Not very long ago a friend was diagnosed with a terrible skin disease called Bullous Pemphigoid, which attacks the immune system. It isn’t a disease one can catch or pass on. Great ugly blisters appear on the body and if not treated can be fatal. This disease occurs more in men than women who are over 65 years of age. There is something about our perception of “ugly” that repels us. Something or someone “different” puts fear into us, which can be a positive value (for example, correctly seeking safety from disease) or a negative value (ostracism of the other person). St. Francis came face to face with “ugly” in a leper one day. Although repelled through his sense of smell and sight, Francis still found the courage to kiss the leper; the kiss was returned, and Francis was filled with divinely infused joy.
Both Francis and Jesus (in today’s gospel) teach us what our reaction to “ugly” should be. The person who is ostracised for whatever reason has been labelled an “outsider.” Everyone else is on the “insider” group. St. Francis broke the social barrier by refusing to accept such divisions. Jesus broke that barrier of ostracism many times, by healing the “ugly” and restoring the isolated persons to their families and community.
We need to go to the “heart” of the matter. Whatever causes separation and division needs healing, and we all are part of that process. Francis and Jesus probably had a lot of people avoid them for quite a while, because they had actually touched the “ugly”! In the process of making others “insiders” they themselves had become “outsiders,” even if only temporarily. So look at your own life: who do you treat as “outsiders”? Are you any better than kids at school who learn how to be verbal bullies at such a young age? What would Jesus or Francis do if they came across one of your “outsiders”? Who really needs healing: you or the ones you ostracise and hold in contempt?
The answer to most of life’s problems is always “Jesus,” who did everything to restore people to proper relationships. We look to Jesus on the cross – Jesus, the only one in right relationship to God the Father and others – to see how he suffered patiently for us, prayed constantly for us, and gave his life to restore us to God. Now we are called to break down those very same barriers of ostracism. It begins with our prayer for mercy. Properly humbled, we can then share in his ministry of compassion and healing.