Imitating St. Pio in Willing God’s Cleansing, Sixth Sunday (B), February 15, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Chiesetta Antica, San Giovanni Rotondo
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
February 15, 2015
Lev 13:1-2.44-46, Ps 32, 1 Cor 10:31-11:1, Mk 1:40-45

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To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:


The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • In one short sentence at the end of today’s second reading, St. Paul gives us a summary of the Christian life: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Each of us is called to imitate to Christ and to set an example, like St. Paul, like St. Padre Pio who celebrated Mass in this Church almost every day for 15 years, so that just as we follow their Christ-like example, others may emulate us. St. Paul, St. Pio, are among a line of saints whose actions were a living commentary on the modern expression, “What would Jesus do?” They sought, as St. Paul calls the Corinthians and us to copy in today’s second reading, to glorify God in their eating, in their drinking, in whatever they did. They sought to do everything they could so that many may be saved. And their work and example have helped so many to come to salvation.
  • As we are here in San Giovanni Rotondo made famous by the life, work and holiness of St. Padre Pio, it’s tempting for us to get a little distracted by all of the miraculous — and for the most part, inimitable — things God did in the life of Padre Pio: the 50 years bearing the stigmata of the Lord, the phenomena of bilocation and levitation, the capacity to read souls, the miracles of healing God worked through him. But I’ve always believed that the most important thing about Padre Pio is not what all but a few people — including saints — will never be able to emulate but rather what all of us can. We can imitate his faith, his hope, his love. We can imitate his virtues. We can imitate what Pope Paul VI praised him for when he came here three years after his death: “He said Mass humbly, … heard confessions from dawn to dusk … and was a man of prayer and suffering.” We can imitate him for what St. John Paul II, who himself in 1947 came here to go to Confession to Padre Pio, said about him at his 1999 beatification, which I was privileged to attend. He said that Padre Pio’s charity “was poured out like balm on the weaknesses and the sufferings of his brothers and sisters. Padre Pio thus united zeal for souls with a concern for human suffering, working to build at San Giovanni Rotondo a hospital complex that he called the ‘House for the Relief of Suffering.’ He wanted it to be a first-class hospital, but above all he was concerned that the medicine practiced there would be truly “human,” treating patients with warm concern and sincere attention. He was quite aware that people who are ill and suffering need not only competent therapeutic care but also, and more importantly, a human and spiritual climate to help them rediscover themselves in an encounter with the love of God and with the kindness of their brothers and sisters. With the ‘House for the Relief of Suffering,’ he wished to show that God’s ‘ordinary miracles’ take place in and through our charity. We need to be open to compassion and to the generous service of our brothers and sisters, using every resource of medical science and technology at our disposal.”
  • Where did St. Pio learn that warm concern and sincere attention? Where did he learn to try to foster that human and spiritual climate to help the sick rediscover themselves in the encounter with the love of God? He learned it from Jesus and in today’s Gospel, we can see Jesus’ charity on full display, the type of charity that St. Paul and St. Pio imitated and God and all the saints want to inspire and help us literally to impersonate.
  • In the Gospel, the most physically disgusting and repulsive human being imaginable came up to Jesus, knelt down and begged Jesus to cure him. Lepers have a bacterial infection that eats away at their flesh and gives them a sickening odor. At the time of Jesus, leprosy was considered so contagious that those with it were quarantined for life apart from the rest of the community. They had no one with whom to associate or to care for them — except other lepers. They were cut off from their family, from their jobs, from the synagogue and from the temple, from love and mercy. They were outcasts, ostracized from all things human. They had to wear ripped clothes and keep their hair messy so that others would be able to spot them more easily. Whenever they needed to travel to obtain something, they were mandated by Mosaic law, as we see in the first reading, to shout out “Unclean!” “Unclean!” They were forbidden to come within a certain distance of others. Anyone who touched a leper became, in Jewish mentality, unclean. That the man in today’s Gospel broke all convention to come close to Jesus was already a sign of his desperation.
  • What was Jesus’ reaction to this miserable, nauseating creature on his knees before him? Most of those around Jesus likely ran away from him lest they catch the contagion. Jesus moved in the opposite direction. He stretched out his hand and touched the leper. I can almost hear the shrieks of onlookers two thousand years later. It was probably the first time a non-leper had touched him in years. Then Jesus said the words that were the answer to the man’s prolonged prayers: “Be made clean!” After the leprosy miraculously left him, Jesus gave him instructions to go see the priest and go through the rites of the Mosaic law for testimony of a cure of leprosy so that he, so long an outcast, could return to the human community.
  • This is the Jesus we’re called to imitate. This is the Jesus St. Pio imitated. The Lord turns to each of us today as he turned to Francesco Forgione and says, “Come, follow me!” We’re not called, necessarily, to imitate Jesus in caring for those with Hansen’s disease, because, thanks be to God and to the gift of modern medicine, leprosy has been eradicated in the United States and in most of the world. Most of us — as far as I know — are not gifted with the Lord’s divine power to work stupendous miracles of healing, so we’re not called to imitate Christ the thaumaturgos. But what Christ is calling us to do is to love the outcasts with the same love that he does, the love which would make him go to the Cross again for them if he needed to.
  • Christ wants us to love with a special predilection the many other types of lepers today, all those who are modern outcasts: the bodily lepers, those with AIDS, those whom the world considers ugly or unattractive, or those whose illnesses are too long-lasting that few want to care for them; the psychological lepers, those with mental illness or mental disabilities, about whom others make jokes but for whom they make no time; the spiritual or moral lepers, drug addicts, prostitutes, pedophiles, transvestites, death-row inmates, those who have committed very public and embarrassing sins, and those who think that their sins cannot be forgiven; the economic lepers like the homeless and the very poor, who are shut off from society and the things most of the rest of society take for granted; the racial lepers like the gypsies or, depending upon where one lives, those of a particular skin color, be it black, or brown, or yellow; and the emotional lepers, those who, because of their own psyche or others’ actions, feel complete alone and abandoned. These are among the ones Jesus wants us to reach out and heal through our very human touch, to bring back from the margins into communion with us and with him.
  • We see in the lives of the saints that very often their path to deep sanctity occurred when they cared for an outcast. Earlier on our pilgrimage we were in Assisi and we examined how St. Francis of Assisi was a carefree young man riding around on his horse preparing to seek glory as a soldier in battle. He was leaving his hometown and going to the plain of Assisi. He saw a leper on the path near the outskirts who came out from a leper colony behind the bushes. Francis’ horse jerked out of repugnance. Francis looked at the leper for what seemed like an eternity and, in response to the petition for alms, dropped some coins around the man’s hand and sped off. But soon the voice of the Lord started thundering in his conscience. He stopped the horse, turned around, sped back, dismounted, went to the man and took his emaciated, cold and inert hand and placed within it a coin. Then he lifted that hand up to his lips and kissed the lacerated flesh of the abject man and embraced him. A wave of emotion rushed over Francis, as he was filled with the exhilaration that comes when we abandon all fears and conventions and really love others as Christ loves us. As the leper withdrew his hand, Francis raised his head to look at him in the eyes, but the man miraculously was no longer there. Neither was the old Francis. Everything had changed.
  • Likewise for us, the path to our sanctity begins with our loving those whom the world finds unlovable. As we learn from St. Francis’ example, as St. Pio did as a faithful spiritual son, every time we care for an outcast, we are caring for Christ. The Lord himself told us that everything we do or fail to do to “one of the least of [his] brothers and sisters” we do, or fail to do, to him (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Christ takes on the disguise of the pariah and the amount of love we show the castaway is the amount of love we have for him. It’s easy to love those who are lovable, Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. “Even pagans do as much” (Mt 5:46). But it’s hard to love those who are unlovable, and that’s the standard Jesus gives us. Like a leper, he himself became full of disgusting, open bodily wounds, was cast out of the city and left abandoned with other outcasts on crosses. As Isaiah wrote about him 700 years earlier, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. … The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:2-6).” If we would draw near to Christ, he waits for us on a modern Calvary in the disguise of modern outcasts.
  • Pope Francis has been calling all of us in the Church to this type of Christian love. He has dubbed the world a “field hospital in battle” and called us all to go out and “heal the wounds.” Leading by example, he is trying to help us all to become Good Samaritans, crossing the road, touching others, sacrificing what we have and even need for those who have not and need it more.
  • How do we learn how to love like this? We learn in the same place St. Pio did, at the Mass. Recognizing Christ in the host allows us to recognize him in others. This is the great spiritual lesson that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught her spiritual daughters, that they need time in Eucharistic adoration recognizing Christ under the appearances of bread and wine in order to spot him living still under the appearances of the poorest of the poor. Padre Pio entered the same school for a few hours every morning at the altar. How privileged we are that we’re able to have Mass in the same chapel today where he celebrated Mass each day from 1945-1959. It’s here that he entered into the mystery of Christ. It’s here that he touched Christ and was touched by Christ. It’s here that he was transformed into Christ’s compassion and became one with his will to go out and heal the world. Once someone asked him why te wept such copious tears at and he replied, “I don’t want to shed small tears. I want to shed a flood of tears. Don’t you see the great mystery of the Mass?” He added on another occasion, “Every holy Mass, heard with devotion, produces in our souls marvelous effects, abundant spiritual and material graces which we, ourselves, do not know.  It is easier for the earth to exist without the sun than without the holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” This was where he recalibrated the orbit of his life each day and sought to help everyone else recover a spiritual heliocentrism.
  • Pio grasped very clearly what God wants us all to capture today: God does will us to be clean. He does will us to be holy. He does will us to become fully his image and likeness, imitating him just like St. Paul and St. Pio. He wills us to become his hands, his feet, his ears, his eyes, and ultimately his heart seeking to do his will and help make others clean, by making us truly human and helping us to bring his compassion out to the world. He wills us to form a “spiritual and human climate” to encounter God so that through us others will discover not only who they are but how loved they are. This is the means that they will rediscover their full dignity. Padre Pio built the House for the Relief of Suffering. What institution does God want us to build? He wants us to build our families, our domestic Churches, and ultimately the Church universal to be a House for the Relief of Suffering, to be able to do globally what Padre Pio’s institution has become famous for doing here. God wills us to be clean and then desires to make us the nurses of the Divine Physician, going out into the field hospital of the world bringing the medicine of his love. As we prepare to glorify God in our eating and drinking as we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we ask God to grant us the grace to imitate St. Paul, to imitate St. Pio, to imitate Our Lady of Grace, in loving Him in the Mass and learning how to make our whole life a Mass, an elaboration on the words of consecration as we go out and do God’s will to cleanse the world with his loving mercy one much-loved person at a time.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Lv 13:1-2, 44-46

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,
“If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch
which appears to be the sore of leprosy,
he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest,
or to one of the priests among his descendants.
If the man is leprous and unclean,
the priest shall declare him unclean
by reason of the sore on his head.“The one who bears the sore of leprosy
shall keep his garments rent and his head bare,
and shall muffle his beard;
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,
since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11

R. (7) I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile.
R. I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
R. I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just;
exult, all you upright of heart.
R. I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.

Reading 2 1 Cor 10:31—11:1

Brothers and sisters,
Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do everything for the glory of God.
Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or
the church of God,
just as I try to please everyone in every way,
not seeking my own benefit but that of the many,
that they may be saved.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

Alleluia Lk 7:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
A great prophet has arisen in our midst,
God has visited his people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 1:40-45

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
“If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
“I do will it. Be made clean.”
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning the him sternly, he dismissed him at once.

He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything,
but go, show yourself to the priest
and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;
that will be proof for them.”

The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.
He spread the report abroad
so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.
He remained outside in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.