The Mass at St. Malachi begins unceremoniously. The priest walks nonchalantly onto the altar, and at first I think he’s just checking on something. But he turns quickly and says, “Good morning. Let’s start with the opening antiphon.” And we’re off.
The reader recites the first reading without a microphone. There’s no need since there are only 12 of us in the pews (including an infant sleeping in his grandmother’s arms). The priest reads the Gospel the same way, although his voice is scratchy and not exactly booming. I am able to understand that today Jesus heals a leper.
As he begins his homily, the priest tells us he has a sinus infection and has just taken some medication. We also find out during the course of the homily that he has eczema, arthritis and, if I heard correctly (the sinus meds were clearly kicking in), he has in the past battled bipolar disorder.
Why’s he telling us about all of this? Let’s be clear, he is not complaining at all; instead, he’s just kind of throwing his ailments into his talk to, I think, come to a point.
In a circuitous way, he brings us back to the healing of the leper. Jesus heals the whole person, the priest says. He wasn’t just healing people with medical illnesses; he was healing people with spiritual sicknesses too, people who were lost and looking for direction toward God.
So why doesn’t Jesus heal this poor priest’s eczema or arthritis or bipolar disorder? Well, perhaps they’re not as big a deal as leprosy was in that time. Lepers could not enter the temples; therefore, they could not worship like others. This leper wanted to be with God, and Jesus allowed him to do so. I had never thought about it like that before.
The rest of the Mass goes as planned; then, as he dismisses us, the priest says with a slightly bowed head, “And please pray for more priests and nuns. There are so few of us, and we need so much help.”
I feel so bad at this moment, I’m almost ready to commit myself to a convent. Does anyone even consider the possibility of Holy Orders? I remember when I was in fourth grade, a nun came to talk to us about her life and how each of us should consider becoming a priest or a nun. I went to my grandmother’s house after school and cried, “But I want to get married and have four children!”
“You don’t have to become a nun,” she reassured me. What a relief! Still, would it have been such an awful thing if I had gotten “the calling”? I can remember sitting in my room before bed worried that it might come to me late at night (because isn’t that when “the calling” always happens?).
I never did get called, and, realistically, I’m not sure I would have made such a great nun. But is it so outrageous to at least let young people know they have that option?
At any rate, if you pray, maybe say a special prayer for the priest at Mass today, that his ailments are bearable as he continues to do his holy work.