To Be That One Leper

It really happened, it wasn’t a parable, that once Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned to give thanks.  It happened in God’s design, and Luke took care to record it (17:11-19), to teach us something.  But what?

Perhaps, that Our Lord prefers to do good quietly: he made no fuss about healing them but simply told them to show themselves to the priest.  Maybe, that we easily take past blessings for granted – only the Samaritan returned.  Surely, too, that we are likely to be even less grateful for forgiveness than for bodily healing.

But in this year of renewal of Eucharistic Devotion I like to think that another lesson is: how easy it is to give thanks.  Simply go to Our Lord and say thank you.  In human terms, one might have thought the healed leper was bound, say, to lifelong servitude to Our Lord for the favor done; or dedicating his life to helping lepers.  But apparently it was enough for him simply to find Our Lord and thank him – “It is mercy I desire not sacrifice.”

Have you wondered why we have tabernacles in our churches at all?  They are not there by accident.  What is their purpose?   Yes, they are Our Lord’s answer to the plea at Emmaus, mane nobiscum, Domine, “remain with us, Lord” as St. Pope John Paul II taught.  But, presumably, they have some purpose other than being a focal point of devotion during Mass.

 Someone has said that all saints are Eucharistic saints (very telling, as if we are meant to be saints, then apparently, we must be “Eucharistic” also). Mother Seton is a great American example.  St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymns are extraordinary and rightly beloved.

But a recently canonized saint might provide just the teaching we need now.  His name is St. Manuel González García, born in Seville, and bishop of Palencia, Spain, in the early part of the last century.  He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001 and canonized in 2016 by Pope Francis. Scepter Press has published an economical collection of excerpts from his writings, The Bishop of the Abandoned Tabernacle.


St. Manuel mainly wants to persuade us to visit Our Lord in the tabernacle and spend time there. Four of his arguments seem particularly creative and persuasive to me.

First, he says, if we believe in faith that Our Lord is present there in body, blood, soul, and divinity, then “owing to our inadequacy, the Sacrament is a mystery to us. . .yet can we possibly believe that the virtue and power of his physical members and human faculties are prevented from being exercised?”  Therefore, although we cannot see except in faith, he has a mouth he can speak through, eyes he can see with, a Heart he can love through. “In spite of his silence and stillness in the tabernacle, Jesus Christ speaks and acts.”

Second, he asks, what do we think is the “first work” of the Heart of Jesus in the tabernacle?  It is, he says, “to be.”  Now this is extraordinary: “Do not add any other verb that will specify the aim, the way, or the duration of the act of being.  Do not assume that he is there just for consoling, illuminating, healing, feeding. . .but first simply that he is there. . . .I assure you, very few words will express more activity, and more love, than the verb, ‘to be.’”

Then, third, a comparison with a mother. “The Heart of Jesus in the tabernacle looks at me.  He looks at me always.  He looks at me everywhere.  He looks at me as if he doesn’t even have anyone else to look at but me. Why?”  He likens Our Lord to a mother gazing at her sleeping boy.  “Inquire of the mother, who, without talking and barely breathing, spends hours next to her son as he sleeps.  Why does she do this?  She will answer, ‘I just want to look at my son.’. . .And do you know what causes her sadness?  It is that she will not be able to follow her beloved son with her gaze, all the way through his life, now as a child and later as a man.”  Yet Our Lord can gaze on us always and everywhere, from the tabernacle, and he does.

Fourth, he asks us to be truthful and humble. Our Lord is always ready to speak to us.  “Please answer me: Are there many people in the world who know you and who have an interest in saying something to you? Certainly not!  As the number of people who know you is so small by comparison to the number who do not know you, you can affirm that people in their totality do not really have anything to say to you. . . .Truly, we personally arouse little interest from others in the world!”

Certainly the powerful and wise have nothing to say to us. (I deceive myself greatly if I pretend that Elon Musk on Twitter has anything to say to me personally.)  And yet “we have a much wiser, wealthier, and more powerful King who is waiting for us at any time of the day or night in the little palace of his tabernacle.  He is there to say to each one of us, with interest and infinite love, the right word that we need to hear at that hour.”

I suspect that some of us sometimes avoid the Tabernacle not because we’ve found this teaching false but because we’ve found it true.

These are good Easter reflections too, looking forward, as the Apostles encountered the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.  “The Gospel points out how and when we can meet the risen Christ” – John Paul II said in his beatification homily – “in the Eucharist.”


*Image: Healing of the Lepers at Capernaum (Guérison des lépreux à Capernaum) by James Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum, NY]

You may also enjoy:

+Karen Walter Goodwin’s Eucharisteo

Fr. Paul D. Scalia’s Redeeming Word and Body

Michael Pakaluk, an Aristotle scholar and Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, is a professor in the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America. He lives in Hyattsville, MD with his wife Catherine, also a professor at the Busch School, and their eight children. His acclaimed book on the Gospel of Mark is The Memoirs of St Peter. His new book, Mary's Voice in the Gospel of John: A New Translation with Commentary, is now available. Prof. Pakaluk was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas by Pope Benedict XVI.