6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
14th February 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh,
“Try not to be anxious for one’s own advantage”
Every negative diagnosis is like a prison sentence. People freely talk of the shock and numbness that comes with receiving bad news about their health. As it is now so it was in the distant past of biblical times when leprosy was as bad as it could be for a person because it was not just the suffering and horror of the disease but the isolation and separation that was enforced upon them.
Medicine has made great strides over time in diagnosing and treating even the most serious illness and thankfully so many quickly recover their full health and get back into life. And yet a fact that remains is that new forms of infection keep emerging which lead to illness and death.
Right now, the world is undergoing this experience of threat and danger with the current pandemic. And just as an individual experience of getting bad news is a great shock no less is the plight of humanity – why me and why now?
In the face of grave illness and the prospect of dying we know that there are stages we tend to go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss born doctor gave us these insights from a lifetime speaking to the terminally ill and dying. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
These same stages apply to all of us together as we face the threats and danger of the pandemic. Not that all of us experience these stages at the same time. There are many for whom the early stages of lockdown were not too bad but who now find things really hard and testing. And they are taken aback by their own reaction.
My friends, we stand on the threshold of Lent – a season closely linked to Jesus’ time of testing in the desert. Stripped of life’s normal comforts of food, shelter and companionship – he was subject to the temptations of power, prestige and possessions, if he surrendered something of his very soul. His resistance was and is our model “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word from the mouth of God”.
We always view Lent with mixed feelings of a shared time of some important self-sacrifice but also an opportunity to get some element of our lives back on track. So it is with this Lent but with an added dimension of the sacrifices required of one another in a pandemic. The verses from St. Paul can put us in the right frame of mind. “I try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious for my own advantage but for the advantage of all, that they may be saved. Take me for your model as I take Christ”. (2nd Reading)
The invitation is not to be anxious for my own advantage – that is a sacrifice in these times – to think beyond our own self for the sake of all. This is a Lenten program in its own right. It calls for a thoughtful generosity of spirit, it requires perseverance and patience. It is a call to young and old alike.
The Gospel account of the way the lepers flocked to Jesus for healing is no different for humanity today as we live with a leprosy of our time. The social distancing echoes the warning required of lepers in biblical times to warn people of the danger their disease was for others.
In our day we are the healing heart and hands of Jesus for our brothers and sisters who are sick and some dying. “Have that mind within you that is in Christ Jesus”, St. Paul endlessly advises us. It comes from the companionship of prayer time with the Lord. When we are tested, we know the Lord understands us. When we are stretched by way of demands and expectation share your hearts burden trusting in his promise of rest for those who do so.
Relying on oneself alone is not a good way to journey through life’s many demands. Strangely, it is the opposite “try not to be anxious for one’s own advantage but for the advantage of all that they may be saved”. And when you think on it, given that to-day is Valentine’s Day, it is very good advice for any couple of any age! Indeed for all of us regardless of the vocation to which we have been called.