Francis Bernardone was a rich young man who had everything life could offer – but he was not happy.
Francis hated and despised lepers, more than anything else, much in the same way that my pharisaical Christianist brothers and sisters hate and fear gays and transgender people.
Lepers were treated terribly – everyone, at least everyone who wasn’t a leper themselves, hated them, despised them, feared them. They were outcasts who were forced to live in the dhadows, away from decent folk; who had to ring a bell and proclaim that they were "Unclean!" if they ventured out of those shadows.
Like his peers, Francis hated them and could not bear the sight or smell of them; he became nauseated, and he was afraid of catching their disease.
Francis himself recalled the experience of encountering a leper one day while riding his horse:
"When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. After that, I did not wait long before leaving the materialistic world."
Why would he have gotten off his horse to embrace a leper?
It was the first step in his real conversion – in his realization that only by loving even the least of God’s People that he could begin his spiritual journey in earnest.
After this embrace lepers were no longer hateful to him. He dedicated himself to their care and lived with them. As he did this, about sacrifice, forgiveness, and love.
My pharisaical Christianist brothers and sisters will sneer in pompous judgment that AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality – but the truth is that people with AIDS may well be the test that they themselves are failing – these are the people they fear, the people they feel nauseated and repelled by, the people they must first embrace before they can hope to achieve Heaven. In a very real way, people with AIDS are among the least of God’s People, in much the same way as the lepers of Francis’ (and even Jesus’) time.
Many of them are so glib – they see Salvation being as simple as making the statement, "I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior." The mere repetition of this statement, without any other effort on their part, then becomes their secret password to Redemption – or so they think.
The statement allows them to feel they can have a right to spend a tremendous amount of time and money working hard to persecute others for the sin of being different – and to do so in the name of a God who will be telling themon the day of Judgment that "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not." (Mt. 25:42-43)
Their hardness of heart, if it persists, will bar them from salvation – and yet they have time to repent.