We Lepers
St. Damien of Molokai (1840-1889)

We Lepers

I hope never to make the mistake of using “we” when I mean “I” in my writing. I am often annoyed at writers who believe that because they have some particular vice means we all share it. This certainly annoys me more when I actually share the vice, but that’s because pride is still my primary vice.

So when I say, “Americans are really spoiled,” I’m aware that I am looping a great many people into my sinfulness with me. Yet, I base this on observation rather than conjecture. I am a checkout girl a few hours a week at the cafeteria of a local Catholic hospital. I call myself a checkout girl rather than a cashier because I think it more whimsical. A cashier makes me sound like a kiosk with hair.

I rarely hear customers wonder at the variety of edibles and drinks in our small hospital. I regularly hear complaints, though, about the lack of baked chips, a particular diet soda they prefer over the 15 diet sodas we carry, and the wrong frosting on a particular dessert. I do not mean to engage in detraction against the patients, their family members, or the staff. I understand the tendency. When I want ginger soda, I do not want sugary mass-produced imitation ginger. I want a ginger soda that kicks. I have been known to grouse about Amazon taking a week to get a particular item to my door.

When I was in high school in the early 1980s the only businesses that were open on Sundays were the local hospital, the gas station by the highway, and a few restaurants. Those businesses were closed on all major holidays as well. By the time I had finished college Walmart had moved in, and the local stores were starting to open on Sundays and holidays to try to compete. I had no idea what a blessing it was to grow up in a community that did not believe 24/7 commerce was a good thing.

I regularly ponder the role of gratitude in our long, slow crawl toward end times in America. Recently, meaning sometime between yesterday and six years ago, I re-read this passage:

And it came to pass, as he was going to Jerusalem, he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain town, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off; And lifted up their voice, saying: Jesus, master, have mercy on us. Whom when he saw, he said: Go, show yourselves to the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean. And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God. And he fell on his face before his feet, giving thanks: and this was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering, said, Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger. And he said to him: Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole.

Luke 17:11-19

I am ashamed to admit that most often in life I am one of those nine healed lepers blundering on in my life without sufficiently noticing the miracles I’ve been granted. I am ashamed of my lack of gratitude and have sought out ways to do better. One such method has been to create a Thanksgiving prayer list that I pray prior to my petitions list. By placing it before my supplications, I believe I am putting my prayers in the correct order.

Another method is giving thanks when adversity arises, no matter whether small or painful, arises. I want to see adversity as a mortification or method of becoming holier and an opportunity to grow closer to Christ. I have gotten much better at not vocalizing irritation. I am still a work in progress when it comes to mortifying my initial mental reactions. I would like to get to the point where my initial thoughts are never negative or sarcastic.

The healed leper who returns provides a revelation for us all at the end of the passage. Our Lord’s words are that he should, “go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole.” Hmm. So he is more healed than the other lepers? Well, yes, actually.  

Jesus died for our sins just as he healed the bodies of the lepers. It required no merit on our part. He did it. All of it. What we are required to do is to cooperate with that grace he has provided to us so that we might achieve salvation. That isn’t nothing. We cannot just blunder on through our lives ignoring the miracle of salvation. We cannot ignore the requirements and obligations we have because of his sacrifice for us.

The lone leper who expressed gratitude for the miracle of his healing, therefore, represents all of us who know that we must live according to the precepts of the Church in order to demonstrate that “our faith has made” us whole. It’s Christ who is doing the heavy lifting here, no doubt. But our gratitude matters. Our cooperation matters. It’s what keeps us on the right path. I must go to Confession regularly, then be grateful for that opportunity. I must receive the Eucharist in that state of awe due Our Lord. By these acts I run to Jesus and thank him for the miracle of healing me.

Understand, I am not saying I am good at gratitude. I am not. I am not saying that others are not profoundly better at it than I am. I am certain that they are. When Father Damian said, “we lepers,” he was acknowledging that he was now a member of a new group. May we all one day be “we saints.”

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Written by
Jennifer Borek