Recent polls have shown that people generally fall into one of two categories when it comes to Valentine’s Day: either it is viewed as an overrated, Hallmark holiday or it is embraced as one of the most romantic days of the year. I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, I think that celebrating love — true, authentic love — is only a good thing. Where there is love, there is God.
Love is often misconstrued in our culture. We use the same word to describe our fondness for coffee, our favorite book, our dearest friends and family members. In some relationships love is reduced to a feeling, often bound up in lust. For others, love only exists in fairy tales, because of the hurt, betrayal, and pain they have endured by people in their life who were supposed to love them. But true love, true charity, is not based on butterflies and fleeting emotions; on the contrary it is steadfast, self-emptying, sacrificial, unconditional.
In today’s Gospel, we read of the leper who comes to Jesus, humbly asking to be made clean, and how Jesus, moved with pity, heals him. In order to fully appreciate how beautiful and miraculous this encounter was, it is important to understand the way society treated those with this infectious skin disease.
There was no cure for leprosy, which gradually left a person disfigured through loss of fingers, toes and eventually limbs. As evidenced by the First Reading, those who bore leprosy were to declare themselves unclean if they came in close contact with another person; additionally they had to leave their home, their family and friends. Forbidden to be one with society, they would move to the outskirts of town, where they would find the company of other lepers. It was a lonely, hard, painful life.
When the leper approaches Jesus and kneels before him, Jesus does not leave or run or turn in disgust. Instead he is moved with pity, with compassion. He wills that this disease leave the leper’s body. At once this man is made clean. No longer is he destined to be an outcast, instead he is given the opportunity to return home to his family. Jesus has not only healed this man’s sickness, he has transformed his life.
Indeed, this is what an encounter with the Lord does in our own life — it heals us, transforms us, invites us home.
God is love, that is his very nature. Over and over again we see that God’s love is unwavering, patient, steadfast; it is not a love that excludes, but one that welcomes others in. “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC, §221)
February 14th can be seen as an overrated day, or we can use this day to challenge ourselves to take love more seriously. Who are the lepers in our life, in our society? Who do we need to reach out to in love? In seeking to emulate the love of God and share in his eternal exchange of love, may we not forget about the forgotten.
This piece was originally written for Bishop Guertin High School’s Reflections.