Necessary Conditions for Joy and Healing

Douglas McManaman
Homily: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 8, 2022
Reproduced with Permission

There are two points that I'd like to bring out with respect to this gospel (Lk 17, 11-19), the healing of the ten lepers. As we all know, leprosy is a horrible disease. Those with leprosy will experience disfigurement of the skin and bones from tumors, there is a twisting of the limbs, curling of the fingers, the nose collapses, etc. It is in fact a disease of the nervous system; the nerve receptors deteriorate so they cannot experience pain in their hands and feet. Those with leprosy could not work, and they were separated from their families, they were considered ritually unclean, not to mention those who touched them. They would carry a bell around their necks to warn others of their proximity so they could maintain distance. For the lepers to ask Jesus to have pity shows tremendous faith in him; for if he were to heal them, they'd have their lives back. The joy they'd experience is hard to imagine unless we've had a similar experience.

"Have pity on us", they say. And he does. He gives them their lives back. They can return to their families, are able to work again, worship, etc. The joy they would have experienced is, for most of us, unimaginable. But only one returns to give thanks.

I do not intend to judge the nine who did not return; I have no idea what was going on in their hearts. But the one who returned to Jesus understood something very important about "gifts", especially the gifts that are given to us by God. When God gives us a gift, when He answers a prayer, for example, and we are given some "thing", some blessing, etc., contained in that gift is the Person. It is the giving of the Person that is primary, the essential point of giving a gift; and the ultimate point in receiving the gift is to receive the Person. Things eventually break down, disintegrate, rust, whatever. But the point in receiving a gift is to receive the person that gave it. This is the case for all gifts, but this is especially the case with God; for He gives us gifts because He wants us to receive Him, who will never break down, disintegrate, rust, or decay. The spoiled child takes the gift but fails to recognize "the gift of the person" in the gift. So, he's ungrateful. The leper who returned clearly got this, understood it. That is why he returned in a spirit of gratitude. I don't mean to suggest that the other nine were lacking in gratitude, but I do suggest that this one leper who returned discovered the Person who gave himself in the giving of that blessing, and went looking for him until he found him.

The spirit of gratitude is the root of the religious spirit. Our entire life, every moment of it, is pure gift. When we look around and see that our lives are filled with His blessings, what is He saying to each one individually? He's saying: "I love you; love me back." If we don't discover the Person within and behind the the many gifts that surround us, they are not going to mean much after a while, they will get old, and we'll continue on with life with a restless spirit, always searching for more.

I'll never forget the time, years ago, when I was driving north on the 404 back home. My first assignment after ordination was the Queen Street Mental Health Center, that is, CAMH in downtown Toronto (psychiatric hospital), and it really was a wonderful experience. I also had the opportunity early on to regularly visit a nearby prison. But this one weekend I had to visit the prison and the next day spend a good part of the day at the psychiatric hospital. At the prison, one has to go through security, the wait is often long, and once you are through, you then proceed to the cell block where the prisoner should be waiting. But they are often not waiting, and you push the intercom button, and no response, press it again, finally, after ten minutes, sometimes twenty, a response. Then another ten or twenty minutes before the prisoner is let in. As a Chaplain, we get double the time on the phone to speak, but I would get cut off early, and then I'd have to press the intercom once again, which is another wait. So, I was there for quite a while, all for just a forty-minute visit on the phone behind glass. The next day, I visited the psychiatric hospital. Every unit is a locked unit, but we are given a key to get in, except for one unit in particular. At this unit, patients are a bit more dangerous. Security sees you on camera, let you in through one door, but we wait till that door closes, and then the other door is unlocked, and we proceed through. I spent a lot of time on that unit that weekend. And then I went to visit some other units afterwards, i.e., the schizophrenic unit. So, two days being surrounded by locked steel doors and cinder block walls, security guards and cameras. And then the day was done, I could leave and drive home. On the highway, 20 minutes into my drive, I looked up at the beautiful sky and suddenly I was overcome with euphoria, joy, this sudden realization that I am free. I can take any exit, stop wherever I want, go to a drive thru, any one I want, and no one is going to stop me, no one is following me or watching me. I could stop at an empty soccer field and just lie down in the middle of it like an idiot and look at the sky for half an hour. The rich and beautiful experience of being free struck me like it never struck me before, and it was a profoundly euphoric experience.

The necessary conditions for me to see what is already there every day, but which for the most part goes unnoticed, were present, and so I could see something which before that, I took for granted. It's an interesting expression: "taking for granted". It means to fail to notice something, to fail to notice that something has been given, and when something is given, there's a giver, a person, doing the giving. The key to joy is coming to the realization that everything is sheer gift, and of course becoming aware of the Person that is behind and in the gift.

The next significant point in this gospel had to do with their healing. Jesus said to them: "Go and show yourselves to the priests" (who will then certify that they are clean). But the gospel says they were "healed on the way". In other words, when Jesus told them to go show yourselves to the priests, they had not been healed as of yet. They were healed "on the way". Imagine the dilemma. "Why should I show myself to the priest, you haven't done anything yet. I still have leprosy". And so, they had to trust, they had to act first, obey first, and only after that are they healed.

That's how things work with God. We only really come to understand the Lord as a result of choosing to live that faith, to follow him first, to obey him in the dark, so to speak. There is no such thing as coming to understand first, and then acting on it after, after we are assured and have full understanding. Those who insist on that order always fall away, because they are left without understanding, without light.

We know what Jesus said to us, that is, we know the commandments, and we know what he said at the Last Supper: "Do this in memory of me". He also told us not to worry about these things, what you are to wear, eat, drink, clothes, for "the Lord knows you need them. Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be provided". If we act first, do as he says, we will eventually understand. We will see. We will be given the light of faith. But most people will not act unless they understand first, unless they can be assured there is no risk. And so they go through life in the dark, without the joy of really knowing the Lord.

So, to sum up: gratitude. Noticing the gifts that surround us, and praying for the eyes to see the giver, the Person, in the gifts. Then we return to the Lord. That's the beginning of a genuine spirit of religion. And secondly, acting first, obeying first, even without understanding, and what follows is the fulfillment of his promise. Healing follows. Healing occurs while we are on the way.