October 13/14, 2007

28th Sunday OT Cycle C
2 Kings 5:14-17
Psalm 98
2 Tim. 2:8-13
Lk. 17:11-19

From Weakness to Wholeness

Looking at Naaman and the grateful leper, who came to thank Jesus for having cured him, my theme this week end is: ‘From weakness to wholeness.’

But first let us try to understand leprosy. How do you understand ‘leprosy’? (Wait for responses.)
It is a horrible, flesh-eating disease, contagious and so people would not come closer to us. It affects every age; it is everywhere in the world - developing and developed world, including even Canada. I will show you how. So, What is ‘leprosy’?

Leprosy consists of a range of several things. It may be a ‘real Leprosy’. But there is another kind of ‘leprosy’, which is found all over the world. It is the ‘lack of appreciation or gratitude’ for what God had done for us, or for people who make a difference in our life. That’s the worst kind of leprosy. When your spouse puts you down and make you feel like a piece of wood, that’s leprosy. There is nothing worse than being considered ‘worthless’.

Despite our ‘imperfections’, there are times we all seem vulnerable. This ‘leprosy’ affects any age and we are no longer able to cover up our deficiencies; they become public affair. Our ‘leprosy’ may include our flaws, weaknesses, come happenings in our life that cause us shame that we sometimes are not able to bear any longer.

Naaman was a commander of the King of Iran, but however powerful he was as a commander, there was something in his life that was bothering him, something that was painful, something that was hurting him, something that made him insecure and made him afraid of the public. He had wished to see his inadequacies removed - I mean far removed from his life but to no avail. So he contacted the Prophet Elisha, and in our case - Jesus, who alone makes us clean, Jesus, the One who alone cleanses us of every infirmity.

So now, Scriptures are challenging us to face our ‘leprosies’, our tragedies, the sadness in our life due to problems within the family, families, workplaces, in the Church, in our parishes, in our communities etc, etc. Our ‘leprosies’ may include flaws like the inability to appreciate others and their circumstances in life; our ‘leprosy’ could be the thought or false feeling that we are better of than others - this too is ‘leprosy’! But you know, shame, weakness, defeat - often lead us to God; they often lead us to true intimacy with God; they lead us to respect other human beings and their life situation because we cannot control their circumstance from not happening.

Unfortunately, we judge, we condemn! I have told you my story before about my lovely daughter, Anastasia. I have known her as my daughter since December, 1998 when I went home for my Thanksgiving Mass after my ordination in Gravelbourg on Saturday June 20, 1998. I have lived with Anastasia as father and daughter since September 1999.

That hit me so hard. I get ordained 6 months after ordination and I discover my past. When I came back, it took me another six months
contemplating on how to break the news to Archbishop Mallon. The thought of it was eating me up. Finally, I went to see him and I told him my story and presented him my resignation letter. He told me, ‘Fr. JB, I have priests with worse problems than you have. At least for you, you did not know and you want to be a man; you want to be responsible. This, your resignation letter, I refuse to accept.’

And I am glad he didn’t. I am glad he did not accept that resignation letter. Perhaps he wanted me to face my deficiency and see how I can come out through that, how I could find healing through that. He wanted to help, but unfortunately some of my brother priests said, ‘No’. And that is the pain I carry and I am hoping that some day I will see the light again and let go of this pain.

We all have deficiencies, but they should not send us into Hades; they should rather make us strong; they should rather motivate us to stay in the light of Jesus, so that others may draw courage from us. In fact how we deal with our ‘leprosies’ is what makes us strong. For
me, that deficiency has made me strong. It has set me aside as an ‘extra-ordinary’ priest. I am not just an ‘ordinary’ priest; I am an extra-ordinary priest. My circumstance makes me form the ‘ordinary’ priest.

We all have our ‘crosses’ but these do not have to make us weak; they should rather make us strong.

The punch line of St. Paul can never be clearer enough. Facing his tragedies as a man St. Paul declared, ‘For when I am weak, then, I am
strong.’ For some of us when we are facing tragedies, traumas, deficiencies, we sink - we flee, we break up into pieces, we grow nuts, but that is not what Jesus wants us to do.

Indeed, when we identify and accept our defeat, our tragedies and our inadequacies in life as did Naaman and St. Paul, we are able to ‘spiritualise our activities, attitudes and behaviours, and we are able to reach perfection.’ In other words, we must not and cannot run away from our struggles, weakness, tragedies and deficiencies. Whether we are suffering physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually - we must not run away. But how do we run away? How do we get over our ‘leprosies’, our pains, our fears etc, etc?

The grateful leper gives us an example - the spirit of HUMILITY. Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten healed and how come no one comes to give thanks except this strange one - this foreigner who comes to say, ‘you’?

My dear people in Christ, when humility is amiss, pride takes over our whole being and as Bob Marley alluded to, ‘We stumble and fall’ - big time! Bob Marley rose from the dumps of poverty and through expression in music, embraced Jesus’ philosophy of justice and peace, equality and respect for human dignity. Like Naaman and Paul and other great people, when we seem distressed, we must run from the doors of humiliation, of disgrace, of ridicule - of public gossip to the doors of salvation where we shall be transformed - just as Naaman, the leper and Paul ran to the Prophet Elisha and Jesus and were transformed.

What is your pain? I ask you now to sit straight, your back firmly against the pew and think about your ‘leprosy’ this week.
What is your ‘leprosy’? What is your sickness? What is your shame? What is your deficiency that you are afraid of? Put your ‘leprosy’ or
deficiency before God and ask Jesus to heal you. In all humility, I had to come to know Jesus in order to be healed, to overcome my brokenness to be who I am now.

I am praying that as we partake of this Eucharist, we can place ourselves at the foot of Jesus just like Naaman, just like the leper, just like Paul - so that Jesus may become our source and model of deeper relationship with God in order that we may find that inner happiness and peace in our heart. My hope is that no matter how deep our ‘leprosy’ is - no matter what our deficiency is, we may nevertheless come to Jesus to be healed - completely!


Father John-Baptist Okai
Priest Moderator
St. Cecilia Parish, Regina SK Canada