The following is my homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.
Growing up, I never doubted the existence of God; there was something inside of me that accepted that God was real, that Jesus performed miracles and whatnot, and so I always said my prayers, went to Church, tried to be a good person. No, I never doubted God, but I also wasn’t particularly moved by God either; I said my prayers because that’s what you’re supposed to do, went to Church because my mom made me, and tried to be a good person, well, because. I considered myself a “believer,” but really, that’s all I was. Someone who believed… but didn’t really act any differently from anyone else.
That was, until I was 16. When I was 16, I went on a retreat with my church. On one of the evenings of this retreat, I was handed a block of wood and a marker, and was told to write on that block of wood everything that was burdening me—my sins, jealousies, pains, regrets, everything that was weighing me down—and then to throw that block of wood in the bonfire.
Needless to say, this was a cathartic experience. Sitting there, I watched everything wrong with my life—all of my mistakes, my regrets, my pains, weaknesses, unrealized dream and desires—slowly burn to a crisp. In a matter of minutes, they were gone. Absolutely obliterated. While I knew that none of these problems had actually changed, that this was just a symbolic act, the symbolism struck a cord with me: in that moment, I felt, probably for the first time ever, the healing touch of Christ. That wood may just be a symbol, but that is what he actually does. He does take away our sins. He does give us strength in weakness. He does heal our wounds and give us new life. And all of those things that weigh us down, those things that burden us, those things that we feel like are so important and they’re ruining our lives… well, they really aren’t much more important than ash in the face of God.
I don’t know if you have ever experienced something like this, but it was one of the most freeing moments of my life, and the moment, I really believe, that I became a follower of Christ. I came back from that retreat a different person, a person that wanted to serve, to devote my life to God and the Church. I had felt the amazing healing power of Jesus, and I wanted to share it with everyone I met.
In many ways, my story is the most common story in the Bible. All throughout the Bible, people come to faith because they have been healed. In our readings today, we hear of two such stories.
In 2 Kings we remember Namaan, a general from a foreign nation with leprosy. There is obviously something in him that believes in the God of Israel, believes that Elisha is a prophet, otherwise he would not have traveled so far, but he is by no means a follower of this God. That is, until he is healed. Washed in the Jordan 7 times, he has done to him what no other prophet or god could do: his disease is gone, his burden is lifted. He feels the powerful, personal touch of God in his life, something that is not simply known but felt, and he is a new person. More than just a “believer,” he becomes an evangelizer! He shouts with joy, he proclaims his allegiance, and returns to tell the others of his nation.
So it is with the Samaritan leper in the Gospel. He, too, clearly believes in Jesus to some extent, otherwise he would never have asked Jesus to heal him, but something radically changes when he realizes that he’s been healed. There is a joy that arises in him that cannot be contained, thankfulness that must be shared, and so he runs back to Jesus and falls at his feet in thanksgiving. Faith had moved from his head to his heart, taken root inside of him, and he was moved to share it. How could it stay contained?
So often, we look at conversion as a particularly intellectual exercise. We look at faith as a matter of belief in doctrines and principles, of understanding God, and so when we see the state of faith in our country, the rise of atheism, we blame it on poor catechesis. “If only they knew what I knew! If only they could be convinced of the error of their thinking. If only we could teach them all Thomas Aquinas!” Some want to respond with apologetics, with stronger arguments, that this will create more Christians.
I’m not convinced.
No, that’s not how I found faith. It’s not how Namaan or the Samaritan leper turned from their old lives. In fact, Namaan knew the Truth from the start; all ten of the Lepers believed enough to come to Jesus in the first place. I’ve heard it said that no one has ever converted to the faith because they lost an argument, and I think this is true. Facts do not move people. Mere concepts do not change lives. Love does. Feeling the personal, healing touch of God does, the touch of a God who is more than some cosmic being out “there” but an intimate, loving person who knows what we experience, who’s walked the way we’ve walked.
I don’t know why you’re here today. Maybe, you know what it’s like to be healed by God and like me, like Namaan and the Samaritan leper, you can’t help but shout with joy for what god has done for you; you’re so filled with thankfulness that it bubbles out from within. If so, that’s awesome. But maybe not. Maybe, like me as a kid, like the nine lepers who did not return, who call to Jesus from afar, you believe in God, you accept in your mind that God is real, but do not have your lives changed.
Wherever you are right now, I want to read a passage from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!
Jesus loves you. He is calling you in the night, reaching out to you, seeking to take all that burdens you and holds you back. He offers himself completely to you. This week, today, right now in the Mass, i want to encourage you to let yourself have a personal encounter with him, to let him touch you, and to never be the same.