In Our Lord’s time leprosy was a double whammy. As a disease it was an endless string of sores that were not followed by natural healing and fresh flesh. It was also a religious uncleanness that banned the leper from attendance at the synagogue, temple or market. The leper in today’s gospel apparently had grown used to living with his disease, so he didn’t ask for a cure, but he hadn’t been able to accept being excluded from the company of other humans, so he asked to be cleansed.
The U.S. isolated lepers in a colony at Carville Louisiana. In 1873 G. A. Hanson isolated the bacteria causing leprosy. Then, the first highly effective drug for treating it, dapsone, became available in the 1940’s. Carville was completely shut down in 1999.
The lepers were wandering beggars in Korea when I went there in the 1950’s. There was a cardboard and tin settlement of twenty thousand lepers on the red mud flats near the Yellow Sea. Once when I went to pay a visit on some Irish nursing nuns, they had arranged for an American archbishop to accompany them out there to offer Mass, and they had me come along to hear confessions.
There was a three-hour string of Catholic lepers kneeling next to me for confessions, and they had me noticing two things. One thing was that Korean Catholics are no different than American Catholics, and that lepers are no different then healthy people. We all have the same troubles praying and getting along.
At the outdoor Mass that followed, we had three cups of communion hosts to be consecrated at the Mass, but I forgot to put them on the altar. Just before communion time the archbishop and I both noticed them on a side table. So, I put them where I should have had them on the altar, and Archbishop Henry repeated the Consecration.
Afterwards, in telling the other priests about it, Archbishop Henry said, “At the same moment both of us noticed the three cups of host on the side table, and Sully said, “Cripes!”