Maybe it was the vehemence of St. Paul’s conversion event that made him so vociferous about his convictions when he preached. We may all have those days when certainty is the order of the day. (See my post of yesterday.) Most of us, however, have a smaller sphere of influence than Paul and are not in danger of death because of what we say. I often wonder if I would be so willing to speak about my faith if I lived in a place that was inimical to my way of speaking or if my beliefs were the same were I to be living at the same era as Paul. Would I be so moved if I stood with the Romans and heard him say, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ROM 8)
Every once in awhile we find someone in the Scriptures who isn’t afraid to take a risk in his/her approach to Jesus. The leper in today’s gospel is such a person. Upon seeing Jesus “in one of the towns where Jesus was,” this man took the dramatic step of prostrating himself before Jesus saying, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”
I have this image of the encounter. Jesus is either chatting with someone on a street corner or shopping for something that he or someone else needed. There is no crowd around; it’s early in the gospel of Luke (5:12-16) and the man was able to go right up to where Jesus was and, recognizing him somehow, declare his request without hesitation. Whether Jesus was taken aback or happy that the person in front of him was so direct and sure of him, his answer was just as straightforward. “Of course I want to (my favorite translation says), be clean!” And so it happened. Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the man and the leprosy left him immediately – just like that!
When I am feeling timid about the reasonableness of my prayers, I would do well to remember this man and summon up the courage of my convictions, remembering God’s willingness to hear me and help me. Confidence will win every time!
All I ever knew of St. Martin of Tours was a line I learned in elementary school: Martin of Tours battled the Moors in 732. Today is his feast day and this morning I was shocked to read Martin’s biography to find that he died in 397! Since elementary school is a vague memory for me, I must conclude that we were taught that the battle with the Moorish troops was won under the protection of Martin, who actually was a soldier who subsequently founded a monastery close to where this battle was fought. Although disappointed in my search for some closer connection of the stories, I thought it interesting, on this holiday when we pay homage to veterans, that St. Martin was a man who was conscripted into the army when he was 15 years old and after some years of service lobbied to be released as what we would call today a conscientious objector.
It seems that Martin resisted much in his life but was strong in his convictions and his faith. The son of pagan parents, americancatholic.org says of him that he lived more like a monk than a soldier, only discharged from the army after great difficulties to become a monk. He was a monk who was maneuvered into being a bishop, a bishop who fought paganism as well as pleaded for mercy for heretics…It seems that the people of Tours demanded that he become their bishop, brought to the church by a ruse – the need of a sick person – where he reluctantly allowed himself to be consecrated bishop.
There are great stories of Martin but what drew me most powerfully this morning was the comment at the end of the biography that I read. I repeat it now because I have been immersed in such thoughts lately and I think it is worthy of our attention. Martin’s worry about cooperation with evil reminds us that almost nothing is either all black or all white. The saints are not creatures of another world. They face the same perplexing decisions that we do. Any decision of conscience always involves some risk. If we choose to go north, we may never know what would have happened had we gone east, west or south. A hyper-cautious withdrawal from all perplexing situations is not the virtue of prudence; it is, in fact, a bad decision, for “not to decide is to decide.”