Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Mark 1:40–45
I have a confession to make. About confession.
I took a 15-year hiatus from participating in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Having grown up attending Mass and going to Catholic school, I intellectually understood the consequences of this choice. At the time, however, confessing my sins just didn’t seem that important.
During young adulthood, I continued to practice my faith without it, albeit half-heartedly. Honestly, for most of those 15 years, I was merely checking boxes, as if my faith was an eternal to-do list.
The longer I went without visiting the confessional, the more I reassured myself that I didn’t need it. Sure, there was the occasional urge to go—if I saw it in the Sunday bulletin or it was mentioned in Mass. But then, I would convince myself the times didn’t work for my schedule. I go to Mass on Sundays, I’d tell myself, so I’m doing okay. I don’t really need Reconciliation.
Now, I recognize those urges as the tender voice of the Holy Spirit whispering an invitation to my desperate soul, calling me home to the heart of the Father, to be reconciled with Him, to be healed, to be made clean.
All I heard, however, was the deafening voice of condemnation, touting the checklist of all of my sins.
Not unlike the man suffering from physical leprosy from this week’s gospel passage, whose external wounds forced him to lead a lonely and exiled existence outside the boundaries of his home, ashamed and destitute—my spiritual leprosy, my internal wounds, my sin, and shame, were causing me to suffer the same fate.
At the time of Jesus, the disease of leprosy was widespread, incurable, and highly contagious. It caused paralysis, painful skin lesions, and decay. Due to the nature of their open wounds, in order to protect the health of the community from both infection and odor, the sufferers of this awful disease were forced to remain outside the gates of the cities. Far worse off than dogs or other animals, people with leprosy had to beg for their provisions. Jewish law instructed, “The one who bears the sore of leprosy…shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean” (Leviticus 13:45–46).
Can you imagine the indignant existence he endured? How lonely must this man have felt? How ashamed of his appearance, of his own smell, he must have been.
And yet, the very first words we read in the gospel are: “A leper came to him [Jesus] and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean’” (emphasis added, Mark 1:40).
The leper went to Jesus. He initiated the interaction. He defied the laws and norms and went to our Lord. He didn’t hide or distance himself or even announce his existence as instructed by law. Why? Because this man knew who Jesus was—the Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God. And in testament to the man’s great faith and humility, he was confident that Jesus could heal him, but only if Jesus first willed it.
“Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it. Be made clean’” (Mark 1:41).
Jesus saw this man as no one else had seen him before. Jesus, with eyes showing the deepest love, overflowing with mercy and compassion, saw this man in his greatest agony and suffering. Jesus desired nothing more than to touch this man, to cleanse him, to heal him, to restore to him his dignity, his body, his family, and his home.
In that one moment, the leper in Mark’s gospel did what my pride and shame kept me from doing for 15 years. He went to Jesus.
In those years that I stayed away from the sacrament of Reconciliation, I did my best to hide my spiritual leprosy from my husband and children. My friends were unaware. A stranger on the street would not have known.
Oh, my friend, but God saw it all. He could see my desperate suffering, my anguish. Our good Father saw the devastating lesions and sores that my sin was leaving on my soul. Jesus witnessed the erosion of my identity by sin and unhealed wounds, causing bitterness, doubt, and anger to fester. The Holy Spirit knew my shame kept me guarded and distant from others. Worst of all, God saw the vast chasm that was growing between Him and me.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him.” The shame sin causes eats away at us, making us hesitant to go to God in our desperate need. The farther away we are from the Lord, the weaker our defenses against the enemy become. The more we believe his lies, the more we hang our heads in shame. The more the infection of spiritual leprosy spreads, gaining ground, contaminating our souls.
We were never meant to be exiled on the fringe of the Father’s love. We were created for the garden life in Eden, to live in full unity with God. The Fall is where the exile began. Jesus is where it ends.
In the sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus reaches across the divide, that rupture, and He touches us. He draws us near. He is not repulsed by our sin, by the filth of our guilt or regret. He holds no grudge or ledger. He wills for us to be clean, to be free of shame and condemnation, to be reconciled with Him and restored to full communion with the Father.
About this essential sacrament of healing, Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes in the Bible study, Opening Your Heart, that “The Lord is calling you. He is inviting you to come and gaze into His eyes of mercy. He’s offering you hope for a fresh start…Shame keeps your eyes cast down. But God is cupping your face in His hands and calling you to look up.”
Like flaming arrows, those words set fire to my heart and soul and incinerated any barriers left keeping me from Jesus. I ran to the confessional and, in faith and humility, I knelt before the Lord. Like the leper, my deepest desire was to be made clean, to be free from the disease of sin, to be made whole.
Just as the leper’s scars and sores didn’t define him, neither does your sin define you, my friend. Jesus sees past all of that and sees the true desires of your heart. With His touch, you are fully seen, known, and loved. And you are made clean.
“The leprosy left [her] immediately, and [she] was made clean” (Mark 1:42).
With you on the journey and in the confessional line,
Food for thought or journaling…
How has your life changed from the touch of Jesus’ compassion? Can you do as the leper did and spread the word? Can you invite a friend to accompany you to Reconciliation this week?
Lord, I need reminding that I am not defined by my sins. You see my truest identity as Your beloved daughter. I need reminding that nothing I have ever done or ever will do can cause You to love me any more or any less. Nothing will ever separate me from You. Amen.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012), #1440.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (Walking with Purpose, Inc., 2019),125.