Now there was a man full of leprosy….and the leprosy left him immediately. (Luke 5:12-13)
The words full of leprosy caught my attention as I read this Scripture passage. I think of leprosy as being an external condition affecting the skin, but the words full of made me think of something deeper, some kind of cavity or open space which had been filled.
As I pondered this man’s healing, I wondered if leprosy had become a part of his identity and self-understanding. Had he become accustomed to being shunned? Did he find solace in his solitude? I wondered what filled the open space where the leprosy had been.
This man, full of leprosy, reminds me of when I was younger and full of shame. I thought of myself that way—full of shame. I blamed myself for the bad things that had happened to me and internalized them into a message that I was bad. Bad things happen to bad people, I told myself.
But, I hoped for something different; I hoped that I could be healed. Just as the leprosy left the man immediately, I hoped my shame would be removed in an instant.
My pastor encouraged me to pray for healing. I started attending daily Mass and praying fervently. Months passed with no apparent change. Then one day, at the end of Mass, the priest said, “Go now, cleansed in mind and body, to love and serve the Lord.”
“Cleansed?” Not me. I was dirty, broken, disgusting—in mind and body. Tears started pouring from my eyes and I crumpled to the kneeler, burying my face in my hands.
I wanted to be cleansed. “Please God,” I pleaded through sobs, “cleanse me.”
As I knelt in that pew, sobbing, I had a vision. I saw myself cleaved in two and all that was ugly and broken and shameful poured out of me. It was a veritable river of disgust spewing out. I watched until there was nothing left, until I was empty.
Was this what it meant to be healed? Had Jesus removed my shame the same way he had removed leprosy? I accepted this vision as a healing and floated out of the church on a spiritual high. God had heard my prayers and cleansed me.
Being healed presented a dilemma, though. The only me I had known was the shameful me. Without my shame, who was I?
St. Paul’s letters became my guide. The man who had persecuted the church became its biggest promoter. I wanted to be able to walk away from my past as St. Paul had, to be so strengthened by the Spirit that I could become a new person in Christ and never look back.
Forty-three years have passed since that day in church and I can look back and see how God has continued to heal me and reshape me. I am grateful.