Skin diseases might be an odd thing to talk about at Mass.
But the point is that illnesses like these do more than make us sick.
They separate us from others.
Being a leper meant a profound separation from others.
And even if you were able to be with other lepers,
you still weren’t able to worship with the community.
Can you imagine how that must have felt?
We experience this now.
On the one hand, you have people with a cold, or the flu, or pneumonia,
so they stay away because they are sick.
But then you have people who are taking chemo for cancer,
and they stay away, because they can’t afford to get sick.
And there are so many others who, for various reasons,
can’t get out, can’t do what they used to.
It can all be very discouraging.
That’s why Jesus told the man to go show himself to the priests,
so that he could come back to the temple.
Ash Wednesday is in a few days, and we of course begin Lent.
This gives us a chance to set the tone for our Lent.
I’m going to tell you something you may not believe, but’s it’s true.
Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.
It really isn’t! And yet, our churches will be filled. Why?
Ash Wednesday – and Lent as well –
is one of those times when we realize
our spiritual journey isn’t solitary. We are part of a family.
If you wanted to, you could put ashes on your head at home.
But that’s what we want to do.
We do this in a public way, and we do it together.
Not just the ashes, but the whole journey,
the whole spiritual campaign of Lent.
Notice, we all do certain penances together:
Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,
and abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent.
Many of the school students will come to daily Mass together.
We will come to pray the Stations of the Cross together.
There is power in that “together,” isn’t there?
As we go into Lent, I want to highlight
some of the opportunities we have – together –
to grow closer to Christ. That’s what it’s all for.
There are still forms in the pews for the Catholic Ministries Appeal,
if you want to contribute.
In your bulletins, you will find a bright pink handout that looks like this,
with lots of opportunities for growing in holiness in Lent.
We have some Bible studies; we have some prayer groups.
We have materials for you to use at home.
You’ll see some free materials on the tables at the doors of church.
Most important, you’ll see times for the sacrament of confession;
both here, and at nearby churches.
When we go to confession, we do that individually;
and yet, even there, we’re together in a way.
I’m in that line; you are; your parents, your children,
Archbishop Schnurr, Bishop Binzer, Pope Francis – all of us.
There’s another part of this. Lent is not only about holiness;
it is also about reconciliation.
Remember, we call confession the sacrament of reconciliation.
The leper, being cleansed,
was also able to be reconciled with the community.
When we go to confession, as hard as it can be to tell our sins,
that is still, really, the easier part.
The really hard part is what we do next –
after we are absolved, after we do our penance.
The really hard work comes next.
How about going and finding people at home or work or school,
How about taking concrete steps
so that we will be different toward others?
Seeking out someone to be reconciled with?
People say, “Oh, that’s just me, I can’t help it.”
Oh…let’s just say, hogwash.
Being Irish or German or Scottish or whatever is not an excuse.
And yes, change is hard; but we can do it, if we really want it,
with God’s help. It’ll still be hard, but we can make it happen.
If you want a powerful conversion experience,
ask the Holy Spirit to awaken you
to how your sins affect other people.
If you are making fun of other kids, or bullying them, at school?
If you are drinking too much, too often?
Cheating? Not doing a full day’s work?
Those pictures on the Internet? They are real, flesh-and-blood people.
Even our most private sins – we think they affect no one else,
but it’s not true. Eventually they always affect others. They always do.
So as we go into Lent, be mindful of the people around you.
Ash Wednesday can be a great time to bring someone along.
When I was in my 20s, I was away from the Catholic Faith.
And I remember a co-worker saying to me, it’s Ash Wednesday,
why not come along and get ashes?
And it was that same Lent when I went to confession
for the first time in ten years. And then, to Holy Communion!
That is something I will never forget.
Anyone and everyone, without exception, can get ashes.
Anyone can come to the Stations of the Cross.
Anyone can come and adore Jesus in the Eucharist.
Anyone can take part in Lent.
This is something we do together.