“Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean." (Mark 1:41)
How do we treat those who are ill? In the first reading, we learn that under the Mosaic law, lepers would have to present themselves to the priests, and if they were declared lepers they would be condemned to a sub-human existence on the periphery of society. They couldn’t be near people and would have to yell, “Unclean, unclean” if someone came near them. This is how it was during Jesus’ time which is what makes this healing so remarkable. Jesus touches this leper in order to cure him when his word would simply suffice as we say before receiving communion. Jesus treated the sick with love and compassion.
There are so many who are sick among us including ourselves. We may not have a physical illness, but we suffer from the ills of this world that cause emotional, mental, and spiritual pain. Yesterday, we had a healing Mass here at the parish for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Many came looking for healing just as the leper does in today’s gospel. Many came just seeking to have the Lord touch them in a special way.
A little over a week ago, I visited a woman named Martha who was very, very ill with cancer. She was at home, in her bed, and being taken care of by her husband who is a physician. I spent some time at her bedside and gave her the anointing of the sick. At the time, I didn’t know how grave her condition was. On Friday night, after a long day, one of her friends asked if I could visit her again because she felt that death was near. I went again and found the house filled with people including the Martha’s mother who had travelled to be with her daughter. They led me to the bedroom, and I found a much different scene from a week earlier. She was now in hospice bed, she was sleeping but laboring for every breath, and her husband sat at her side clutching her hand. I took a seat on the other side of the bed and sat her mother next to me. The entire family came into the room as I prayed the prayers of commendation of the dying. Every now and then, I would look up from my book and see her husband caressing her arm and looking at her with probably the same eyes that he looked upon her when she approached him at the altar on their wedding day. He was a physician. He knew very well that death was near, and he was cherishing every second that he had left with his wife holding her hand and brushing back her hair with tender care. When I was done with the prayers and gave her the final blessing, we all sat there in silence. I looked around and saw her children and the rest of her family staring at her. Martha’s mother, with great faith, kept repeating in Spanish, “my little daughter, my little daughter, I give her back to you Lord.” There was so much peace and so much love in that room. Her husband kept whispering in her ear that the priest had come to visit in some hope that she would open her eyes, but she was starting to slip away. One by one, everyone started leaving the room, and when I got up to leave, her husband got up to thank me and shake my hand, and as he did so, he never let go of his wife’s hand.
I left a little before 10pm and the next morning before I walked out the door for morning Mass, I saw an envelope on the floor that someone had dropped through the mail slot. The envelope had my name on it, and I opened it to find a thank you note that read. “Father, eternally grateful for your visit last night. My friend Marta died shortly before Midnight.” My heart sank with sadness, but as I walked over to church, all I kept thinking about was how this husband never let go of his wife’s hand during her last breaths. This is love! So it is with our Lord and each and every one of us. When we are sick, when we are broken, when we are ravaged by sin, depression, or despair, and when we are lonely, we look to the Lord for comfort and healing because just like this loving husband, Jesus never lets go of our hand.