Interior Leprosy

A little over two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the leprosy of my soul.  A person suffering from leprosy cannot hide his physical disfigurement from the world, but I can hide the leprosy of my soul.  My interior disfigurement is not easy for others to see and I can cloak myself with good works even though I have no faith, no love.  I find myself thinking about this interior leprosy and the importance of Baptism after today’s readings:

2 Kings 5:1-15
Psalms 42:2-3; 43:3-4
Luke 4:24-30

An early Christian teacher, Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD) had this to say about the passage in 2 Kings:

Therefore Naaman was sent to the Jordan as a remedy capable to heal a human being.  Indeed, sin is the leprosy of the soul, which is not perceived by the senses, but intelligence has the proof of it, and human nature must be delivered from this disease by Christ’s power which is hidden in baptism.  It was necessary that Naaman, in order to be purified from two diseases, that of the soul and that of the body, might represent in his own person the purification of all the nations through the bath of regeneration, whose beginning was in the river Jordan, the mother and originator of baptism.

I take the Sacrament of Baptism for granted, not realizing that there are still many Christians of good will who actually don’t believe what Christ and the first Apostles said about it (John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5).  God doesn’t need us to believe in Baptism to give us common grace, but we are so much poorer for not understanding and receiving it.  If one believes in Christ, then Baptism is needed for salvation (cf. Jn 3:5; Mk 16:16).  Confessing the “Sinner’s Prayer” is not enough; as Christ told Nicodemus, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

I find it notable that Naaman, a pagan army commander, was blessed with common grace even before confessing the True God of Israel.  Why would a captured Jewish slave girl want to help the pagan commander if he wasn’t, to her, a good master (cf. 2 Kgs 5:2-4)?  Even after his prideful rejection of the Prophet Elisha’s command, Naaman’s servants — who loved him so much that they called him “father” — managed to change his mind (cf. 2 Kgs 5:13).  Servants don’t call their master “father” and would not have the courage let alone bother to convince an evil master from his error.  So, Naaman was a good man.  God wanted to lead this good man to the source of his blessings: the God of Israel.  The physical healing of Naaman’s leprous hand was a minor miracle compared to the miracle of a pagan army commander professing belief in the god of his enemy, Israel.

The mercy that God has for non-believers is an important lesson for all Christians.  Pope Francis is emphasizing this generous mercy when talking about prisoners, homosexuals, divorced Catholics, and souls suffering from abortion.  Critics who don’t like this message of mercy (i.e. “Who am I to judge?”) are in danger of committing the same sin as Jesus’ own village people of Nazareth in Luke 4:28.  Nazareth… Christ’s own neighbors, folks that grew up with him, suffered from a hardness of heart and nearly tossed Our Savior off a cliff.  When we reject mercy for sinners whose spiritual disfigurement is open for the world to see, that rejection is the same rejection of those villagers.  Blessed are those who are aware of their poverty of spirit; may we continue to receive His sanctifying grace and grow in charity for our neighbors.

Atheists are Redeemed Also

The Huffington Post published an article that was eye-catching: “Pope Francis says atheists who do good are redeemed, not just Catholics.”

My gut reaction was “All right!  Cool!”  The charity and love in that statement was very appealing to me.  I assumed that since it was the Pope who said it, then it must be theologically sound.  Then a Protestant friend of mine challenged me, “Where is that based in Scripture?”  So, that got me thinking.

Cartoon of Jesus in lieu of the ghost in the
Courtesy of “The Examiner”

I’m not really good with remembering Scripture, so I have Matt Fradd to thank for his article about Pope Francis’ homily.  God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) and “is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).  The Gospel of Matthew needs a bit of commentary for the following verse “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28).  According to the commentary, “‘many’ does not mean that some are excluded, but is a Semitism designating the collectivity who benefit from the service of the one, and is equivalent to ‘all.'”

Romans 5:18 was also instructive: “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”  Paul did not write “justification and life for Christians,” but “for all.”  He means everyone: the soldiers who nailed Christ to the Cross, the Pharisees who mocked him, and even the atheists of today.

While my Protestant friend would not accept the Catechism as an authoritative source, its interpretation of Scripture is something even Catholics who felt scandalized by what the Pope said cannot ignore (CCC 605):

At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Mt 18:14).  He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us (Mt 20:28; cf. Rom 5:18-19).  The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer” (Council of Quiercy in 853 A.D.; cf. 2 Cor 5:15; 1 Jn 2:2). [Emphasis mine.]

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The Mystery Flu

English: Logo of the Centers for Disease Contr...
Logo for the U.S. Center for Disease Control (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine this.

You’re driving home from work next Monday after a long day.  You turn on your radio and you hear a brief report about a small village in India where some people have suddenly died, strangely, of a flu that has never been seen before.  It’s not influenza, but four people are dead, so the Centers for Disease Control is sending some doctors to India to investigate.

You don’t think too much about it — people die every day — but coming home from church the following Sunday you hear another report on the radio, only now they say it’s not four people who have died, but thirty thousand, in the back hills of India.  Whole villages have been wiped out and experts confirm this flu is a strain that has never been seen before.

By the time you get up Monday morning, it’s the lead story.  The disease is spreading.  It’s not just India that is affected.  Now it has spread to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and northern Africa, but it still seems far away.  Before you know it, you’re hearing this story everywhere.  The media have now coined it “the mystery flu.”  The President has announced that he and his family are praying for the victims and their families, and are hoping for the situation to be resolved quickly.  But everyone is wondering how we are ever going to contain it.

Continue reading “The Mystery Flu”

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