The gospel episode of the leper healed by Jesus was highlighted by Benedict XVI today, for the purpose of once again recommending to the faithful the practice of sacramental confession.
To the 20,000 people present in St. Peter's Square for the recitation of the Angelus, on a clear but cold day, the pope also explained the historical meaning of the words that Jesus spoke to the sick man: "Be made clean."
"According to the ancient Jewish law (cf. Lev. 13-14), leprosy was considered not only an illness, but the most serious form of 'impurity'. It was the responsibility of the priests to diagnose it and declare the sick person unclean. The person then had to be separated from the community and had to stay away from the place where it lived, until his healing could be fully verified. For this reason, leprosy constituted a sort of religious and civil death, and its healing a sort of resurrection. In leprosy, it is possible to glimpse a symbol of sin, which is the true impurity of the heart, and can separate us from God. In effect, it is not the physical illness of leprosy, as stated by the old norms, that separates us from him, but sin, spiritual and moral evil.
"The sins that we commit," he then said, "separate us from God, and if they are not confessed with humility and trust in the divine mercy, they can even reach the point of producing the death of the soul. This miracle therefore takes on a strong symbolic value. Jesus, as Isaiah had prophesied, is the Servant of the Lord who bore our infirmities and endured our sufferings (cf. Is. 53:4).
In his passion, he would become like a leper, made unclean by our sins, separated from God: he would do all of this for love, for the purpose of obtaining for us reconciliation, forgiveness, and salvation. In the Sacrament of Penance, Christ crucified and risen, through his ministers, purifies us with his infinite mercy, restores us to communion with the heavenly Father and with our brothers, and gives us his love, his joy, and his peace."
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