Saint Fursa, abbot and missionary (opt. Memorial)
The word of Samuel came to all Israel. In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies." So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the Ark of the Covenant of God.
When the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, "What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, "Gods have come into the camp." They also said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight."
So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us:
you no longer go forth with our armies.
You make us retreat from the foe
and our enemies plunder us at will. (R./)
You make us the taunt of our neighbours,
the mockery and scorn of all who are near.
Among the nations, you make us a byword,
among the peoples a thing of derision. (R./)
Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep?
Arise, do not reject us for ever!
Why do you hide your face
and forget our oppression and misery. (R./)
A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
In telling about Jesus curing the leper, Mark stresses the importance of the poor man’s trusting faith. Like that leper, we must be open to healing and to God’s invisible presence. The externals of religion, even long-held dogmas and the most sacred objects, are meant to facilitate our communion with the Lord. Our hearts, when silence prevails and distraction is kept at bay, become the living Ark of the Covenant and the place where miracles can happen. History has shown that the externals of religion on which we tend to rely can collapse. The Ark was taken by the enemy. Traditional religion suddenly seems inadequate for today, and leaves us feeling helpless. We need to cross this desert in order to find Jesus.
Discerning true faith from mere religiosity is not easy. The common folk are hardly to blame for rallying around traditional religious centres, whether the Ark of the Covenant, Lourdes or Medjugorje. An important task for religious leaders is helping to keep religion pure. Earlier in Samuel’s story, in a section not read at Mass, Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas were guilty of serious wrongdoing. They were keeping the best part of the people’s sacrifices for themselves and offering to God only the remnants. Many other scandals could be listed. Religious leaders bear the brunt of blame if superstition and selfishness are rampant among the people, or if the people cannot distinguish true from false forms of religion.
We each have religious influence in one way or another: as parent or teacher, as priest or parishioner, neighbour or friend. In all of these capacities we can influence others and contribute to their encourage their moral principles and their faith. Do I use my influence for good? Do I seek to help others in their relationship with God?
Jesus often healed people just by speaking to them. His word alone was powerful. In healing the leper, he not only spoke to him, but touched him. In this, he did what no one else would do. For obvious reasons, people kept lepers at a distance, and these poor sufferers were expected to keep their distance from others. But Jesus kept no one at a distance, not even lepers. No one was beyond his reach. Nobody was untouchable. He came to touch our lives in a very tangible way, regardless of our condition. The leper wasn’t sure whether Jesus wanted to heal him, as is clear from his hesitant request, “If you want to, you can cure me.” Jesus showed he wanted to heal him, by touching him.
He wants to touch our lives too, in order to enhance the lives us us all. Nothing we do or fail to do, no circumstance in which we find ourselves, puts us beyond his reach. As St Paul says, “nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.” The Lord touches our lives, where we are, as we are. All we need is something of the leper’s initiative in approaching Jesus.