JANUARY 5, 2012, SAINT JOHN NEUMAN: 1 SAM 4:1-11; MATTHEW 1:40-45
A LEPER CAME TO JESUS AND SAID” YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN”. At the sight of him, Matthew tells us, Jesus was moved with pity and proceeded to cure him fully and without delay. In our times, of course, leprosy no longer poses the same hopeless condition it entailed in the years Matthew wrote. Today in our American society it is rather the diagnosis of untreatable cancer that means rather nearly what leprosy entailed in our Lord’s time. Both afflictions, once established, have a profound psychological impact on the sufferer. Perhaps the most immediate effect upon learning that nothing can be effectively done to cure the fatal disease is the overwhelming sense of profound solitude. One is suddenly alone and is helpless to alter the condition in which he or she now experiences as isolating. There is an inescapable sense of distancing from those who are most significant and who have given so much meaning to one's life. Suddenly, one realizes that even the dearest cannot be a companion into the empty places of the heart revealed to the one soon to die. This kind of experience is happening to a considerable number of persons even today, everyday, in fact, in our own society. Even the young can suddenly find themselves confronted with the prospect of unavoidable death and the realization that they are suddenly cut off from the activities and relationships that gives meaning and interest in life.
Like the leper in today's Gospel, the individual confronted with isolation, and oppressed with anguish reaches out for any help that gives some hope of cure. I recall the case of a recently professed monk, thirty years old, when I was master of Juniors in Gethsemane Abbey. I had been his teacher and adviser prior to final vows. He had no symptoms but participated in a screening project in the area. He saw a physician who gave him the report saying the x-ray reveal a widely disseminated cancer in both lungs that was untreatable. He came to see me immediately after being told that there was nothing medical science could do for him. He struggled with the reality of his own death in the course of our meeting, experiencing the reality of that solitude that marks the individual in his encounter with the eternity of God. After some struggle in the course of our talk he was able to accept the reality of his departure from this world of time, sustained by his trusting faith in the Lord. As a monk he had known well the Rule of St. Benedict in which the monk is advised as an instrument of good works “Daily to keep death before one’s eyes.” (RB 4:47) Advice that is a response to Jesus’ warnings about the unexpected time of his second coming as Matthew is careful to record, for this teaching of our Lord is meant not only for monks but for all who would be his disciples.. His first symptoms appeared only ten days later, and eleven days after that he died, accepting death as going to meet our Lord, with profound trust, conscious till the last minute.
This season in which we commemorate the great mystery of the birth of the Word of God as an infant, totally dependent on the care of his mother Mary, finds its ultimate meaning precisely in the confrontation with death on the cross that ended our Lord’s earthly existence., In the foreground of this Christmas season is the birth of the infant Son of God and Son of Mary into this world of time. We celebrate the new life of this infant who gives fresh meaning not only to the lives of his neighbors and contemporaries, but to all human life and to the cosmos itself. This child is born for us as a promise of reconciliation with the eternal Father that changes the very nature of worldly existence in all its dimensions. The infant Jesus is a pledge of God’s friendship and enduring love that gives new significance to each of our lives. This new life, unique in its origin, brings with it a fresh power made available to each of us. As Saint John puts it in his Prologue, “As many as receive him he gives the power to become children of God, and so coheirs with his Divine Son of the eternal kingdom where God is all in all. This is what we praise and thank the Father for as we gather here this morning, celebrating this Eucharist in this continuing Christmas season. Ω