Have you seen the Martin Sheen movie called The Way? If you haven’t, it’s worth it. The story starts with Martin Sheen as a wealthy doctor named Tom. Tom’s life is near perfect until he receives a phone call that his son had died suddenly in France. Tom flies to France to retrieve his son’s body and, as a homage to his son and to work through his grief he undertakes the great pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, which winds between France and northeastern Spain. You’ll have to see the movie to see what happens but I don’t think I’m spoiling it for you to say that Tom experiences healing, from his grief and from other hurts he didn’t even know he had, along the Way of St. James.
I thought of this movie as I read over today’s Gospel. We hear of 10 lepers, blemished in body and miserable in spirit, who cry out to Jesus for pity. Jesus sends them to the priests, and as they were going on the way to the priests all 10 were cleansed, cured of leprosy. Only one returns, glorifying God, and he falls at the feet of Jesus and thanks him, thanks him with all his heart.
“As they were going on the way they were cleansed”. It makes me think, how many times I have been cleansed, healed as I was going ‘along the way’. Along the way of my life, on the road to wherever I am going, healed of illnesses I didn’t even know I had. How many times have I been healed? How about you- how many times have you been healed? And how many times have you, have I, paused to glorify God after receiving his healing grace?
One who has been healed, or seen a loved one healed, from something dangerous or painful, a serious illness perhaps or an addiction most probably thanked God for the healing, and may thank God every day. That’s good, because of the 10 lepers, only one heard Jesus say to him ‘Stand up and go on your way; your faith has saved you’. It was the one who was thankful. As much as you and I may wish for physical healing, we yearn much more to hear Jesus say to us ‘your faith has saved you’.
So how many times have you been healed? Healings happen every day, through God’s cleansing grace. They happen as we are going on the way. Healing perhaps from anger. Anger, even justified anger, at a wrong against you, a trespass on your dignity. Over time, if not addressed, anger can consume you, make you less than what God wants you to be. Have you received healing from such anger in your life? Did you fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him?
Another healing we can experience along the way is grief. Grief over the loss of someone you love is a very real hurt, very human and very painful. Has anyone here not felt this, not felt grief? Perhaps you are experiencing it right now. God will heal you of grief, not by making it disappear, that’s not his way, but by transforming it into something else, something better. And when he does, remember to thank God, thank him every day.
How many times have you been healed? Not every healing is physical and Jesus didn’t come to replace doctors, but he did come to heal us. Here are examples of other things Jesus will cleanse you of, if you only go on the way he sends you. A lack of charity, for instance. A lack of patience, of tolerance. A lack of humility, perhaps by acting as if God can be confined to simply a portion of your life. Or an excess of love; love that is for the things of this world, of money, or power, or comfort. Or a tendency to detraction: telling an unkind truth about another, or rudeness, or selfishness. All of these things disorder and stain the holiness you received in baptism and are blemishes from which we ask for cleansing. Leprosy not cured will eventually damage the nerves and bone, and these blemishes left unchecked will cause significant damage to your ability to serve and love God and each other.
We are all moral lepers. The whole human race was infected with mortal selfishness by original sin, a selfishness that rots our souls and societies just as leprosy rots the body. Christ saved us. He opened the floodgates of God’s grace through his incarnation, passion, and resurrection. And then he gave us constant access to that healing grace through the Church, through the sacraments, and through his many other gifts.
When through the grace of God you become aware of your illnesses, of these blemishes on your pure soul, then listen to what Jesus told the 10 lepers- “Go to the priests”. Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, of Confession. Express your contrition and your firm intention of amendment, and receive the cleansing words of the priest acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, who announces the formula of absolution.
And then- give thanks to Jesus. Praise the Lord for his mercy and for the wonderful things he has done for you; exalt him in the gathering of the people (PS 107). Fall at his feet, and thank Jesus every day for his cleansing you. Jesus whose healing touch we experience in the sacraments, and who in a few minutes becomes present in the sacrament of the altar. By uniting our minds and hearts and even our bodies, to Jesus- to Christ’s own self-offering in the Eucharist- our human prayer of thanksgiving becomes divine.
And so, we are able to say thank you to God as we ought to, as we want to, and as God truly deserves.
That’s why we have come together to do today. Today, and every day, be like the grateful Samaritan: praise God in a loud voice, and fall on our knees at the feet of Jesus in grateful thanksgiving. Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands: break into song; sing praise. (PS 98)