In prayer group, we recently covered Chapter 10 from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, A Body of Broken Bones. I could have titled it, “I am loved in spite of my unworthiness.” In this chapter, Merton talks about God’s grace and unconditional love, compassion and being one with all. A key concept in my being able to love “my neighbor” is to have the belief that I am loved by God. As Merton states, “The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God.”
It is then, in this state of perfect love and contemplation with God, that “our inalienable personalities, while remaining eternally distinct, will nevertheless combiner into One so that each one of us will find himself in all the others, and God will be life and reality of all.”
Coincidentally, the gospel reading from 2 weeks ago was from Luke 5:12-16, Jesus healing the man with leprosy.
12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
As I contemplated and prayed on this passage, I went back to my early high school years in Colombia. My mom had gotten me a membership to the Olympic pool at our city of Cali, and I frequented the pool often to swim some laps and get away from the stresses of life. One summer, I developed sores on my feet that gradually became worse. At first, they were itchy and small, slowly turning into scabs as I scratched them. I was hoping they would disappear by themselves but instead they got bigger and slowly began to break open with pus. I continued to play soccer as they did not seem to bother me too much, but they really got my attention when I noticed my white socks were becoming stained with pus. A smell developed from my feet that was repulsive, a smell that today I would describe as “bacterial.” It got my mom’s attention when my white sneakers started showing yellow and red stains. Our family doctor prescribed both antifungal and antibacterial medicines which helped me recover.
Going back to Luke’s reading, I can only imagine how much worse did the man with leprosy feel as he approached Jesus and asked for a healing. With the heat in Palestine, the smell from this person must have been strong. As he was covered with leprosy, I am going to imagine that his peripheral nerves were already damaged and perhaps there wasn’t much physical pain. But the emotional pain had to be significant as he had been ostracized from family and friends.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” How often have we found ourselves asking God, “if you are willing, you can make me clean?” I would say my petitions are strongest when I find myself in a state of humility, be it from a circumstance that was physical like an illness, or maybe emotional from work. It is in these states that I feel Jesus looking at me, extending his arm to touch my shoulder and saying, “I am willing.”
God appreciates the full worth of our souls. He sees our souls possess dignity and wants to love us unconditionally. God made us in God’s image, and God wants the best for us, helping us realize ourselves to the best of our potential. When I embrace these concepts and make them my own, I can then rest in peace knowing that I have guidance through Jesus’ teachings, and I have the energy that inspires me by the Holy Spirit to do what is right, with full freedom to follow and with no attachments, as I know the Holy Spirit is like the wind where I do not where it comes from or where it goes, but it is always right.
In being one with the Triune God, I can lower my guard as I accept my unworthiness, with all my faults and all my imperfections. I let God spread God’s wings to protect me and care for me. In this embrace with God, I can feel the love and peace settling in my heart as I close my eyes and just rest under God’s protection.
It is in this state of love, as I accept humbly my unworthiness, that I can then love “my neighbor” unconditionally. In this process of helping, as I try to be the best that I can be so that we can become One with God, I discover myself with all my qualities that God placed in my heart but also help you realize your potential by helping you see your own qualities. This state of being creates a harmony that we long to have because it is our nature to be one with God. Then, we can embrace in our full humanity and rest in God’s love and peace