12 February 2015

'If you choose, you can make me clean.' Sunday Reflections, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Christ as Saviour, El Greco, c.1600
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Mark 1:40-45 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Dr Carlo Urbani with his wife Giuliana Chiorrini and their children

Towards the end of February 2003 Dr Carlo Urbani, an Italian, went to Vietnam, representing the World Health Organisation, to investigate an American businessman who was showing unusual symptoms. It turned out to be severe respiratory syndrome (SARS), a highly contagious virus. The man who discovered this new disease died from it himself about a month later on 29 March. In a conscious moment, while in the ICU in a hospital in Bangkok, he asked for a priest to give him the Last Rites.

Vladimir Redzioch of Inside the Vatican interviewed Giuliana Chiorrini, the widow of Dr Urbani. MISYON, the Columban magazine in the Philippines, published the interview, with permission, in its March-April 2004 issue. Here are extracts from the interview.

ITV: Your husband chose to work with the sick and poor around the world. Why?
Giuliana Chiorrini: Carlo was always involved in volunteer work and since his youth was attracted by the poor. He cultivated the desire to discover new horizons. To do this he left for Africa with the missionaries. Since his days as a young student with a backpack full of medicines, he had traveled in Africa (Mali, Niger, and Benin). Afterwards he work in solidarity camps run by the Xaverian Fathers, Catholic Action and Open Hands. He was always in contact with missionaries. As a doctor he wrote for the missionary magazine Missioni Consolata. Carlo also fulfilled his desire to help he poor during his 10 years working at the hospital in Macerata. This confirmed him in his work with Médecins Sans Frontières, of which he was the president, and in this capacity he received the Nobel Peace Prize when it was conferred on the organization in 1999.

ITV: What role did his faith play in his choice of life?
Chiorrini: Faith had an extremely important role in my husband’s life. Everything he did enriched the spiritual lives of the people who were in contact with him. He was also very sensitive to the beauty of creation - he even used to go hang-gliding to admire nature.

That year St John Paul II invited the family of Dr Urbani to carry the Cross during the Via Crucis on Good Friday, 18 April, in the Colosseum.
ITV: This year, during the Via Crucis at the Colosseum, you and your son carried the cross. How did you react when you heard you had been chosen by the Holy Father, and what significance did it have for your family to participate in this Good Friday liturgy?
Chiorrini: I am a believer, as was my husband, and knowing I was to carry the cross during the Via Crucis touched me a great deal, as well as giving me an enormous joy. It was a very intense moment of the interior spirituality and in all honesty it was also very moving, with the evocative atmosphere which was created that evening.
If you choose, you can make me clean. Like Jesus, Dr Carlo Urbani chose and made many clean, sacrificing his own life in doing so.

Healing the sick was central to the mission of Jesus. And he often did things that others wouldn't do or might even condemn: Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” The First Reading shows us how strict were what we would now call 'quarantine laws' with regard to lepers. We can understand why they were so strict. We have seen something similar with the ongoing outbreak of Ebola. We saw it in 2003 when SARS was seen as a threat to the world.
Yet there have always been individuals, motivated by their faith in Jesus Christ, who have been prepared to take great risks in taking care of the sick, persons who say, like Jesus, I do choose, and who 'stretch out their hands and touch the sick'. Pope Francis uses striking images, one especially for priests: that they should be shepherds living with 'the smell of the sheep', shepherds in the midst of their flock . . . Another is that he sees the Church as a field hospital where wounds are healed.
The Church has always had those characteristics. One of the most popular saints in the Philippines, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao, is San Roque, a layman, who took care of persons with the plague. Like Jesus, he chose to put his life in danger and caught the disease, though he recovered, partly with the help of a neighbour's dog. 


If you choose, you can make me clean. Like Jesus, San Roque chose and made many clean, suffering from the plague himself in doing so.

I learned about Father Damien of Molokai (1840 - 1889) from Sister Stanislaus in Stanhope Street, Dublin, nearly 70 years ago when I was in kindergarten, how he chose to live among the lepers of Molokai, Hawaii, despite the risks. Pope Beneidct XVI canonised him in 2009. Mahatma Gandhi found in Father Damien a source of inspiration and said: The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, counts by the thousands those who after the example of Fr Damien have devoted themselves to the victims of leprosy. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism.

If you choose, you can make me clean. Like Jesus, Father Damien chose and made many clean, becoming 'one of us', as one woman said in the video above, bringing hope to many, not only during his lifetime but more than 130 years later, and giving his life in doing so.

Vinicio Riva: I feel I can move ahead because the Lord is protecting me.

Let us thank God for the many people throughout the world, not all of them Christians, who knowingly put their lives in danger in serving others and for those who welcome persons not accepted by others.

Responsorial Psalm (Philippines, USA)

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