Only 3 Popes have had “the Great” appended to their names: Pope St. Leo I (reigned 440–61), Pope St. Gregory I (590–604), and Pope St. Nicholas I (858–67). Some are predicting that it is just a matter of time before John Paul II will be referred to as St. John Paul the Great.
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Leo the Great. Leo was pope for 21 years – from 440 to 461. Leo is considered “great” or “outstanding” for 2 reasons.
The 1st reason is that Leo was a courageous leader who is well known for his peacekeeping efforts. When Attila the Hun attacked Rome, Leo persuaded him not to plunder and destroy the city. Three years later, when the Vandals attacked Rome, Leo was not so successful. However, Leo did manage to save the city from being burnt and thus, prevented much suffering and death.
In the midst of the adversity caused by these barbarian invaders, Leo worked hard to strengthen the church. He met all challenges with great fidelity and self-sacrifice. For example, Leo worked alongside the people to rebuild Rome and its churches.
The 2nd reason for which Saint Leo is considered “Great” or “outstanding” is that he fought tirelessly against the heresies of his day. A major heresy of the day was the one put forth by Nestorius.
Nestorius was a priest who taught that Jesus was really 2 separate persons. At times, he was only human. At other times, he was only divine. For example, only the divine Jesus performed miracles. On the other hand, only the human Jesus was in Mary’s womb. The problem is that, if this is true, then Jesus was not God incarnate while in the womb.
To counteract Nestorianism, Leo convened the Council of Chalcedon in 451. During the Council, Leo expressed with great clarity that Jesus Christ is 1 person with 2 distinct natures: human and divine. The Council’s attendees enthusiastically accepted Leo’s teaching that Jesus Christ is at the same time fully human and fully divine. The Council summarized the mystery of the Incarnation in this way: Jesus is true God and true man. This teaching will always be considered one of the non-negotiables of our Christian faith.
Here’s where a connection can be made with today’s Gospel. In this passage, we see clearly that there is only 1 Jesus, but that he is 100% human and 100% divine at the same time.
First, let’s consider the humanity of Jesus. At the time of Jesus, leprosy was an incurable and terminal disease. There was no medical treatment. A diagnosis of leprosy was a death sentence. Furthermore, a leper was treated with contempt and expelled from society as an outcast.
The 10 lepers in today’s Gospel are in a desperate and hopeless situation. They are overwhelmed by the horror of their disease. They see Jesus and, standing at a distance, plead for his help, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”.
Jesus identifies with their situation and truly understands what they are going through. He views them as fellow human beings who are experiencing great suffering. Rather than treating them as ugly and repulsive individuals to be avoided in disgust, Jesus responds with extravagant tenderness and mercy.
The good news is that Christ hears our prayers as he heard the pleas of the 10 lepers. Likewise with us, Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, will understand where we are coming from. He will be attentive to our needs. Jesus will respond to our pains and wounds with great personal care, sensitivity and compassion.
Let’s consider the divinity of Jesus. An extraordinary, powerful and unimaginable event occurs: all 10 lepers are healed. An astounding consequence of this healing is that the lepers could return to their homes, families and neighborhoods.
When we are faced with desperate and hopeless situations, we have to follow the example of these 10 lepers. When troubles come, let us go to God and, with great trust, great hope and great confidence, ask for his help.
Christ has divine power over our afflictions – whether they are on the outside or the inside. Jesus is stronger than any brokenness, weakness or sin. The call is to have the courage to rely on God’s divine power in all things and allow his strength to take possession of us.
In a few moments, the same Jesus that the 10 lepers met will be here on this altar. When we receive holy Communion, that same Jesus, true God and true man, is only too familiar with the frailties of our human condition and all the burdens that we carry because of our humanity.
That’s the reason, he is only too willing to come to us with the fullness of his divine and healing power to be at work in our lives.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
November 10, 2021