An elderly priest making rounds in a prison came upon a despondent young man. “Leave me alone, Father. I’m no good, said the young man. “Everything I have touched has been ruined. I have led others into a life of crime. I have wounded the only ones who care for me—my mother, my wife and our young daughter. There’s no hope for me.”
]The priest was silent for a moment before he spoke. “The hurt you have inflicted on others may never be healed. What you have done is most serious. What you need now is to find a new compass, a new way to walk. We must begin by teaching you some new stories.”
“Stories!” The young man shouted. “I speak to you out of despair and you talk to me of stories? I live without hope and you speak to me of happy endings? If my life is to be spent behind bars, I may need new facts, but I certainly don’t need stories.”
The priest said, “Humor an old man. Listen to one tale.”
Once a very bad man died and went before the judgment throne. Before him stood King David, St. Peter and St. Luke. A chilly silence hung heavy in the room as an unseen voice began to read the details of the man’s life. There was nothing good that was recorded. When the voice concluded, King David spoke: You have committed evil crimes. You do not belong in the Kingdom of Light.” The man faced the great king and cried, “Son of Jesse, it is true. I am a wicked man. Yet I dare ask you for forgiveness. You slept with Uriah’s wife and later, to cover up your sin, arranged his death. I only ask forgiveness as you have known it.”
St. Peter was the next to speak. “Unlike David, you have shown no love toward God. By your acid tongue and vile temper you have wounded the Son of God.” “I should have learned to be more silent. I took the Lord’s name in anger too often. Still, Simon, son of John, I plead for grace. Though you walked by his side and listened to his words from his own lips, you slept when he needed you in the garden, and you denied him three times.”
Then St Luke spoke, “You must leave. You have not been found worthy of the kingdom of God.”
“My life has been recorded correctly and I am guilty as charged. Yet I know there is a place for me here. King David and St. Peter will plead my cause because they know of the weakness of man and the mercy of God. You, blessed physician, will open the gates to me because you have written of God’s great love for the likes of me. Don’t you recognize me? I am the lost sheep that the Good Shepherd carried home.” And the gates opened and Luke embraced the sinner.
“You see”, the priest concluded, “I want you to learn stories, not as an exercise in fiction, but in order to walk in mercy. Stories will help you find your way.
The Scripture scholar, William Barclay wrote that “lepers were people who were already dead, though still alive.” The disease was bad enough, but the stigma that was attached to it was even worse. Although this disease has been eradicated, there are many people today who suffer from isolation and a sense of hopelessness.
Jesus gives the leper in the gospel new life. And that’s what he wants to do for those who are in need of healing. Looking at our sins (and sins can be a type of leprosy) can sometimes make us feel that we will never be “good with God” ever again. We may think that we have burned too many bridges in our life. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just the simple prayer, “If you wish, you can make me clean” can be the start of a new life. Sin can also isolate us. That’s why it’s good to listen to the stories of those who have made mistakes just as we have.
Next week begins Lent. This year, use this time to focus on the stories of those who have perhaps fallen into the same traps as we have or maybe worse. See how Christ touched their life and allow him to do the same for you through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.