Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spiritual Leprosy; The silent killer of 21st Century

The disease of leprosy has been a re-occurring theme in the Magnificat readings the last couple of months. As I have read through them, I have begun to go deeper into the significance of the disease of leprosy, contemplating it through the lens of Theology of The Body.

What I mean by this is each person is a union of body and soul. We are not spiritual beings, we are human beings (angels are spiritual beings). While death can separate the two, it was never supposed to be that way, and we are destined to be united to our glorified bodies after our deaths. We were created , body and soul. There is no escaping this profound truth, not even by death.

Yet many of us hate our bodies. Some of us believe it is the very thing impeding our ability to grow in holiness. In a world consumed with the outward visible sign of the person (our body), the invisible (our soul) has lost it's dignity and thus created a race of people that have fallen under the weight of their own weaknesses, myself included. We become obsessed with our looks, our weight, our clothes, our cars and our houses and instead of introducing ourselves at parties as who we are, we ask instead the question “What do you do?” Shouldn't we be asking people who they are not what they do? It seems to speak more to the dignity of a person to inquire about who they are since what they do is more of action coming from the person rather than revealing the person itself to us. It is no wonder so many of us feel inadequate after all, if someone asked me “What do you do?” I would have to answer “I am a wife and mother of 8 who occasionally writes and speaks on faith issues”. Perhaps the person asking me the question would then arch their eyebrows and placate me with a “Oh, that's nice” as they try to find a way to move to another group of person's who might “be” more interesting.

If someone asked me “Who are you?” I do not think that I could answer that question in one succinct sentence but rather, the question itself would prompt a conversation that one could never really finish at a dinner party. All of us, have these stories and this profound dignity of person that is God made and God given, yet, a spiritual leprosy has permeated our culture the result can be likened to that of biblical times. We have begun to create leper colonies for those whom we deem to be without dignity and with it, the disease has begun to spread and consume people. Ironically, this spiritual leprosy still seems to be tied to the flesh. In biblical times the leprosy was on the body, now the leprosy is of the soul but has it's entry through the body, more precisely through the senses of the body, some call it the sins of the flesh. I truly believe that Theology of The Body is an antidote to this disease and let me share with you part of my reasoning.

Traditionally leprosy has been understood as a disease of the flesh, specifically that of open festering sores that not only cause extensive nerve damage but result in the loss of sensation or numbness of limbs. This further complicates the disease by resulting in injuries that can lead to the loss of a person's hands and feet leaving nothing but a bloody stump in it's place. Many people go blind and some loose their lives. Although a series of antibiotics can cure this disease, many associate it with the “unclean” and the result is the forced ostracization of those with visible symptoms. They are made to leave their homes and live among other lepers in what we commonly refer to as “leper colonies”.

Interesting that even being referred to as a “leper” has in one stroke stripped away the dignity of the human person. Instead of being a man or woman made in the image and likeness of God, they instead become a “leper” they have lost their value or worth and become instead a disease. With this loss of person, they even loose their right to live within their family or communities. Since at our very core purpose we have within our very design the call to be in a relationship with others, since God Himself is a relationship (trinity), the removing of a person's name as well as their participation within their families is perhaps one of the most cruel and harsh punishment that could be imposed. Truly, there is a tremendous loss dignity.

Today, we are loosing the dignity of the human person through a spiritual leprosy that has reached such large proportions that the “leper colonies” have become the new communities of the world. But this spiritual leprosy as I call it, is one of a spiritual nature.

Many who are infected might not even realize they have it, since it is spiritual and therefore not visible upon first glance. Even those whose disease has permeated more deeply into their souls do not realize it as they too have lost their sense of dignity and so can not possible see it in anyone else. Therefore, the disease has progressed in such a way as to “numb” them to fact that they are in a process of decay and that their spiritual lives are in mortal peril.

If the process is left to itself, they will loose their souls and since they are surrounded by others who are as diseased as they are, they do not see what is right in front of their eyes. The result of this is the loss of dignity, while causing a spiritual numbness which then leads to a spiritual blindness. They do not see the loss of dignity of the human person who is engaged in pornography or see the loss of dignity of the human person in those who are living out the homosexual lifestyle, they do not realize that pre-marital sex or even sex with multiple partners is the furthering the disease.

For many, the orgasm itself has become the entire purpose of sexual union, if I can call it that because where dignity is loss, I am not sure union can take place. A priest friend of mine wrote that “Once the orgasm becomes the primary purpose or goal (and it is separated from procreative), it no longer matters with what or whom a person sexually engages with or in”.

I could go on with the many faceted levels of spiritual leprosy infecting our world today, but I think I have made my point and that is the loss of the dignity of the human person seems to be the source, the very disease of our world today.

But there is hope! Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta spent her days picking up the dying lepers in India and cleaned their wounds and gave them a place to die with dignity. She believed, and rightly so, that no person deserves to die in the streets covered in filth with open sores and all alone. Many of those she helped became converts to the faith saying that it was in her giving them back their dignity that opened their hearts to believe in the existence of God and not a well articulated instruction of theology. Why were her actions so transforming? It began with giving them dignity. This opened their hearts and souls to true conversion through the love and mercy that flowed through her actions. She brought them dignity and through this, Christ.

Perhaps this is why Christ appeared to St. Faustina with the words that His love is an ocean of mercy which depths are unfathomable to us. It is because mercy is the key to unlock our hardened hearts. Mercy is what gives us hope. It dares us to believe that perhaps we are valuable and if we are valuable, then this gives of dignity. Once we believe in dignity, we realize there must be a purpose and so we seek out the creator. St. Augustine wrote that written on the heart of every man is the longing and ache of a hole that can only be filled by God. Once awakened to it, we can not help but to seek Him.

Mercy is the key to conversion. We are fast approaching the end of the age of Mercy. Yet there is still time to call upon it. We have been given the gifts of the church through the sacraments and through the saints and it is these things that are the healing balm upon which we are to heal people from the disease of the soul. Venerable Pope John Paul II took the writing of St. Faustina, who at that time was not a saint and whose work had been suppressed due to poor translations, and he launched a new investigation into her writings. It was this action, that brought us St. Faustina's diary that reveals the words from Christ about His ocean of Mercy as well as the Divine Mercy chaplet and Divine Mercy Sunday and all it's treasures within this devotion. If you have not yet heard of this, please, I pray that you look into it for it will only bless you and your family. It is not coincidence that Pope John Paul II is being made blessed on Divine Mercy Sunday this year.

Divine Mercy is the antibiotic for the spiritual leprosy that infects the souls of the world today because it reveals the dignity of the human person and through this truth true conversion begins. Many of the great injustices of the world begin with the loss of dignity of the human person. The reason abortion exists, is due to loss of dignity of the human person. The loss of dignity has been spreading within the heart of every individual. The world is miserable, falling under the weight of their own weaknesses, many of us try to use alcohol, food, parties, shopping, plastic surgery, excessive exercise or material things make us feel better or feel valuable, adequate or beautiful. One who gives themselves in love to those in misery, that is the definition of mercy and that is the definition of Christ.

Today, Blessed Mother Theresa's actions are the model in which to bring healing to the world. In a world infected with leprosy of the soul, the disease has begun to progress. For many souls, we have begun to go numb and where the dignity of the human person was lost to the leper whose flesh was rotting, we now see person's who have lost their sense of dignity because of a soul that is rotting.

Many people are infected, but just at different stages of disease. Caryll Houselander wrote in “The Reed of God” that Christ is living out His life in and through every person. In some, He is the crucified Christ and living out a life of suffering. In others He is in the tomb (mortal sin) awaiting the resurrection. How beautiful her words as she goes on to say that each of us are living out God's divine providence invited to participate with our yes, I will serve. Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen said that in the five wounds of Christ many of us can see our own sins. He said that in His pierced head crowned with thorns, we can see our own vanity and pride. In His pierced hands we can see our own grasping for worldly and material goods. In His pierced feet, we can see our running from His sheppardly care. In His pierced side, we see our own wasted love. For me, this has been very true.

We should not waste the love that God has revealed to us through Divine Mercy. It is a deep ocean of unfathomable depth. God desires for us to bring this love to the those in misery, not because I say so, but because God has said so. God could have redeemed the world in any way He chose and yet He desired to bring mankind into His plan of salvation. Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen also said that it was through Mary's yes that the savior was born and from which the very hands and feet were provided to us so that they could then be nailed to the cross so even in this most significant aspect, we have been invited in.

Blessed Mother Theresa revealed through her example that God desires us to bring Christ to others. Just as Mary was the first tabernacle of our Lord and traveled to Elizabeth, so too does God desire to utilize our gifts as well as our very hands and feet from which He will use to bring His healing love to the world. It is when we say, God wants to do this, Christ wants to suffer this through me that we enter into healing. The simple prayer “Take my heart and give me yours” asks God for more than a transformation of our hearts, it taps into His own heart which is capable of loving more deeply and more profoundly than our own. At times, our suffering is required because when we suffer, our own hearts become stretched. If they were not expunged and made ready, there is no way that what God love could fit in that space, so it is that suffering becomes the means from which to stretch ourselves so that a place for God can be made. This lenten season, let us contemplate the spiritual leprosy of the world and ask for Christ to give us His heart so that we can follow the example of Blessed Mother Theresa and bring Christ's message of Divine Mercy through our hands and feet to the those who are dying all around us so that through our actions His love will manifest and heal a hurting world, many of whom do not even realize how very sick they are and that the medicine is conversion.