Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
In the cycle of the Sundays after Pentecost, the Holy Church brings to our attention, sometimes under one aspect, sometimes under another, the merciful action of Jesus on our souls. Two weeks ago, she told us about the deaf-mute; last Sunday, the kindness of the Good Samaritan; today, the touching scene of the ten lepers whom Jesus cured. It is in this way that the Church tries to awaken in us humble consideration of our misery and to show us the immense need we continually have of the redemptive work of Jesus; at the same time she wants to make us understand that this work is always in action and that we are living under its influence every day, every moment.
The passage in today’s Gospel (Lk. 17.11-19) chosen for today’s Holy Mass is especially effective in making clear the chief purpose of the Redemption: the healing of souls from the leprosy of sin. From ancient times leprosy has been considered the most fitting figure to represent the hideousness of sin, and indeed it would be difficult to picture anything more horrible and repulsive. Yet, while everybody has such a great dread of leprosy of the body, how indifferent and easy-going even Christians are in regard to leprosy of the soul. How far we are from the deep realization that the Saints had of what an offense against God really is! Our Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus exclaimed: “Why can we not realize that sin is a pitched battle fought against God with all our senses and the faculties of the soul [that is, with all our being]; the stronger the soul is, the more ways it invents to betray its King” (Exclamations of the Soul to God, 14). One of the fruits of today’s Gospel is that of awakening in us a great horror of sin, of arousing again in our souls a lively and efficacious repentance for the sins we have committed and a feeling of profound humility upon recognizing our misery. Let us go with the ten lepers to Our Lord and cry out: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
Today’s Gospel shows us the remedies for sin. The first of these is the sincere humility which recognizes one’s own misery [cf., also our post “Humility”]. However, humility is not enough; it needs to be accompanied by confident recourse to God. The poor lepers, knowing their miserable state, put their trust in Jesus, and full of faith made their plea to Him; this was the first step toward their cure. Some people bewail their misfortunes and are distressed because of them; still, they never succeed in being cured because they do not have recourse to Jesus and Him bruised, wounded, crushed, and Crucified, the only Physician capable of healing them. The remembrance of their past sins hold them back; they hardly dare to approach Him or to trust in His mercy. Such persons do not understand that it is just because we are sinners that we should go to Jesus, and that they that are whole, need not the physician, but they that are sick (Lk. 5.31).
Our Divine Master did not cure the poor lepers immediately, but sent them to the priests: Go show yourselves to the priests. They obeyed at once, without arguing or doubting, and as they went, they were made clean. Our Divine Physician acts in the same way with us; it is always He Who heals us, but He usually wills to do so through the mediation of His priests – and this was so even of Old (cf., the Book of Numbers 21.4-9, with Moses and Aaron among His priests, Ps 99.6). Some persons do not have enough faith in the words and works of God’s minister. Their faith in the efficacy of the Sacraments and in the sacramental absolution is not sufficiently strong; and therefore, they live in a state of continual anguish. When one has sincerely revealed the state of his conscience to a priest, that is, with no intention of deceiving him, he should be at peace and submit wholly to the judgment of the priest of God. In such a case, to doubt the word of God’s minister (the priests, the Lord’s ministers, Joel 1.9; 2.17; Is. 61.6; Jer. 33.21), to doubt the absolution he has given – whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained (Jn. 20.23), is to doubt Jesus Himself, for it is He Who is acting through His representative: He that receiveth you, receiveth Me… He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me (Mt. 10.40; Lk. 10.16). For Christ therefore we are ambassadors, God as it were exhorting by us (2 Cor. 5.20).
Now, only one of the ten lepers who were cured felt the need to return and thank Our Lord. “Blessed is the soul,” St. Bernard of Clairvaux comments, “who every time he receives a gift of grace from God, returns to Him, to Him Who responds to our gratitude for the favors we received by giving us new favors. The greatest hindrance to progress in the Spiritual Life is ingratitude, for God counts as lost the graces we receive without gratitude, and He refrains from giving us new graces.”
“O Lord, Physician of my soul, heal me, that I may acknowledge Your gifts, O health of my soul,
and thank You with all my heart for the favors You have showered upon me since my youth,
and will continue to shower upon me unto old age.
In Your goodness, do not abandon me, I beseech You.
You made me when I did not exist;
You willed to redeem me when I was perishing and was dead.
You came down to him who was dead; You put on mortality;
a King, You came to the servant to redeem him and gave Yourself that He might live;
You endured death and conquered it, and humbling Yourself, You restored me.
I was perishing, far away, immersed in my sins;
You came for me to redeem me and You loved me so much that You shed Your Blood for me.
You loved me, Lord, more than Yourself, for You willed to die for me.
For so high a price, You brought me back from exile;
You freed me from slavery, You drew me out of torments,
gave me Your Name and marked me with Your blood,
so that I would always remember You and keep You in my heart.
Your love for me made You accept the Cross.
You anointed me O Christ, I might be called a Christian.
Your grace and mercy have always gone before me.
You often have rescued me from grave dangers, O my Deliverer.
When I strayed from the right path, You brought me back to it;
when I lay in ignorance, You instructed me;
when I sinned, You corrected me;
when I was sad, You consoled me;
when I was in despair, You strengthened me;
when I fell, You lifted me up;
when I stood up, You supported me;
when I journeyed, You guided me on my way;
when I came to You, You received me;
when I slept, You watched over me;
when I invoked You, You answered me.”
– St. Augustine