Wednesday, March 22, 2017

COMING INTO THE LIGHT

March 26th, 2017: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A. John 9:1-41.

AIM: To strengthen the hearers’ faith.

 

          Is there someone here today who comes here discouraged – by frustration, failure, or defeat? by the seeming meaninglessness of life? If so, consider the man in the gospel we have just heard.           

          What could be more discouraging than to be blind from birth, reduced to begging as your only means of subsistence? To this poor man Jesus gives the greatest gift possible short of heaven: sight. He does so out of sheer goodness: not because the blind man was good enough, but because Jesus is so good that he wants to share his goodness with someone who has next to nothing, to bring the man from darkness into the light.

          The gospel writer intends this blind man as a symbol of human life without God. He is so understood by the Church, which in the introduction to the  Eucharistic prayer on this Sunday, which we shall hear in a few moments, tells us that what Jesus Christ did for this man is what he wants to do for every one of us — if we will let him. He never forces himself on us.

            By the mystery of the Incarnation, he has led the human race that walked

            in darkness into the radiance of the faith and has brought those born in

slavery to ancient sin through the waters of regeneration to make them

your adopted children.         

The story, in other words, is about more than the gift of physical sight. It tells us also that Jesus gives us spiritual sight: the inner light of faith.

          Notice the progressive stages of the blind man’s journey. Jesus might have healed him with a word or touch. Instead Jesus invites the man to cooperate in his own healing by going to a certain pool and washing from his eyes the mud Jesus has smeared on them. Following those peculiar directions required faith. How easy it would be have been for the man to say: “Oh, that won’t do any good.” By his willingness to do this simple thing which Jesus asks of him, the man, without knowing it, begins his own journey of faith. 

          The blind man’s journey to faith brings him into conflict with those who are certain they already possess all the light there is, people who know all the answers.  The blind man starts with very few answers. Asked who healed him, he first says: “The man called Jesus.” Later he adds: “He is a prophet.” Finally, questioned by Jesus himself, the man accepts Jesus as “Son of Man”: God’s anointed servant, the Messiah, before whom he bows down in worship. Starting with the recovery of physical sight, he has completed his journey from the blindness of disbelief into the spiritual light of faith. 

          Those who are confident that they have all the answers already are journeying, meanwhile, in the opposite direction: from self-assured enlightenment to the inner darkness of disbelief. Initially they seem ready to accept the man’s healing as genuine. Then they begin to question it by raising questions about the man’s identity. When this has been firmly established, they resort to bullying: “You were born totally in sin, and you are trying to teach us?”

          Finally, these self-righteous spiritual leaders who presume to sit in judgment on Jesus are in turn judged by him. “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” Refusing to acknowledge their need for God and the enlightenment that only his divine Son can give, they are condemned to their own self-imposed darkness.

          The story asks each of us for a decision. Where do I stand? With the blind man, or with his critics? The blind man’s journey from darkness to light is possible because he admits his need for light, and trusts the One who offers it. What condemns his critics to journey in the opposite direction is their complacent certainty that they know all the answers already. Confident that they do not need what Jesus has to offer, they turn their backs on him, only to have him turn on them with the terrible words: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

          If you can make little sense of life; if you cannot see the way ahead; if you do not know sometimes whether you believe in anything – then come to Jesus Christ as the blind man came. Show him your needs, your fears, your doubts, your blindness. Tell him you want what he alone can give.

          And as you tell him, trust him as the blind man trusted when he obeyed Jesus’ simple command: “Go and wash.” Show Jesus Christ your need. Trust him, and go on trusting. He will do the rest.

          I would like to close with a brief personal statement. A week from tomorrow it will be sixty three years ago that I knelt before the bishop to be ordained a priest in the Church of God. It was the fulfillment of the dream I had had, without a single interruption, from age twelve. Have every one of those sixty-three years been happy? Of course not. That does not happen in any life. All of us must travel at some time another through the dark valley. For seven years, 1974 to 1981, I was without assignment and unemployed. Resident in St. Louis but belonging to a bishop in Germany, I was like an Army officer who has got detached from his regiment. The clerical system did not know what to do with me. Those years were hard, and terribly lonely. I survived only by prayer. And there were other hard years as well.

          If you were to ask me, however, whether I have ever regretted my decision for priesthood, I would reply at once: never, not one single day. I’ll say it another way. If I had my life to live over again, knowing about all the hard and difficult years which lay ahead, would I still choose priesthood? In a heartbeat. I would change just one thing: I would try to be more faithful. Priesthood has brought me pain and sorrow, yes. But it has also brought me joys beyond telling. Those joys are the reason why I say every day, more times than I can tell you: “Lord, you’re so good to me, and I’m so grateful.”                  

          The greatest joy is the privilege, beyond any man’s deserving, of standing at the altar day by day to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper, to “Do this in my memory.” Celebrating Mass was wonderful the first time I did it sixty-three years ago. It is, if possible, even more wonderful today. My prayer today and every day, starting some fourteen years ago and continuing on into the future, is twofold:

That the years which remain to me may be dedicated every more completely to the Lord God; and –

          For a happy and a holy death.

          I would like to close with a prayer composed by the great 19th century English convert, now Blessed John Henry Newman, at the end of his long life a cardinal, which has been dear to me since childhood.

Support us, O Lord, all the day long; until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.