I wouldn’t expect any of you to recognize the name of Joseph Carey Merrick. He was a victim of a very rare disease called different names at various times. It is characterized by a severe and ugly distortion of the body, particularly of the skull and upper torso. The disease was nicknamed “elephantiasis” because often enough that was what many victims resembled. In fact, a 1980 movie about Merrick’s sad life was entitled “The Elephant Man.” (Google “The Elephant Man” or “Joseph Merrick” to learn more.)

Projecting back to the time when Jesus walked, there was a nearly equal disfigurement brought on by leprosy. The great fear then was that by just being near a leper would transmit the infection. Remember those similar Covid 19 restrictions? Thus, in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus read today we hear of a whole section of laws regarding what to do as a healthy person and what the victims themselves had to do.

All of this provides meditation material for us about sin–all sin but especially the mortal kind– seen by many spiritual writers as “leprosy of the soul.” Serious sin disfigures our souls, making us repulsive to God and angels alike. Just because we can’t literally see this effect in us doesn’t make it unreal. Often a sinner will feel very nervous and uncomfortable in the presence of a genuinely good person, place, or thing. The only person happy about us when we fall is the devil. Please don’t write Satan off as an outdated figure locked up in the Bible. Or as a little red gnome with a pitchfork. He is a real fallen angel, superior to us in intellect and cunning. A genuine hater of God. Jesus spoke of him multiple times.

How coincidental that this gospel appears on this 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, designated by Pope St. John Paul II as “World Day of the Sick.” Yes, it is meant for us to pray and help all who are ill. By extension, also of all people sick with sin or spiritual leprosy.

Today we are only 3 days out from Ash Wednesday and the great penitential season of Lent. Let that fact sink into your consciousness as we prepare for it. As for sin, I found a long list of contrasts between how we look at sin and how God does, written anonymously. Here is just a pertinent part:

“Man calls it an accident; God calls it an abomination.
Man calls it a blunder; God calls it blindness.
Man calls it a defect; God calls it a disease.
Man calls it a luxury; God calls it leprosy.”

God love you and give you His peace.