All of us need healing light of God’s love

By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Oct. 9

2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

Today’s readings are about those who are outsiders, people on the fringe. They are about the people in our lives who find themselves in despair and hopelessness, who live on the edge. They also speak to what happens when someone notices.

What could be worse than being an outsider, ostracized from society and despised by all? The lepers of Jesus’ day had no one to rely upon; they were cast into a world of total isolation. Even other lepers despised them.

In both the first reading and the Gospel the gift of God’s mercy visited the lepers in the words of Elisha and Jesus. They were noticed and a transformation took place in them.

We meet strangers in many places and ways. We meet them on the street, in stores, even in churches. We also meet strangers within ourselves. How do we respond to strangers? Do we offer God’s welcoming mercy? Do we ignore them? Do we hesitate to reach out?

As I reflect on these Scriptures, I wonder about the stranger within each of us. Some parts of ourselves may be the outsider or the rejected outcast. How do we come to recognize that deeper part of ourselves that has not reached the light of God’s love?

WELCOMING THE STRANGER

I suggest three areas of our life that help us offer hospitality to the lepers and strangers in our life:

  • l Gratitude. Jesus makes a point of this when one leper returns to thank him. “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Gratitude is to life as music is to notes. Only when expressed does life emerge.
  • l Faith. Jesus says to the leper, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” The leper’s faith has not cured him; his faith has saved him. Faith and salvation are intrinsically connected. Said another way, trust in God brings about life with God.
  • l Prayer. We meet the stranger in ourselves in prayer. It is here that the deep parts of our self are able to be uncovered and welcomed as truly the gift of our wholeness. When we welcome the neglected in ourselves, we can go beyond our fear and hesitation and bring the words of mercy and transformation to those we meet.

All three elements converge in hospitality. Hospitality is the warmth of gratitude, borne of faith and prayer that welcomes the other — within or without.

St. Francis was an excellent model of such hospitality. He was at first repulsed by the leper. To overcome his darkness of soul, he embraced the leper. What a transformation that was for him.

THANKSGIVING ENCOUNTER

There is a story that captures this sort of hospitality.

One day, my mother announced she was inviting Mrs. Casey to Thanksgiving dinner. An elderly woman with cancer, Mrs. Casey had no nose and wrapped her face from her eyes to her mouth. I objected, saying that her presence would ruin my dinner. My mother told me I was going to have to adjust, because Mrs. Casey didn’t have anyplace to go.

I thought about the baked turkey and pumpkin pie. Not wanting to miss any of it, I told my mother I would sit at the other end of the table. But on Thanksgiving Day my mother sat me directly across from Mrs. Casey.

I kept my eyes down and tried to be polite, but it was difficult. When the sweet potato platter got to Mrs. Casey, she counted the number of people and saw that I wouldn’t get any, so she passed it without taking one. When it got to me, there was still one left. I felt terrible. I took it, and I’m glad to say I had the good grace to cut it in half and offer a portion to Mrs. Casey. When I did that, a strange thing happened. She didn’t look terrible anymore. She looked like a lovely person. She smiled back at me, took the potato, and we had a great Thanksgiving dinner.

Later, when I learned about the life of St. Francis, I came to see this Thanksgiving encounter as similar to his conversion experience when he embraced the leper. I learned never to let a scar on someone’s outside, no matter how ugly, keep me from seeing the beauty on the inside.

Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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