‘You Have Seen Him and He is Speaking to You Now’, Fourth Sunday of Lent (A), April 3, 2011

Fr. Roger J. Landry

St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

April 3, 2011

1Sam16:1,6-7,10-13; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

 

The following text guided this homily:

“YOU HAVE SEEN HIM AND HE IS SPEAKING TO YOU NOW!”

  • In today’s Gospel, something very different happens than in all the other miracles in the Gospel when 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 but from that point onward 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 and then a spiritual one.
  • 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 the chapel with your eyes closed and someone else came up to you out of the blue and put muddy saliva 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 easily could have thought, “What a stupid and pointless hassle! Make me dirty and then send me, who can’t see, to wash in a pool,” but Jesus must have given that command in a way that inspired trust. By his willingness to carry out this simple command Jesus gives him, the man embarks, without knowing it, on the great adventure of faith, on the exciting 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 (as others could, like the Pharisees) 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 imperative with which Jesus began His whole public ministry in St. Mark’s Gospel, “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 therapeutic process.
  1. The pathway for the cure of our blindness begins with REPENTING, which means turning away from the life of sin which 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 which 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 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.
  2. The second stage in our cure is BELIEVING IN THE GOOD NEWS. Jesus says 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, as well as a humble recognition that he needs 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 illuminated 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.”
  • In his message for us this Lent, Jesus stresses how Jesus likewise wants to help us see him as our Savior in all our circumstances so that we may live by his light. “The Sunday of the man born blind presents Christ as the light of the world,” Pope Benedict writes. “The Gospel confronts each one of us with the question: ‘Do you believe in the Son of man?’ ‘Lord, I believe!”’(Jn 9: 35. 38), the man born blind joyfully exclaims, giving voice to all believers. The miracle of this healing is a sign that Christ wants not only to give us sight, but also open our interior vision, so that our faith may become ever deeper and we may recognize him as our only Savior. He illuminates all that is dark in life and leads men and women to live as ‘children of the light.’
  • 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 who he really was. They thought they saw Him, they thought they had him figured out, they thought they had all the answers, but they were blind. 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. A similar thing happened to the Prophet Samuel in today’s first reading. He thought that Jesse’s son Eliab should be anointed king, but the Lord had him wait to anoint the youngest and ruddiest son. God said to Samuel, “Don’t look on his appearance, for the Lord does not see as mortals see.” We, too, can go through life without seeing things as God sees them, perceiving them in our darkness rather than in God’s Light. We can look at others, at events, at issues in the same way people WITHOUT FAITH would. While we’re called to walk as children of the light, we can so often behave indistinguishably from all those who are walking and living in darkness. 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 in the Light of Life, to help us to see all things in Him who is the Light of the World — to see things, therefore, as they truly are.
  • How is our vision, practically, supposed to change this Lent? What does it mean to be cured by Christ of our spiritual blindness and 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. He had never seen anything, and now he could see everything. He could see colors. He could see the beauty 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 lens of faith, to see things as God sees them, and, therefore, to see all things as they really are. 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.”
  • One of my favorite prayers, which 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 them. This is especially helpful when I find a particular person difficult. 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.
  1. For those who have difficulty overcoming 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.
  2. To a man who is caught up in the slavery of lust, I encourage him to pray, “Lord, give me your eyes!,” so that he can see the other person not as a sex object, as a diving board into sinful fantasy, but rather as a beloved daughter of God, as a sister in Christ, as a person with an immortal soul who should be prayed for and loved rather than objectified and violated.
  3. To those who are encountering serious Crosses, I encourage them to say that prayer, so that in the light of faith they may see them not so much as mortifications but as gifts from God to help them to grow in holiness, to acquire his own virtues, and embrace that Cross and follow him.
  4. To those who have a problem with their own self-esteem and morale, I encourage them to repeat as often as they need to, “Lord, give me your eyes,” so that they can discover themselves as they truly are, and recognize how tremendously lovable they are to God, because they start to see God’s own love, patience and mercy toward them, and why he would die for them again out of love.
  5. 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. God will help them to see just how horrible their sins are, 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 each was in effect a clamor to crucify Christ. But that’s not all Christ’s vision allows us to see. When we look at them with the light of faith, we see our sins, even our most embarrassing and horrible ones, within the scope of Christ’s mercy. 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 will start to see ourselves as God’s beloved prodigal son or daughter whom the Father always runs out to greet and to reconcile. The clear sense of love that comes from this recognition of our divine filiation can fill 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 veils from our eyes, so that we can see everything with His own eyes in the light of faith, but in a special way to see what is about to happen. If we could see the Mass for what it really is, 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 hovering 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, … this is the cup of my blood.” Faced with these ineffable realities, may we take our cue from the ILLUMINATED man in the Gospel and say, with every fiber of our being, “I do believe, Lord” and bow down to worship.

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.”

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.”