On Care of Lepers
Another couple passages from Gregory’s On the Love of the Poor:
There stands before our eyes a terrible, pitiable sight, unbelievable to anyone who did not know it was true: human beings both dead and alive, mutilated in most parts of their body, scarcely recognizable either for who they are or where they come from…even the kindest and most humane of neighbors is insensitive to them; in this instance alone, we forget that we are flesh, clothed in this lowly body, and we are so far from caring for our fellow creatures that we think the safety of our own bodies lies in fleeing from them. One approaches a body that has been dead for some time, even if it has been dead for some time, even if it has begun to reek; one carries about the stinking carcasses of brute animals, and puts up with being full of filth; yet we avoid these lepers with all our might (what inhumanity!), almost taking offense at breathing the same air….
They are driven way from the cities, driven away from their homes, from the market-place, from public assemblies, from the streets, from festivals and private celebrations, even – worst of all sufferings! – from our water; not even the springs flow for them, though they are common property for everyone else, nor are the rivers allowed to wash off any of their impurities. Most paradoxical of all, we drive them away as bearers of pollution, yet we draw them back towards us again, as if they caused us no distress at all, by giving them neither housing, nor the necessary food, nor treatment for their leisons…Whose heart is not broken by the mournful cries of these people, sounding forth a kind of pitiable music?…the wail of their begging offers a counterpoint to the sacred singing within the church, and a miserable dirge is produced, in contrast to the sounds of the Mysteries. Why must I depict all their misfortune to people celebrating a feast day?Perhaps it is that I might stir up some lament in your hearts, if I carefully play out every detail; perhaps suffering will triumph over celebration! For I say all this, since I have not yet been able to convince you that sadness is sometimes more precious than joy, and gloom than celebration – a tear more praiseworthy than unseemly laughter…
What about us, who have inherited the great new name, in being called after Christ…disciples of the gentle and kindly Christ, who ‘bore our weaknesses’ and humbled himself so far as to share in the mixture of our nature, who ‘became poor for our sakes’ in this flesh…what about us, who have received such a great example of tenderness and compassion? How shall we think about these people, and what shall we do? Shall we simply overlook them? Walk past them? Leave them for dead, as something loathsome, something more detestable than snakes and wild animals? Sure not, my brothers and sisters! This is not the way for us, nursed as we are by Christ, the Good Shepherd, who brings back the one gone astray, seeks out the lost, strengthens the weak; this is not the way of human nature, which lays compassion on us as a law, even as we learn reverence and humanity from our common weakness.
On the Love of the Poor, 10, 12-15