Thursday, May 5, 2011

Love for the Lepers

Mark 1:40-45 --
A leper came to Jesus and, kneeling down, begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean."
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean."
The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.
Then, warning him sternly, Jesus dismissed him at once. Then He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."
The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Leprosy proper, or lepra tuberculosa, in contradistinction to other skin diseases commonly designated by the Greek word lepra (psoriasis, etc.), is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacillus leprœ, characterized by the formation of growths in the skin, mucous membranes, peripheral nerves, bones, and internal viscera, producing various deformities and mutilations of the human body. Today, Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s Disease, named after Gerhard Hansen, a Norwegian who identified the bacterium.

Leprosy was not uncommon in India as far back as the fifteenth century B.C. (Ctesias, Pers., xli; Herodian, I, i, 38), and in Japan during the tenth century B.C. Of its origin in these regions little is known, but Egypt has always been regarded as the place from where the disease was carried into the Western world. That it was well known in that country is evidenced by documents of the sixteenth century B.C. (Ebers Papyrus); ancient writers attribute the infection to the waters of the Nile (Lucretius, "De Nat. rer.", VI, 1112) and the unsanitary diet of the people (Galen). Various causes helped to spread the disease beyond Egypt.

The Church from a remote period has taken a most active part in promoting the wellbeing and care of the leper, both spiritual and temporal. The Order of St. Lazarus was the outcome of her practical sympathy for the poor sufferers during the long centuries when the pestilence was endemic in Europe.

Even in our own day we find the same Apostolic spirit alive. The saintly Father Damien, the martyr of Molokai, whose life-sacrifice for the betterment of the "lepers" of Hawaii, and his co-labourers and followers in that field of missionary work, have strikingly manifested in recent times the same apostolic spirit which actuated the followers of St. Lazarus in the twelfth and two succeeding centuries.

Worldwide, one to two million people are permanently disabled because of Hansen's disease. However, new understandings of the cause of the two forms of the disease may allow prevention, for example, by attention to minimising skin pressure points in endemic areas, avoiding sleeping on hard surfaces, general health measures to optimise immune function, etc. India has the greatest number of HD cases, with Brazil second and Myanmar third. There are still a few "leper colonies" around the world, in countries such as India and the Philippines. In 2001, government-run leper colonies in Japan came under judicial scrutiny, leading to the determination that the Japanese government had mistreated the patients.

Now, the term "leper" has come to be regarded as offensive, inasmuch as it dehumanizes the person, reducing him or her to the disease and an object of repulsion. But that is precisely the point in using it here. The world has historically cast out the "lepers." But Jesus Christ embraces these outcasts and takes, not only their medical hardships, but their persecutions, upon Himself.

Father Damien was able to exclaim with genuine joy, "we lepers," for he was one with them at Molokai, in love even before he was one with them after contracting the disease in the flesh.

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