Living Word: Francis and the Leper

by Adam Setmeyer | Sep 10, 2014

By: John Shelton, Campus Minister

Leprosy is a disease that is still “alive and kicking” in our world- with thousands of leprous people living in poorer lands with unclean health conditions. St. Francis’ death, as recorded by his companions, was gruesome.  He suffered physically, and was blind at his death. In his adult –stage, life long association with serving lepers, he became one of them. Just as Christ became one of us.

Let’s take a moment and place ourselves in our own imagination.

You are Francis.

You reflect, "For I, being in sin, thought it bitter to look at lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them, and I worked mercy with them."

 Your recall that first meeting:

  • I, Francis do not wish to be a cloth merchant like my father
  • My dream of knighthood has been crushed through war and by my prolonged illness
  • I  am walking along a road on the outskirts of Assisi with my friend Leo, I hear a bell-  a coarse, flat, pedestrian clank something like a cowbell
  • "Let's get out of here, Francis," Leo cries. But I, not knowing exactly why, stood my ground
  • Over the hill just ahead, there appears a deformed figure with a clanging bell around the neck- a leper
  • The figure waves me off to the side of the road, but I did not move
  • I have always been repulsed by the sight of lepers! How much I fear their dread contagion!
  • "Have you not heard my bell?" asks the leper. "Do you not know that I am forced to wear this bell to warn you that a leper is approaching?"
  • I remained motionless, tasting my fear as I swallow
  • Suddenly, filled with a strength which came I knew not from where, I run toward the leper
  • I embrace the Leper, kissing him on his festering cheek
  • Weeping aloud, "Brother Leper, forgive me for neglecting you”
  • Then, for a moment, the Leper's appearance is transformed
  • He seems to wear a crown of thorns and to bleed from wounds in his hands, his feet, and his sides
  • He looks at me with love
  • Just as suddenly, the Leper vanishes from sight, leaving me weeping on the silent road
  • "Brother Leo, don't you see? Don't you see? The lepers, they all turn into Christ! “
  • I have found my vocation, my life call from God. 1

I believe that in many cases, I have done the same.  Now, I am excited!!  When the next opportunity arises, when I hear the bell, I will not look the other direction, or move onto the other side of the road.  For Christ will be there ahead, waiting to meet me, waiting to embrace me. 

How about you????????

1 adapted from: The Healers Calling Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M. M.D. Paulist Press, 1997.

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