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The week of love is upon us. As you know, this week we have St. Valentine's Day as well as World Marriage Day. If ever there was a perfect time for a message of love, this week is it. So for this week of love, what does the Church give its preachers to work with? ... Two readings about leprosy ... Apparently, nothing says "I love you" quite like leprosy. The truth is, in today’s Gospel reading about the man with leprosy, we can discover a great message of love: Jesus fully knows us and fully loves us. This is the deepest desire of our hearts, to be fully known and fully loved. Like Jesus, I have a sweet spot in my heart for the man with leprosy. He’s someone I can identify with. You see, in my family when we gather for prayers at bedtime, all the kids cuddle with my wife, Julie, on her side of the bed, since she is the cuddly one, and I am left all by my lonesome on my side of the bed. Sometimes they jokingly say it looks like I am on leper island, because I am completely removed from where all the love is at. While this is a joke for my family and I, for the man in the Gospel, leprosy was no joking matter. For this man, leprosy was a death sentence. And while he waited for leprosy to bring him to his inevitable day of death, his daily life was like hell on earth. You see, now that he had leprosy, the rules he had to live his life by meant that everything he had built his life around was taken away. His nice clothes, hair and beard that had helped cover the sores from his leprosy were all taken away. He was taken away from his Jewish community of believers. He was taken away from the temple, the holy dwelling place of God. He was even taken away from the sanctuary of his own home. He was taken away from his hometown to go to the leper colony. He was taken away from his family. Even his ability to blend in amongst strangers was taken away as he now had to scream “unclean” to notify approaching strangers about his disease. Imagine how completely empty this man’s love tank must have felt. No one to spend time with as a companion, no one to give him a compliment, no one to give him a gift, no one to help care for him and no one to give him a loving touch. When everything that we’ve built our lives around has been taken away from us, the decision we face is pretty clear: to either let this situation tear us apart from God or to let this situation bring us closer to God. We must realize it is at this very moment when we feel empty inside that room has been freed up in our lives for Jesus to become the center of our lives. It is precisely when we feel like God has placed us on the sidelines of His life that it is most important for us to place Jesus at the center of our lives. Jesus wants each of us to build our lives around Him. This is exactly what the man with leprosy does. This man goes to Jesus, kneels in front of Him and in the bright darkness of faith, he says to Jesus, “if you wish, you can make me clean.” The next line in the Gospel is arguably the most understated line in the English translation of the Bible. It says Jesus was “moved with pity.” “Moved with pity.” It’s tempting to rush right past these three words to hurry up and get to the miracle. But if we want to understand Jesus and how he fully knows us and loves us, we should stop and spend some time at this place. To understand what an overwhelming experience of intimacy took place in this moment, we first need to take a step back to remember that the New Testament was not originally written in English, it was originally written in Greek. The original Greek word used here is splagchnizomai. The English language has no perfect translation for this word, so the word gets translated as “moved with pity,” which really misses the profoundly deep physical and emotional flavor of this word. When we hear that Jesus was “moved with pity,” it is saying that that Jesus saw into the heart of this man and that because of the pain Jesus saw in there, Jesus’ gut was wrenched, Jesus felt a deep powerful weeping inside, that in anguish His heart was torn open and the most vulnerable part of his being laid bare. The greatest lover who ever lived really knows what hurts this man and it shakes Jesus at the core of His very being, which is why Jesus stretches out His hand to touch, love, save and heal this man. This physical healing is only a hint of the compassion of Jesus for our wounded humanity. This compassion and love is something I have experienced first-hand. I stand before you today as a brother, Deacon and Dad who is grateful; grateful for all the times in my life when I needed love and healing and Jesus worked through others who got out of their comfort zone to reach out to let me feel Christ’s loving and healing touch. During a heart-wrenching break-up with my girlfriend in college, I remember calling my older brother and letting him know how empty and alone I felt and him dropping everything that was going on in his life to drive five hours to come and be with me for the weekend. Just his presence and companionship had a tremendous healing effect in letting me know I was fully known and fully loved. I stand before you as a Deacon today because unworthy as I felt pursuing Jesus’ call to become a Deacon, someone showed Christ’s love for me by giving a generous gift through their Annual Catholic Appeal donation to make my Deacon schooling affordable. I have no doubt that this person measured the generosity of their loving gift not by how much they gave, but by how much they had left over after they gave. And more recently, there’s been a change in our family’s nightly bedtime prayer routine. My sweet nine-year-old daughter, Journey, has started getting out of her comfort zone on the other side of the bed to come cuddle with her Dad during bedtime prayers. The message from the acts of each of these people is clear: Justin, you are fully known and fully loved. In a beautiful way, it is really Jesus who is speaking this message to each of us. So during this week of love, may we feel in the depths of our souls Jesus saying to each of us “you are fully known and fully loved.”

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