"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
February 12, 2012: The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Synopsis: In ancient times leprosy was not just a physical problem requiring medical attention; it was a spiritual disease that cut people off from God and the community. Leprosy made a person ritually unclean and therefore unfit to participate in worship. It was believed to be highly contagious and so the leper was separated from the community and had to “dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp” (Lev 13:46).
The first reading thus sets the stage for this week’s Gospel. Because lepers were considered unclean, a priest had to determine whether they could return to the community. That’s why Jesus said, “Show yourself to the priest.” The real tragedy of leprosy was not so much the physical disease, bad as that was, but separation from God’s family.
The background of the second reading involves Paul’s discussion about eating food sacrificed in pagan temples. Some Christians had scruples about eating such food while others didn’t. Paul doesn’t want this to become a source of conflict and so he explains that it’s not the food itself that’s the problem (after all, the pagan gods don’t exist) but the effect that eating such food might have on other members of the Church. Love for one’s neighbor must be the guiding principle. “Do everything for the glory of God,” he says “and avoid giving offense.”
One of the distinctive things about Mark’s Gospel is that the healings and miracles all point to the Cross. It is there where Jesus’ identity is fully revealed and where the miracles find their meaning, and so at the end of the Gospel the Roman centurion declares, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”
Key verse: “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him” (Mark 1:41).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Christ’s compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that ‘God has visited his people’ and that the kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins; he has come to heal the whole man, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of” (Nos. 1502-3).
Benedict XVI: “The root of man’s wretchedness is loneliness, the absence of love—the fact that my existence is not embraced by a love that makes it necessary. What man needs is a communion that goes beyond that of the collective; a unity that reaches deep into the heart of man and endures even in death” (“Principles of Catholic Theology”).
Life application: The worst kind of suffering isn’t physical, but spiritual and emotional; it’s being cut off from God and other people. The sacraments of healing—confession and anointing of the sick—address the problem of human suffering at its root. God’s will is healing and wholeness. Suffering and death are symptoms of our fallen condition, which entered the world “through the devil’s envy.” (Wis 2:24). In response to those who question the ways of God and wonder why he allows suffering, the answer is simple: Jesus Christ.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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