear, that our readings share one of the most fear-filled issues the people of Scripture would encounter. The first reading and the Gospel each frame the broader message of the reality of leprosy and the terrifying impact it had in the world and in human life. Leprosy (Hansens Disease) does still exist. It is most common in India and Brazil. But medicine and modern living standards have progressed in mitigating the horrendous impact it once wrought in the world. Yet the stigma still exists among many and the distance most now have from the sorrows of this disease is helpful in distancing the once intense dread it brought. But if most were to encounter a leper on the street the temptation to recoil could be strong. It is a fearful affliction.
But then, as now, Jesus calls us, with Him, to confront our leprous fears. For it is fear that hinders us in drawing ever closer to Him who knows our every wound and experience His healing touch. This season of Lent we are about to begin can take us on a pilgrimage unlike any other. Unique life restrictions may hinder. Yet the power of God is unhindered in bringing us to a greater freedom promised in Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
So as we prepare for Ash Wednesday let us seek the mercy and grace of Christ to show us those fears that would quench our Yes to God. Whether one has experienced many Lents or is early on in their journey with God we all share this holy challenge and privilege. We can recognize that Lent is a time to renew our walk with God, our eternal quest in holiness.
Jesus used the encounter with the leper for a miracle of healing and hope. But He also used it to teach His followers to say no to fear and yes to His love that liberates the joys of holiness, peace and mercy. Although our world has seen a merciful reduction of leprosy there are still many issues that present souls that some see as modern day lepers. People on the fringes, that may live in ways some see as disfigured or hideous. We may find fear or disgust to be very safe reactions that keep us from seeing…the soul made in the beautiful image of God. This season of Lent affords us an opportunity to journey to places of unsurpassed vistas of need and hope, sorrow and hope when we walk and share Christ…. the healing hope of us all. This season of Lent affords us opportunities to grow in the freedom of Lent as we repent and believe the Gospel.