Vulnerability and Prayerful Discernment

Reading today’s Gospel, I felt uncomfortable. I find that a feeling of discomfort around something I come across in Scripture or in life usually points to something bigger that I should start paying attention to.

I felt uncomfortable because I identified with the “man full of leprosy,” this incredibly vulnerable person whom Jewish society rejected and deemed necessarily sinful by virtue of his physical state, an apparently humble person who threw himself down on the ground when Jesus approached, pleading with him to make him “clean.” When push comes to shove, I don’t like to think of myself as vulnerable, nor does the idea of being unclean necessarily appeal to me. Quite to the contrary, I would rather think of myself as perfectly capable of dealing with whatever comes my way, and like most people, I would imagine, I like to think of myself as a good person, not any more sinful or unclean than the next person. But here it is, just the same—that discomfort, that reminder that just like the leper in the story, I am filled with vulnerability and in need of Jesus’ healing.

And I felt uncomfortable because I identified with Jesus, too. I like to think of Jesus as the ideal person, in some ways, an example I’d like to emulate. Today’s reading made me realize that I have come to make an idol of busy-ness, of doing, that my expectation of Jesus was to bustle about, healing every ailing and vulnerable person he came across. Yet his example convicted me, helped me realize that I don’t want to take the time to “withdraw to deserted places to pray” as Jesus did. I’d much rather busy myself with the good work to which I feel called, but, in reality, discernment is ongoing. With the end of my MDiv now in sight, I need to be right in the thick of that prayerful discernment in the months ahead.

Moving forward into the day, to what vulnerabilities does this Gospel reading call your attention? To which deserted places are you being encouraged to withdraw and pray?

Jen Owens took the above photo on her first full day in Belize City, Belize, around this time last year, when she accompanied two University Ministry staff members and ten Marquette students on a service and immersion trip there. Jen still wears the solidarity ring that Fr. Dick Perl, SJ, gave her and the other participants, because it makes her feel just a little bit uncomfortable.

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