“Mercy Cleanses the Heart”
VATICAN CITY — On a sunny Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis continued his catechesis for the Year of Mercy, turning today to the miracle of Jesus’ healing of the leper (Luke 5:12-16).
Here below we offer our readers an English translation of the Pope’s full address.
Mercy Cleanses the Heart (cf. Lk 5:12-16)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Lk 5:12): it is the request we heard addressed to Jesus by the leper. This man does not ask only to be healed, but to be “cleansed,” that is, completely made whole, in body and heart. Indeed, leprosy was considered a kind of curse from God, a form of deep impurity. The leper had to keep far away from everyone; he could not enter the temple or any divine service. Far from God and far from men. What a sad life these people lived.
Despite this, this leper does not resign himself either to the disease or to the provisions that make him an outcast. To reach Jesus, he did not fear breaking the law, and he enters the city — something he wasn’t supposed to do, he was forbidden — and when he found him, “he fell on his face and besought him: Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (v. 12). Everything this man who was considered unclean does and says is the expression of his faith. He recognizes Jesus’ power: he is sure he has the power to heal him and that everything depends on his will. This faith is the strength that allowed him to break with all convention and seek an encounter with Jesus; and falling on his knees before him, he calls him “Lord.”
The leper’s plea shows that, when we present ourselves to Jesus, it is not necessary to make long speeches. A few words are enough, provided they are accompanied by full confidence in his omnipotence and his goodness. In fact, entrusting ourselves to the will of God means trusting in his infinite mercy.
I will confide something personal to you. In the evening, before going to bed, I pray this short prayer: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And I prayer five “Our Fathers,” one for each of Jesus’ wounds, because Jesus has cleansed us by his wounds. But if I do this, you can too, at your home, and say: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” and think of Jesus’ wounds and say an “Our Father” for each of them. And Jesus always hears us.
Jesus is deeply struck by this man. St. Mark’s Gospel underlines that “moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will; be clean” (Mk 1:41). Jesus’ gesture accompanies his words and makes his teaching more explicit. Contrary to the prescriptions of the Law of Moses, which prohibited one from approaching a leper (cf. Leviticus 13:45-46), Jesus stretches out his hand and even touches him. How often do we really encounter a poor man when he comes to us? We may even be generous, we may have pity, but usually we do not touch him. We offer him a coin, we toss it there, but we avoid touching his hand. And we forget that that is the body of Jesus. Jesus teaches us not to be afraid to touch the poor and the outcast, because he is in them. Touching the poor can cleanse us from hypocrisy and make us concerned for his condition. Touch the outcasts. Today these young people are here with me. Many think that it would have been better for them to remain in their homeland, but they were suffering so much there. They are our refugees, but so many think of them as outcasts. Please, they are our brothers. A Christian does not exclude anyone; give everyone a place, let everyone come.
After having healed the leper, Jesus charged him to tell no one, but said to him: “Go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to the people” (v. 14). Jesus’ provision demonstrates at least three things. The first: the grace at work in us does not look for sensationalism. Usually, it moves with discretion and without fanfare. To treat our wounds and guide us along the path of holiness, it works patiently, shaping our hearts after the Lord’s Heart, so that more and more it takes on his thoughts and feelings.
The second: in making him officially verify to the priests the healing that occurred and celebrating an expiatory sacrifice, the leper is readmitted into to the community of believers and into social life. His full reintegration completes the healing. Just as he himself had pleaded, now he is now completely purified. Lastly, by presenting himself to the priests, the leper gives testimony to them regarding Jesus and his Messianic authority. The power of the compassion with which Jesus healed the leper led this man’s faith to open to mission. He was an outcast, now he is one of us.
Let us think of ourselves, of our miseries … Each has his own. Let us think with sincerity. How many times do we cover them with the hypocrisy of “good manners.” And that is precisely when we need to remain alone, kneel before God and pray: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And do it, do it before going to bed, every evening. And now let us say together this beautiful prayer: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
Translation by Diane Montagnaof Aleteia’s English edition.