13 October 2013

They stood afar off: Saint Bonaventure on the Ten Lepers

In much of the Catholic world this weekend many will hear a moralizing homily on the proper disposition of gratitude to God for his many blessings, a theme derived in part from the passage of the Gospel of Saint Luke that will be heard this weekend.

Saint Bonaventure, though, in reflecting on this moment in the life of the Lord Jesus took a different approach and chose to focus instead on the fact that the ten lepers "stood at a distance from him and raised their voices" (Luke 17:12-13).

In this gesture of the lepers the Seraphic Doctor notes several things:
Lest they be found reprehensible in the majestic presence of Jesus Christ, who is the great king and the just judge, they demonstrate in the verse proposed above that they presented their petitions discreetly and prudently, for first they demonstrated their most religious nature in a gesture of cautious reserve, because they were filled with fear.  Second, they demonstrated the deepest devotion with a tribute of praise, because they were invoking the principle of human salvation.  Third, they demonstrated the greatest prudence in the formulation of a petition, because they concerned the weakness of their own infection.
First, they had a religious gesture of reserve, because they were filled with humble fear that kept them far away.  They did not come forward presumptuously like the proud, but instead they reverently stood afar off like the humble.  Second, they offered a devout tribute of praise, because they were invoking the principle of salvation with a fervent cry; whence they lifted up their voice from within, and with evident desire, were crying: Jesus, who alone is interpreted as salvation.  Third, they had a petition of discrete intention, because they were concerned with the weakness of their own infection without being shamed by the display; and on this account they added: have pity on us, since we are all certainly infected with the disease of leprosy.  In fact they were not ashamed to manifest their weakness to everyone.
It says, therefore: They stood afar off, where the religious gesture of reserve is commended in the person who first remains steadfast in humility by deploring the committed sins; second, remains steadfast in strength by overcoming diabolical temptations; third, remains steadfast in perseverance by seeking eternal rewards (Sermon 40.1-2).

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