Of course, such touching of the sick would have been unheard of among the Jews of Jesus’ day. It was a violation of the Law of Moses. It was a radical departure from what the Nation of Israel knew of love of neighbor. It was, therefore, subversive and dangerous.
Yet it was, and is, the way of Christ.
The Holy Father calls this to mind beautifully in his February 12th Angelus, to people standing in the chilly Roman air of St. Peter’s Square:
While Jesus was going about the villages of Galilee preaching, a leper came up and besought him: “If you will, you can make me clean”. Jesus did not shun contact with that man; on the contrary, impelled by deep participation in his condition, he stretched out his hand and touched the man — overcoming the legal prohibition — and said to him: “I will; be clean.”
That gesture and those words of Christ contain the whole history of salvation, they embody God’s will to heal us, to purify us from the illness that disfigures us and ruins our relationships. In that contact between Jesus’ hand and the leper, every barrier between God and human impurity, between the Sacred and its opposite, was pulled down. This was not of course in order to deny evil and its negative power, but to demonstrate that God’s love is stronger than all illness, even in its most contagious and horrible form. Jesus took upon himself our infirmities, he made himself “a leper” so that we might be cleansed.
A splendid existential comment on this Gospel is the well known experience of St Francis of Assisi, which he sums up at the beginning of his Testament: “This is how the Lord gave me, Brother Francis, the power to do penance. When I was in sin the sight of lepers was too bitter for me. And the Lord himself led me among them, and I pitied and helped them. And when I left them I discovered that what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness in my soul and body. And shortly afterward I rose and left the world.”
In those lepers whom Francis met when he was still “in sin” — as he says — Jesus was present; and when Francis approached one of them, overcoming his own disgust, he embraced him, Jesus healed him from his “leprosy”, namely, from his pride, and converted him to love of God. This is Christ’s victory which is our profound healing and our resurrection to new life!
Dear friends, let us turn in prayer to the Virgin Mary, whom we celebrated yesterday commemorating her Apparitions in Lourdes. Our Lady gave St. Bernadette an ever timely message: the invitation to prayer and penance. Through his Mother it is always Jesus who comes to meet us to set us free from every sickness of body and of soul. Let us allow ourselves to be touched and cleansed by him and to treat our brethren with compassion!For Catholic ecologists, the presence of St. Francis in the Holy Father’s words are especially meaningful. Here we remember that the patron of the environment was a lover of people – especially the poor and sick. Indeed, St. Francis lived the Gospel by remembering that human contact has a purpose beyond the superficial pleasures that the world so often celebrates. For disciples of Christ, and all those of good will that seek the eternal truth, human contact is a physical acknowledgement and foretaste of the promised communion of Heaven.
This is why we see contact among the living and the dead throughout the natural order. From biological reproduction to affectionate hugs to the consoling holding of hands, the human person mirrors the greater ecological world, which thrives by bringing the bounty of biota in contact with itself, with the elements of water and air, with fertile soils and even the arid sands of deserts.
At its core, ecology is the sum of all contact. It is a sacramental sign of what it means to be together in communion with, and made in the image and likeness of, the Triune God.