The Courage to Follow Jesus From Darkness into Light, Fourth Sunday of Lent (A), March 26, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Casa Maria Retreat House, Irondale, AL
Retreat for Laypeople: “Be Not Afraid”: Living our Faith with Parrhesia
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A
March 26, 2017
1 Sam 16:1.6-7.10-13, Ps 23, Eph 5:8-14, Jn 9:1-41

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

  • In today’s Gospel, something very different happens than in all the other miracles in which Jesus cured those who had no sight. First, unlike in all of the other cases, the blind man doesn’t cry out for help. He’s just there, along the road, and becomes the subject of a theological question from the disciples about the cause of his blindness. Jesus states that the reason that man was blind from birth was to allow God’s works to show through him; his whole life in darkness until that point was so that he could encounter the saving power of Jesus and from that moment onward to be a tremendously conspicuous example of God’s own light shining ever more brightly through him. That truth influences the way Jesus performs this miracle, because Jesus had two healings in mind — first a physical one for him and then a spiritual one for him and for us all.
  • The Lord spits on the ground, makes mud with his saliva, and then goes up unbidden to the blind man and smears his eyes with mud. What must the blind man have been thinking? What would your reaction be, for example, if you were praying here in Church with your eyes closed and someone else suddenly came up to you from behind and put saliva and dirt on your eyelids? The blind man in the Gospel could have easily thought that someone was making fun of him or abusing him, as probably happened often. But the Lord is not done. Jesus then tells him to go to wash in the pool of Siloam. The blind man immediately could have reasoned, “What a stupid and pointless hassle! Make me dirty and then send me, who can’t see, to wash in a pool, where I could easily fall in and drown.” Jesus, however, must have given that command in a way that inspired trust. And consistent with the theme of this retreat, he had the courage, the parrhesia, to overcome his fears to do it. By his willingness to carry out this straightforward but nevertheless challenging imperative Jesus gives him, the man embarks, without knowing it, on an adventure of faith, on a journey from darkness into light. Jesus allows this man, unlike the other blind men he cured — and this is the second difference from the other cures Jesus worked — to participate actively in his own healing, so that through the process, he might receive not just the ability to see the physical light of the world but also a much deeper light, the light of faith in Jesus, the true light of the world.
  • Three-and-a-half weeks ago, Jesus did something to us similar to what he did to the man born blind in today’s Gospel. We went up to someone acting in His Name, who smudged our foreheads not with muddy saliva but moistened ashes, and gave us a two-part command, the very same directive with which Jesus began His whole public ministry, “Repent and believe in the Good News!” This was Jesus’ pathway for us to participate in our own healing during this blessed time of Lent, in our own coming from the darkness into the light of Christ, in our own exodus from sin to love, in our own Passover from death to life. We might have been tempted to consider this more or less an empty rite, something merely symbolic — especially if we are blind to our own sinfulness! — but Jesus wanted to work in us during this time a true miracle of healing, through our participation and trust in this two-part therapeutic process.
  • The pathway for the cure of our blindness begins with repenting, which means turning away from the life of sin that blinds us. As the Catechism and human experience teach so clearly, sin darkens the intellect and distorts the will so that often we can no longer even see the good clearly or easily choose it when we do see it. The repentance that is part of our cure means recognizing that sin has left us partially or totally sightless, that we’re blind and that we need the Lord’s help to see. This conversion means becoming aware, as St. Paul helped the Ephesians to see in today’s second reading, that we have taken part in “vain deeds done in darkness,” and are called to “condemn them.” God allows us to be smudged with ashes and sent on a spiritual journey to wash ourselves in the “second baptism” of the Sacrament of Penance that begins the healing process, and in which we condemn ourselves for those vain, dark needs. At the end of that beautiful sacrament, God says to us, like he said through the St. Paul said in the second reading, “Awake, O Sleeper, arise from the dead and Christ will give you light.” We arise from the spiritual death and blindness of sin into the new light and life of Christ.
  • Pope Francis talked about our need to be cured of spiritual blindness and raised from spiritual death a few years ago in St. Peter’s Square. “While the blind man gradually comes to the light,” he said, “the doctors of the law on the other hand sink more deeply into their interior blindness. Closed within their presumption, they believe they already have the light and consequently do not open themselves to the truth of Jesus. They do everything they can to deny the evidence of the miracle. They first cast doubt on the identity of the healed man. Then they deny the action of God in the healing, offering as a justification that God somehow doesn’t and wouldn’t work on the Sabbath. They even begin to deny that the man was born blind. Their closing themselves to the light becomes aggressive and leads them to expel the healed man from the temple.” Pope Francis then draws a conclusion for all of us. “This passage from the Gospel makes plain the drama of the interior blindness of so many people, including ourselves, since sometimes we have moments on interior blindness. … Sometimes unfortunately our life is a little like that of the doctors of the law: from the height of our pride, we judge others and judge even the Lord! Today we are invited to open ourselves to the light of Christ, … to eliminate behaviors that are not Christian. … We are all Christians but all of us — all of us — have some non-Christian behaviors, behaviors that are sins. We must repent of these and eliminate these behaviors to walk firmly on the way of holiness.”
  • And obviously when Pope Francis is calling us to repent of the interior blindness, the closed eyelids of our hearts that all of us can sometimes have toward God and toward others because of our own pride and sinfulness, he is calling us to act on that repentance and go to the same Jesus to heal us who healed the blind man. For us that miracle happens in the Sacrament of Penance.
  • The second stage in our cure, Jesus told us on Ash Wednesday, is believing in the Good News. Jesus says today to the man in the Gospel, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The physical cure of the man — a miracle that caused a tremendous stir among the people in Jerusalem and allowed God’s works to shine in him — was merely a prelude to the spiritual cure of the man that would involve not just leaving darkness, but living in the Light of Christ. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man responds with a faithful willingness, a courageous blank check, a bold opening wide of the doors of his heart, together with a humble plea for help: “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” “You have seen him,” Jesus replies, “and he is speaking to you now.”
  • In the healing Jesus wants to carry out in us this Lent, he asks us the same question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus is the Gospel incarnate, and “ believing in the Good News” means believing in Him. With similar humility to the man healed by Jesus in the Gospel we’re called to say, “Show me, Lord, that I may believe!” With that docility, the Lord can then show us, in new and deeper ways, “You have seen him and he’s speaking to you now.” To come to see Jesus anew, to hear him speak to us “now” in every moment of our lives, to come to look on all things with the Light of Christ — that is the whole point of the Lenten adventure of faith. These forty days are a gift from God to help us to leave the darkness caused by sin and see Jesus and all things as they really are, as he himself sees them. So often we can think we see Jesus, we can think we hear his voice, but we’re really blind and deaf to the true meaning of his presence. The Pharisees, after all, saw Jesus physically, but they never really saw who he was. They watched him perform many miracles, they heard his beautiful teachings and powerful responses to every attempt to trip him up, but still, when they looked at him, they were blind to the reality of his true identity. They thought they had him figured out, they thought they had all the answers, but they were blind. We can say the same and more about Judas, who lived with Jesus for three years, who worked at his side, who even accomplished great miracles in his name, but was blind to his mercy and to the wisdom in the way he would go about saving the world. So often we can behave like they did, thinking we have Jesus all figured out, boxing him into an unimposing closet of our lives, categorizing him and his teachings in the way that will least challenge us to true conversion.
  • That can happen even to great saints, as we see in today’s first reading. The Prophet Samuel, one of the greatest men of God in the Old Testament, was sent to Bethlehem to anoint the son of Jesse whom God would indicate to be the King of Israel after Saul. When he arrived, he was convinced upon seeing Eliab that he was the one the Lord wanted anointed. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t look on his appearance, for the Lord does not see as mortals see.” The Lord would have him go through all of Jesse’s sons until he would meet the youngest and ruddiest son, David who would become the great king and ancestor of the Lord Jesus according to the flesh. Even if we’re close to the Lord, we, like Samuel, can see things too much by human categories rather than God’s. And if we’re not really close to the Lord, there’s the greater risk that we will go through life perceiving reality according to our darkness rather than according to God’s light. Rather than seeing things properly in faith, we can look at others, at events, and issues in the same way people without faith would. And then instead of walking and living as “children of the light,” as St. Paul calls us to in the second reading, we can so often behave indistinguishably from all those who are walking and living in darkness, what Pope Francis calls “non-Christian behaviors.” Each Lent Jesus helps us to recognize, again, that our sins number us among the blind, but that he wants to cure us, to have us walk together with him in the light of life, to help us to see all things in and together with Him who is the Light of the World.
  • At a practical level, how is our vision supposed to change this Lent? What does it mean to be cured by Christ of our spiritual blindness and to see things in his own light? In order for us to appreciate the miracle Christ wants to work in us this Lent, I’d ask you first to think what it would have been like for that man born blind returning from the pool of Siloam. He had never seen anything, and now he could see everything. He could see colors. He could see the splendor of the temple. He could see where he was going. For the first time, he could see himself reflected in the pool. He could see the faces of those who were talking to him. He could see the face of Jesus. His whole life would have changed! A similar change is meant to happen to us when Christ heals our sight and helps us to see things with his light, to looking at everything through the lenses of faith, to see things as God sees them, and, therefore, to see all things accurately. Practically speaking, it means hearing Jesus say in the various events and people we encounter through the day, “You have seen him and he is speaking to you now.”
  • Pope Francis spoke about this transformation today in Rome during his Angelus meditation. He said, “We too have been “enlightened” to Christ in Baptism, and then we are called to behave as children of light. This requires a radical change in thinking, an ability to judge men and things according to a new scale of values, which comes from God. … What does it mean to walk in the light? It means first of all abandon the false ‘lights’: the cold and foolish light of prejudice against others, because the prejudice distorts reality and loads us with aversion towards those who we judge without mercy and condemn without cause. … When we talk of others, we don’t walk in the light, but walk in the shadows. Another false ‘light,’ so seductive and unclear, is self-interest: if we evaluate people and things based on the criterion of how they are useful to, our pleasure, our prestige, we make the truth in relationships and situations. If we walk this path of searching only personal interests, we walk in the shadow.”
  • One of my favorite prayers to walk in the true light of Christ, a prayer that God always seems to answer, is “Lord, give me your eyes.” If we see things as Christ sees them, then obviously we would be seeing things with the light of faith. I beg the Lord to cure my blindness and give me his vision when I’m conversing with someone, so that I can see that person as He sees him or her. This is especially helpful, for example, when I encounter someone who tries my patience. Rather than seeing only the person’s defects (or what I think are defects), the Lord helps me to see what He finds so lovable in that person, what would lead Him to trade his own life for that person all over again if he had to. I’ve tried to pass on that prayer to thousands of people in confession over the course of the years.
  • For those who have difficulty overcoming negative thoughts and habitual criticism of others, I encourage them to pray, “Lord, give me your eyes,” so that they might see not only the good things that God has given the person, but also be able to look with compassion on the various hardships that the other person has endured leading to some of that person’s irritating habits.
    • To men and boys caught up in the slavery of lust, I encourage them to pray, “Lord, give me your eyes!,” so that they can see women not as sex objects, as diving boards into sinful fantasy, but rather as beloved daughters of God, as sisters in Christ, as persons with an immortal soul who should be prayed for and loved rather than objectified and violated.
    • To those who are encountering serious Crosses, I encourage them to say that prayer, so that they might say in the light of faith the words of today’s Psalm, that “even though I walk in the valley of darkness I fear no evil, for you are with me with your rod and your staff to comfort me.” With the eyes of faith, they can see those crosses not so much as mortifications but as gifts from God to help them to grow in holiness, to acquire Christ’s own virtues, to unite themselves to Christ on the Cross and follow him up close all the way through the Cross to glory.
    • To those who have a problem with their own self-esteem and morale, who think they’re no good and can’t get anything right, I encourage them to repeat as often as they need to, “Lord, give me your eyes,” so that they can discover themselves their true dignity and recognize how tremendously lovable they are to God. Such a divine perspective allows them to glimpse and experience God’s own love, patience and mercy toward them, and why he would die for them a thousand times out of love.
    • And lastly, when people have problems properly looking at their sins — either because they don’t have proper contrition for them or because they cannot let them go — I encourage them to pray for that same vision of the Lord. For those who have trouble with contrition, God’s perspective will help them to see just how horrible their sins are and what each of them cost the Lord: that each of them led to the Lord’s torturous suffering and death, that each of them was a choice of a disguised Barabbas over a disguised Christ, and that each was in effect a clamor to crucify Christ. I remember once a young woman who very candidly told me after hearing me say that contrition is the most important part of the Sacrament of Penance that she knows her sins are wrong but has never really been able to feel much sorrow for them. She asked me for help. I encouraged her that when she’s examining her conscience to hold a crucifix in her hands and to recognize that Jesus loved her so much that he died to take away that sin, and the next, and all her sins. I told her that this is what I do when I prepare and I was holding on to a crucifix in the room where we were speaking, my eyes started to water as I thought of all my sins that led to the horrible death of the One who most loves me and whom I love the most. Seeing me start to weep over my sins, she began to weep herself and then to cry uncontrollably for three minutes, just letting out so much contrition for all the sins of her life. When we see our sins for what they are and what they did to the good Lord, we really can’t help being filled with sorrow.
    • But that’s not all Christ’s vision allows us to see with we behold sins. When we look at them with the light of faith, we see that even our most embarrassing, horrible and shameful ones are enveloped within the scope of Christ’s merciful love. We are led to cry out as the Church does at the Easter Vigil, “O happy fault — o happy sin! — that brought me such a great redeemer.” We start to see ourselves as God’s beloved prodigal son or daughter whom the Father always runs out to greet, embrace, reconcile and reconstitute. The clear sense of love that comes from this recognition of our divine filiation, that God loves us infinitely despite our sins, that his mercy is so much greater than our self-imposed misery, fills us with a tremendous joy — the type of joy God wants to give us this Laetare Sunday.
  • As we come forward today toward this altar on this Christian Sabbath — recognizing that the Lord worked most of his miracles of curing the blind on the Sabbath — we ask the Lord to remove the scales from our eyes, so that we can see everything with His own eyes in the light of faith. In a special way, though, we ask him to help us to see with his own eyes what is about to happen. If we could see the Mass as God sees it, we would never want it to end, because we’re about to participate live in the Last Supper, in Jesus’ own passion and death, and share right now on earth in his Resurrection as we receive His Risen Body. If Christ were to grant us his eyes, we would see all the angels and the saints about to hover around this altar. We would be able to recognize that we are about to share in the greatest event in all of history, the greatest love the world has ever seen or imagined, the deepest source of joy we could possibly ever have, the source of a joy the world cannot give nor take away. Jesus says to us here live, “Do you believe in the Son of Man whom you have seen and who is speaking to you now,” as he says “This is my body given for you … This is the chalice of my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins?” Faced with these ineffable realities, may we take our cue from the illuminated man in the Gospel and say, courageously with every fiber of our being, “I do believe, Lord,” bow down to worship and go out courageously to bring others to the same Jesus who seeks to bring them to eternal light.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 SM 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A

The LORD said to Samuel:
“Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”

As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice,
Samuel looked at Eliab and thought,
“Surely the LORD’s anointed is here before him.”
But the LORD said to Samuel:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.”
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
“There—anoint him, for this is the one!”
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed David in the presence of his brothers;
and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.

Responsorial Psalm PS 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Reading 2 EPH 5:8-14

Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Verse Before The Gospel JN 8:12

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.

Gospel JN 9:1-41

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
“Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is, ”
but others said, “No, he just looks like him.”
He said, “I am.”
So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”
He replied,
“The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’
So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
And they said to him, “Where is he?”
He said, “I don’t know.”

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
“He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”
So some of the Pharisees said,
“This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the sabbath.”
But others said,
“How can a sinful man do such signs?”
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
“What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”

Now the Jews did not believe
that he had been blind and gained his sight
until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them,
“Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How does he now see?”
His parents answered and said,
“We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now,
nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him, he is of age;
he can speak for himself.”
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews,
for the Jews had already agreed
that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said,
“He is of age; question him.”

So a second time they called the man who had been blind
and said to him, “Give God the praise!
We know that this man is a sinner.”
He replied,
“If he is a sinner, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”
So they said to him,
“What did he do to you?
How did he open your eyes?”
He answered them,
“I told you already and you did not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
They ridiculed him and said,
“You are that man’s disciple;
we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from.”
The man answered and said to them,
“This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything.”
They answered and said to him,
“You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?”
Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered and said,
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him,
“You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he.”
He said,
“I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.
Then Jesus said,
“I came into this world for judgment,
so that those who do not see might see,
and those who do see might become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this
and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them,
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.