In today's world, we can all use help with our prayer life, and the leper in today's Gospel passage gives it to us.
He reminds us of two key elements in a healthy life of prayer: confidence and humility.
The first thing to note is that this leper has no doubt that Christ can cure him.
- He says to the Lord, "If you wish, you can make me clean."
- It's hard for us to have so much confidence.
- Our secular culture is constantly sidelining God.
- This tends to make us think that we can solve all our problems ourselves, through science, technology, or hard work.
- But if we think that, then we don't really have faith in God; if God is irrelevant, he's not much of a God, after all.
- But the leper didn't live in a secular culture; he lived in a religious culture, one that recognized the reality of sin and evil, and the need of God's grace to overcome them.
- And so he came out of his isolated and self-destructive bubble of self-sufficiency and exercised his faith.
The second thing to note is that the leper also recognizes that he has no right to demand a cure.
- He doesn't act like a spoiled child and say, "Cure me!" he says, "If you wish..."
- It's as if he were saying, "You know what's best; if curing me will give you glory, please do so, but if not, I will still believe and trust in you."
- Only the humble heart can tap into the roaring stream of mercy that flows from Christ's Sacred Heart,
- mercy which not only cured the leprosy, but touched the leper, something no one else had done since the disease began.
If our prayer weaves together confidence and humility, God will be able to do wonders in us as well.
It is obvious that we should have unlimited confidence in God, but that is exactly why the devil tempts us against it, and that is why we need to be reminded that God always hears our prayers.
In Scotland in the 1600s Catholics were persecuted - priests and laity alike had to flee the country or go into hiding to avoid imprisonment or even death.
- One day, a bishop there was walking from village to village in the mountains, dressed like a poor farmer to avoid capture.
- It was winter, and as the sun went down he became lost among the snow-covered hills.
- Almost exhausted with wandering, he finally saw a dim light in the distance, and made his way towards it.
- It was a poor cottage on the edge of the woods; he knocked on the door.
- The family welcomed him, warmed him at their fire, and prepared him some food.
- He didn't see any crucifix or image of Mary in the house, so he concluded they weren't Catholic.
- But they were extremely kind and hospitable, and as he ate their simple but good food, they conversed politely and pleasantly.
The bishop noticed that the family seemed sad underneath their good-natured hospitality.
- He asked about this, and the mother explained that in the back room, on a bed of straw, her father lay dying, but he refused to admit it, and so he was notpreparing himself well for death.
- The visitor offered to speak with him, and he was led to the back room.
- Sure enough, the old man lay there, feeble and clearly dying.
- The bishop offered words of sympathy, but the old man seemed to regain strength and said, "No sir, I am not yet going to die. That is impossible."
- The disguised bishop asked why he was so sure, and after hemming and hawing, the old man asked quietly if the visitor was Catholic.
Assured that he was, the dying man gave this explanation.
- "I also am a Catholic.
- "From the day of my first Communion until now I have never failed even for a single day to pray to Our Blessed Lady for the grace of not dying without a priest at my bedside to hear my confession and give me the Last Sacraments.
- "Now sir, do you think that my heavenly Mother will not hear me? Impossible! So I am not going to die till some priest comes to visit me."
- Tears rolled down the bishop's face as he realized that he was God's faithful answer to this man's humble and confident prayer.
God always hears our prayers - if he died for us on Calvary, will he ignore us now?
We cannot have a mature and effective life of prayer without growing in these key areas of confidence in God and humility.
How can we grow in these things?
- There is no pill or surgical operation that can finish it once and for all - that's not how spiritual growth happens.
- Instead, we need to regularly and intelligently exercise whatever humility and confidence we already have (and all of us have some - they both were given to us in baptism).
- All virtues grow through exercise, like muscles.
- And of course, exercise is at least sometimes demanding and uncomfortable.
- This is why regular exercise requires a decision of the will, an act of self-governance.
Here are three ways to exercise humility and confidence in God; let's each choose one of them to focus on this week.
First, the sacrament of confession.
- This is the best exercise, because it was invented by God himself.
- Confession is a perfect mirror of this leper's transforming encounter with Christ.
- Think about it: everything the leper did, we do every time we go to confession.
Second, writing a thank-you note to God at the end of every day.
- By focusing in on the amazing gifts he gives us every single day - life, opportunities, friendships, grace - we put everything else in proper perspective.
- Gratitude reminds us of God's unbounded goodness, and of our childlike dependence on him.
Third, by being the first one to say we're sorry.
- Interpersonal conflicts are almost always the fault of both people involved, at least a little bit.
- When we take the first step to make peace, we are following in the footsteps of Christ himself.
Whichever exercise we choose for this week, Jesus will help us with it - that's why he is coming among us again through the sacrifice of this Mass.