Monday, October 14, 2013


Today’s first reading takes us back to 850 BC in Syria.  Naaman was an Aramean general who had leprosy.  His slave girl, an Israelite, told her master about a prophet in Israel, Elisha, who would be able to cure his disease.  It must have taken a lot of humility and faith for this proud general to go into the territory of his enemy looking for Elisha.  When Naaman located him, Elisha wouldn’t even meet him.  He just told Naaman through a messenger to go and wash seven times in the Jordan River.  Naaman was angry and insulted.  He said:  “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?”  But, his servants persuaded him to follow the directions of the prophet.   Naaman went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan and his flesh was restored like that of a child.     

Naaman’s pride prevented him, at first, from following the directions of the prophet Elisha.  These directions didn’t make sense to him.  Why seven times?  Why the waters of the Jordan?  Why didn’t the prophet meet him, the great general, and heal him personally?

Doesn’t Naaman sound a lot like us?  We might say: “Why do I need to go to confession, I haven’t done anything that bad?  Why do I need to confess my sins to a priest, can’t I just tell the Lord about them in the silence of my heart?  Why do I need to go to Mass every Sunday, the Lord understands?  Why do I need to go the mass on Holy Days?   The list goes on and on.  Of course, we only object to those commandments and rules that we want to break. 

A wise man once said: “I only know two things for sure:  One, there is a God.  And two, it isn’t me.”  Most of us don’t have too much trouble with the first one.  As we look around us and see the order and the beauty of the world, it is easy for us to realize that there is a God who created us and made everything around us.  But the second statement is quite a bit more difficult.  For, once we acknowledge that we aren’t God; then we have to submit to the will of God, who is far superior to us.   And, sometimes, that God will ask us to do things that we don’t want to do and will tell us not to do some things that we enjoy.  Therein, lies the rub.
We have the most difficulty with God and his commandments when we have committed some sin that we don’t want to let go of.   Then, we’re not really free to follow God and to do his will.  Instead, we are trapped by the devil under the grip of our sin.  The best way to free ourselves from the grip of the devil, to let go of our sin, is to go to confession.  Then, like Naaman, we can be made clean, like little children.  We will have escaped from the snares of the devil and will be free to follow God.

Before the Saturday evening Mass, people wait in line for confession. They range from the young to the old. Their different manner of dress is a sign of their varied social conditions and backgrounds. Nevertheless, there they stand, waiting, a visible acknowledgment that they are sinners. No one gets first place, or goes to the back of the line because of their finances, place of birth, job, or academic degrees. Like the diverse lepers they are united by their shared need. Standing together in the line for Reconciliation, they humbly admit that they have sinned and are in need of forgiveness.  We do the same thing at the beginning of Mass as together we pray aloud, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”

The gospel today encourages us to voice our prayer as humbly as the lepers did: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” No need for pretense, excuses or false pride to block or alter the request. Bluntly put: “Have pity on us.” We are like the lepers, who did not pray as individuals alone, but as a group in need, “Have pity on us.” We pray for ourselves at today’s liturgy and we pray for those around us in the pews, as well as for the church and the world. “Have pity on us.”

Pope Francis has provided many examples of humility since his election earlier this year.  He recently said: “Let us always remain meek and humble, that we might defeat the empty promises and the hatred of the world.  The way of Christians is the way of Jesus.  If we want to be followers of Jesus, there is no other way.   We must remain sheep, because sheep are meek and humble, and when we are sheep we have a shepherd.”

I will close with a prayer for humility.
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire:
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease. 
That others may be chosen and I set aside. 
That others may be praised and I unnoticed.
And that others may be preferred to me in everything. Amen