THE MEMORY OF ONE’S LEPROSY (Luke 17:11-19): 10 October 2010 (Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Today leprosy is considered a thing of the past. No longer the dreaded biblical scourge that it used to be, it is relatively easy to cure these days, thanks to a multi-drug therapy developed in the 1980s and declared its definitive cure. Leprosy has today become the forgotten disease.
A visit to Isla Culion a couple of weeks ago, however, helped me remember.The island, the country’s largest leper’s colony for nearly a century from 1906 to 1992, bears a history that reminds us of the stigma of the disease. In 1906, armed men rounded up thousands of victims of leprosy from all over the country to ship them to Culion for segregation and treatment.
But the segregation didn’t end there. Even within the island the lepers were separated from the uninfected residents. Worse, infants were separated from their mothers at childbirth for observation and if declared free of the disease, were put up for adoption.One of the most heartbreaking photographs in the Museum in Culion shows mothers looking through the glass at their babies who are held up by nurses for one final look.
Culion was known as the “Island of the Living Dead” not only because of the disease itself, but also for the separation brought by the shame and stigma of leprosy.
But there is a different kind of leprosy, one that’s not easy to detect it because unlike its physical counterpart, its symptoms are not visible to the eye. It’s a hidden form of leprosy that brings no physical deformities or public shame. I refer to the leprosy of sin. Our sins don’t just harm the people around us, our victims. They also have a way of disfiguring our inner selves and scarring our souls.
All of us were at least once-upon-a-time lepers.
Some of us go on our lives afflicted with this spiritual leprosy, living a life of secret sinning. Bearing no disfigurement, we hide behind the normalcy of our lives. Our cluttered lives are no help. But if we ever get to step before a special mirror that reveals our inner selves, we may be horrified to see the disfigurements of our soul. If we find ourselves in this condition, let’s raise our voices the way the ten lepers did in the gospel and beg our Lord to heal us: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on me!”
Thanks to the Lord’s mercy and grace, some of us have had our leprosies healed sometime ago. We’ve undergone our conversions. We may have forgotten that we were once afflicted. After leprosies have been healed, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re actually quite normal and like the nine lepers in story, that we’ve always been so! It’s easy to believe that we’re now quite okay and are even quite entitled to the peace and happiness we’re now enjoying. If this is the case, let’s seek out the Lord, Him Who cured our leprosy, and like that one returning leper, fall at His feet to thank Him.
Thank you, Lord, for curing me of my leprosy. Never let me forget that I was once a leper, for that is one formula for gratitude and a guard against pride and self-entitlement. Give me the grace to allow myself to be haunted by the memory of my leprosy.
Images from travelpod.com and leprosyhistory.org Watch this video on Culion Island.