Unrestricted charity of Christ

GOD'S WORD TODAY - GOD'S WORD TODAY By Jesus V. Fernandez, S.J. () - February 16, 2003 - 12:00am
A most touching incident was witnessed when Pope John Paul II visited Tala Leprosarium during the papal visit to the Philippines in 1981. He blessed and embraced the lepers, knelt to kiss the leper in a gesture of loving compassion. It was Christ all over again, repeating His cleansing of a leper who came and knelt before Him saying, "If you wish, you can make me clean" (Mk 1:40). It is recounted that Jesus was moved with pity, and stretching out His hand, touched the leper saying, "I do will it. Be made clean." And the leprosy left him immediately. "See that you tell no one anything, but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moises prescribed; that will be proof for them" (Mk 1:41-44).

In our Lord’s time, lepers were excluded from contact with others. They go about with a little bell which they ring to warn people that they are around so they will keep distance. Here in the Philippines, leper, too are isolated. In Palawan, there is a concentration of lepers in Culion, a place by the sea where they live in cottages built on verdant plains amidst vegetation and evergreens and trees. The Jesuits who were there on a mission of mercy say the landscape which light up at sunrise is beautiful as the day is spent and becomes gloriously crimson at sunset. What is all the meaning of that wonderful place for those who suffer a disease repulsive to people? No matter how lovely the place is, They live with a disease which can depress them.

Before Christ, there were the chosen people who could pronounce on sinners the most blood-curdling curses. Pharisaic hatred of sinners was regarded as religious fervor. Keeping one’s distance from the "Impure," the adulterers, their outrage, of blasphemers reaching the extreme vengeance of stoning to death are acts of righteousness. How do we regard our own people suffering from AIDS, who are the despised group of prostitutes, of public sinners like those who have several women or men, women who have become objects of pleasure for men in bars and motels. The righteous could find them repulsive. So we consider them outside our circle, the scam of society, the unclean.

The qualitative leap introduced by Christ consists in a cancellation of all restrictions in the concept of neighbor. Christ calls us to goodness and love by a new commandment which transcends the law and the prophets. Christ breaks downs the forces of a restricted brotherhood by a revolution of charity universal in its saving power. In His new vision of charity, no one at all is excluded; no exclusion of the enemy and the sinner in this universal loving, Before "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" was the way to deal with the enemy.

But Jesus says to us very specifically: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." This is one of the high points in the Gospel. Jesus associated with sinners to convert them; He spoke to the Samaritan woman who had five husbands to acquaint her of the Spirit and eternal waters springing up into everlasting life; He heals and pardons the paralytic and the possessed, ignores legal impurity in order to share a meal with sinners; and in the Gospel of today, He touches and heals a leper. The charity of Christ urges us to express love of neighbor in universal acts of unrestricted generosity.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 1:40-45.

A VOCATION SEMINAR for male college students and young professionals, who are considering the priesthood or brotherhood in the religious life, will be held on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University Campus, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. For more details please contact the Jesuit Vocation Promotions Office at tel. no. 426-6101 local 3408 or e-mail at vocprom@vasia.com You can also visit the website of the Philippine Jesuits at www.ignaciana.org

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