Embracing the Leper

I squeeze the writing of a new book I working on into a few spare hours each day. The bulk of my day is spent in my humble editing room located in the back of my garage. We are currently editing a film on the life of St. Francis which we hope to release by August 2015. Recently, we were editing the scene in which Francis meets and embraces the leper, which is the seminal moment in his life, a true turning point. St. Francis came to see the poor and the outcasts of his society as icons or manifestations of God’s goodness. The growing awareness of God’s presence within all creation and especially within all humanity reached its apex when the saint overcame his intense fear and loathing of lepers by embracing and kissing a leper because he felt moved to do so by God. The self-humbling kiss symbolized God’s union with humanity in Christ when the Word became flesh. For Francis, the Incarnation gave birth to compassion which enabled him to see in the rotting flesh of a leper the self-giving love of God. In my book The Loneliness and Longing of Saint Francis I devote a number of pages to this incident and its implications for us today.

In the film, I’ll show photographs and video footage of actual lepers who live in a leprosarium in Manuas, Brazil. The footage comes from a short 32-minute film I made in 2003 titled Embracing the Leper. I’ve always considered this a minor film; it was the second film produced by my former ministry. Before yesterday, I hadn’t seen the film in more than ten years. During my presentations at churches and schools, I never show any scenes from the film. While editing the leper scene for the Francis film, my editor and I spent more than three hours carefully going over all the original footage in order to stitch together the most compelling sequence of images to underscore the narration of Francis’ encounter with the leper. There was nothing “minor” about our reaction to the film, which the editor had never seen before. It rocked us.

It was as if I was transported back to Brazil, as I could feel the waves of horror and fear that rippled through my body during that long, difficult day in the leprosarium. On that day, I was shocked by the sight of hundreds of people with horribly mutilated faces, whose arms and legs had been eaten away by a vile disease I assumed had been eradicated long ago. Making that film changed my perspective on life. I saw things differently. I knew I couldn’t eliminate sadness from my life, but I could enter the sadness and learn from it. Reaching out to those in need is not optional; it is a truly important part of our faith and spiritual life. The leper’s didn’t let the trauma of their lives crush them. I knew I had to reach a still point within me where I could find hope and courage in the face of my own personal difficulties, which truly pale in insignificance in comparison to the physical, emotional, and psychological, trials the lepers confront every day. They knew no one wants them or needs them; they are truly isolated in their mutilated bodies. Yet they go on…living as best they can. I vividly recall a leper named George whom I met in Jamaica. He spent his days in prayer, praying for those in need. One day George asked me if I wanted to hear him play his harmonica. I said sure. He fished his harmonic out of his pants pocket. Holding the harmonica with his stumps of hands, he began to play “Amazing Grace” in the most soulful manner I’d ever heard. Amazing grace indeed.


3 Responses to “Embracing the Leper”

  1. 1 Cheryl Cira April 27, 2015 at 6:05 am

    Very powerful. This was good to read as a reality check as I was self-aborbed and way too focused on myself and my menial tasks on a busy Monday morning at the office. Thanks for sharing Gerry.

  2. 2 Mike Seely April 27, 2015 at 6:48 am

    Gerry, powerful writing am grateful to have enjoined this day, Monday, in early morning prayer. Your reflection of entering or embracing “sadness” instead of, as can be a habit born of fear, pushing it away is so very important. Thank you.

  3. 3 sheradac April 27, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    This was a very timely post in light of news stories currently reflecting the level of narcissism in our culture. To be born with talent, then catapulted into fame and fortune seems to be a deterrent to any real spiritual depth…and so sad. I pray I may be less narcissistic and embrace the leper in me. I seriously thank you, Gerry. Sherada  Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly. -St. Francis de Sales

    From: Gerry Straub’s Blog To: sbcollins@yahoo.com Sent: Monday, April 27, 2015 7:02 AM Subject: [New post] Embracing the Leper #yiv1170805926 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv1170805926 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv1170805926 a.yiv1170805926primaryactionlink:link, #yiv1170805926 a.yiv1170805926primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv1170805926 a.yiv1170805926primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv1170805926 a.yiv1170805926primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv1170805926 WordPress.com | Gerry Straub posted: “I squeeze the writing of a new book I working on into a few spare hours each day. The bulk of my day is spent in my humble editing room located in the back of my garage. We are currently editing a film on the life of St. Francis which we hope to release b” | |

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