Leprosy was a double tragedy laced with irony. When we speak of Leprosy today we are limiting ourselves to Hansen’s Disease. This is a very serious, but now thankfully rare, condition which causes liaisons on the skin and such numbness that limbs can be permanently damaged or even lost. Truly tragic. We do not know what leprosy was in the ancient near east. It seemed to run from relatively minor discoloration of the skin to very serious illnesses. The first irony is that people with minor illnesses might have been required to live with those who had serious issues and would eventually contract a deadly disease.
This reveals the second tragedy. Unlike most illnesses where the afflicted person is cared for by family and neighbors the leper is literally thrown out of the community. The book of Leviticus says: “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’46 As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp. (Le 13:45–46).
In today’s Gospel, we are clearly told that the lepers stood a great distance from Jesus and had to raise their voices so that Jesus would hear and pity them. Jesus’ response is to tell them to go to the priest. This was not arbitrary, but part of the law. As leprosy was seen as often a divine punishment it was only the priest who could declare a person clean. As with his exorcisms, Jesus does not need to engage in elaborate rituals or ceremonies. His will alone is enough and they are made clean.
This is miraculous and wonderful but not the principal aim of the story. Another irony of leprosy is that having been abandoned by everyone else they only had each other. This takes place on the border between Samaria and Galilee, so both Jewish and Samaritan lepers would have been forced together. Perhaps only the Roman army would have allowed such an integrated community. Jesus will use this to show that these are but signs of the community he will bring in his Kingdom. For when the messengers of John came to him and asked if he was he Messiah, his reply was: Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. (Lk 7:22).
This was a messianic sign, but another was to come. He cured ten, but only one returned. Jesus comments on this but continues with, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”(Lk 17:18).
His choice of foreigner was well considered. The great prophets of Judaism realized that God had formed and saved them for a purpose, not only to honor him but to bring all the nations to him. Isaiah tells us:
The foreigner joined to the Lord should not say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people”; …
And foreigners who join themselves to the Lord …
Them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make them joyful in my house of prayer …
For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples. (Is 56:3, 6-7)
Jesus’ final words to the Samaritan, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Lk 17:19), echoes what he has said to all those he has touched and saved. He belongs now to the kingdom of God, not to the community of lepers or indeed of Samaritans. The question for us is, “would he belong here? Are we a community for those who have found Jesus and now need a place to know him?”
This question is not in isolation, but in the context of Stewardship, and we now need to speak now about Money and Ministry.
Registered parishioners will have received a card in the mail in the past week. You were asked to review it and bring it to church today. If you did not receive one or forgot to bring it, they may be found in the rear of the church or you may call the rectory. If you have a pre-printed card it should have an indication of your donations to St. Charles and your contact information. We ask you to review it, to think about increasing your contribution to the parish, write the amount you wish to give and either mail it to the rectory or bring it to church next week
Why is this necessary?
The extensive renovation of the Church is being financed, at least in theory, by the rent from the school and former rectory. We depend on income from the parish to pay our bills and fund our ministries. This will not occur this year. The regular collections have declined, we have received very few extraordinary donations, and our expenses have increased considerably. This will require that we use some of the money from our rentals to finance day to day operations. This is a very clear warning sign.
Also, our collections even before this were very low. The parish to which I was assigned before coming to Brooklyn Heights in South Jamaica was about the same size as St. Charles, but the regular income was in 2014 was 20% higher. The fund raiser that is helping us told me that of all the parishes he has we have the smallest regular contributions. I checked with a few pastors, including some in distressed communities, and we trail all of them. There are, no doubt many reasons for this but an important one may be that we have an insufficient understanding of Stewardship and confuse pew rental with parish support. Many parishioners will donate when they are present at Mass, paying for the seat as it were, but do not give anything when they are not present. Therefore, our income is severely if unconsciously reduced. Just as with any other personal budget item, we need to look at parish support on a yearly basis. This is most efficiently done by making a pledge and fulfilling it regularly. I myself use the on-line giving option which automatically bills my credit card every month.
If we look at what we can give and commit to doing it consistently we would be able to keep all the money from the rentals flowing into the Church renovation, pay our bills and also increase the services we provide for each other and the community.
I am so confident that we will do this that I have asked the parish leadership to develop a strategy. They will be asking interested groups in the parish to meet and develop the programs and activities that they feel most important to them. The first, as has already been announced, will be for young professionals on Monday, November 4th. This is the second meeting with this group, and we should have a more developed plan of action quite soon. It is an open meeting and we hope you will attend. Another constituency to be consulted is marrieds-with-children. I have only had informal conversations with some of you, but you have been eloquent and specific: good things shall come. Finally, there is my own age group. We can become invisible. Msgr. Diviney, former pastor of St. Charles, would only allow himself to be called a senior citizen if he could call younger people junior citizens. He compromised with “tenured” citizens, and I think we should be acknowledged as well -not only with services for our needs but opportunities for our talents. No church can be complete without us. There are other groups, but we will start here for now. We need to take the time to use our talents effectively.
We also need to have a paper trail to prove that we have the numbers we claim. As a good percentage of us are not able to attend Mass here every week, formally registering in the parish and opening the emails are clear signs of connection. Remember as well that we need complete addresses. The post office will not deliver if there is any ambiguity. If you live in an apartment house, please tell us the room number or in a private house any other necessary information.
Thank you for your concern and please send us the card or put it in the basket at the offertory next Sunday.
It is most important to remember, however, that our basic pledge to Jesus is to create a parish in which we can belong ourselves comfortably, and to which we can invite others enthusiastically.