About 120 years ago a poor immigrant from Europe, seeking to make a new life for himself in America, was discovered walking down the track of a railroad in New Jersey, carrying all his worldly possessions in a large canvas bag across his back. When he trudged past a railway station, a railroad agent came out and ordered him off the track, warning him he could be arrested for trespassing. At this, the man said he had a right to walk on the track, and as proof pulled out from his pocket a railway ticket good for passage from Jersey City to Scranton, Pennsylvania. The stunned agent asked the man why he wasn’t riding to his destination. It turned out the confused foreigner thought his ticket merely gave him the right to walk along the track leading to Scranton; he was surprised and delighted to learn that he could actually ride a train all the way there instead (Knight’s Master Book of 4000 Illustrations, p. 701).
Some people go through life wrongly believing they have to do things the hard way, carrying all their burdens without help or guidance, while relying only on their own resources and strength. That was never God’s plan; as a loving Father, He is eager to help us, if only we let Him. This, of course, requires us to trust in Him, in spite of any doubts and fears we may have—and those who are willing to make this effort will discover spiritual peace and joy, and reach their heavenly home.
In ancient times lepers had an extremely hard life. The leprosy referred to in the Book of Leviticus (13:1-2, 44-46) wasn’t just the dreaded Hansen’s Disease we associate with the Hawaiian leper colony of Molokai and similar places, but any persistent skin disease. This made a person ritually “unclean” and thus unworthy to participate in the community’s worship of God—and because this was the most important aspect of life for devout Jews, and because leprosy was considered highly contagious, those afflicted with it were forced to live apart from everyone else, with no one to assist them. Lepers were forbidden to interact with other people, even their own family members. Thus, it was truly remarkable a leper dared approach Jesus (Mk 1:40-45) to speak with Him. Somehow he trusted that Jesus would not reject or condemn him, and his trust was rewarded. Jesus was moved with pity, so much so that instead of merely speaking the words “Be made clean,” He actually touched the man—by which He Himself technically became unclean. Our Lord was far more concerned with responding to human suffering than with strictly following the Law, for as He once said, He came to fulfill the Law—namely, the Law that commands us to love God and our neighbor. As St. Paul urges us (1 Cor 10:31-11:1), we must do everything for the glory of God, and one of the ways we do this is by living in a spirit of trust: trust that God’s grace is always available to us, no matter how unworthy of it we may feel; trust that Jesus will always accept us, despite our sinfulness; and trust that Our Lord’s merciful love can make us clean, in spite of our sins.
St. Rose of Lima, who lived about 400 years ago and was the first canonized saint of the New World, was mystically married to Jesus—a privilege Our Lord has granted to certain female virgins and religious over the centuries. Rose had to fight her parents for the privilege of remaining a virgin, for her mother was determined to see her married to some eligible young man. To prevent this, Rose practiced a form of self-imposed leprosy: she scarred her face with pepper so no man would find her attractive. Her mother was furious, but eventually her parents allowed her to live a solitary life. In spite of her holiness and deep union with Christ, however, Rose always had a fear of the dark—a trait she inherited from her mother. One night, Rose’s mother came looking for her, accompanied by her father. Rose thought to herself, “How is this? My mother, who is as timid as I, feels safe in the company of her husband. And am I afraid, accompanied by my [divine] Spouse, Who without ever leaving me, is continually at my side and in my heart?” From that time on, Rose no longer feared anything—and by living in this spirit of complete trust and abandonment to God’s will, she made even greater spiritual progress.
The more we trust in God, the more we allow Him to help us, whereas the more we insist on doing things our way, the harder we make our lives. Not only does our Father love us more than we can imagine; He also knows what is truly best for us—and the sooner we accept this truth and live accordingly, the better off we’ll be. When the leper said to Jesus “If You wish, You can make me clean,” Our Lord did not respond as the religious leaders of the day would have preferred—something like “Well, I do not wish it; you’re violating the Law—get out of here at once!” Instead, Jesus—moved with great compassion—said, “I do will it; be made clean.” We’re called to have a similar spirit of trust, whether we’re suffering from the spiritual leprosy of loneliness or unpopularity, the social leprosy of unemployment or poverty, or any physical ailment—be it actual leprosy or anything else. Instead of trudging through life like the immigrant who misunderstood the purpose of a railroad track, Our Lord wants us to imitate the trust shown by the leper who approached Him—a trust that allowed Jesus to give him back his life.
For most of us, trust isn’t always easy—but for all of us, trust is extremely beneficial and important. We don’t have to take things to an extreme, as St. Rose did when she disfigured her face in order to get her way, but we do have to be firm in our commitment to Christ. God never forces His blessings on anyone; He waits until our hearts are open—and the more we live in this spirit, the easier it will be for His grace to change our lives.