Mass for those with Developmental Disabilities
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 14, 2021

Have you ever noticed just how much time we spend reviewing statistics?    Particularly during these difficult days as we continue to battle the coronavirus, almost every newspaper article or news report is packed with them:  the number of vaccines that have been administered – the number of people who have contracted the virus – the number of deaths that have occurred in one state or another – the number of unemployed as a result of the virus’ economic impact.

Statistics have their place and are valuable for many reasons.  They enable us to determine the scope of a particular issue, its impact on society and our lives and how we might best prepare to address it.  The down side to focusing solely on a statistic is that when it pertains to living, breathing people, a statistic doesn’t have a name or a face.  It’s an empty number, percentage or category.  And we can easily forget that hidden in cold numbers are real, living individuals and families with feelings and needs, hopes and dreams, who tragically are often consigned to the margins of life because of failure and misfortune.

The cleansing of the leper in today’s gospel is a significant moment in Jesus’ life and ministry.  By just touching the leper who approached him, Jesus challenged one of the strictest proscriptions in Jewish society as noted in our first reading from the Book of Leviticus.  In engaging the leper, however, Jesus’ miraculous power went well beyond the norms of his society and religion.

First, in cleansing the man of his leprosy at the very beginning of his public ministry in Mark’s gospel, Jesus boldly revealed God’s great love and respect for every life.  His love and mercy is not contained by religious laws, traditions or social norms but touches every soul because of the simple fact that every soul – every life – is made in the image and likeness of God and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

What’s more, despite the fact that the leper was consigned to the margins of his society by his physical disability, his faith was strong, vibrant and authentic.  In kneeling before Jesus, the man recognized in Jesus the power and presence of God.  He then went on to place his entire trust in Jesus by breaking cultural and religious norms and boldly asserting, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

In responding to the plea of the leper, which shocked all those who witnessed the exchange, Jesus didn’t see a mere category or a statistic or someone who was far too unclean to approach.  No, he saw a faith-filled, human soul in desperate need, to whom he responded with love and mercy.

Brothers and sisters, the same Jesus who healed the leper in Mark’s gospel comes to cleanse us of all that blinds us to the sacredness and dignity of those we reject or marginalize as “lepers” in our world today.  Before God, no one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy and compassion.  All of us are made in the sacred image and likeness of God, challenged to let go of our prejudices that reduce people to statistics and categories, to reach out to one another with love, mercy and respectful generosity and to do our part in building the Kingdom of God in our midst.

As we gather in prayer today and acknowledge the dignity and giftedness of every life that God has created, I am especially mindful of you, my brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities.  Each of you, in particular, challenges us to embrace the hope-filled message of today’s gospel in a deeper and more authentic way.  Simply put, because of you, our world is brighter – the power of love is stronger – and our ability to see God at work in our world is far more possible than without you!

Every year, Pope Francis commemorates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  A few years ago on that occasion, he shared these words, “The world does not become better because only apparently ‘perfect’ people live in it.  It becomes better when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase.  …  Each of us, sooner or later, is called to face — at times painfully — frailty and illness, both our own and those of others.  And for Jesus,” he said, “the sick and the weak, those cast aside by society, are precisely the ones he loves most.”

My brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities, more than you realize, your unwavering trust in God and your example of acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude and selfless love provide us all with priceless lessons for how best to live as disciples of Jesus.  Simply put, you teach us that we are all a part of God’s plan.  Each of us is treasured by God, for being just the way we are.  And each of us is more than well equipped to give witness to God’s merciful presence among us and to bring hope and peace to our corner of God’s world.