The Fourth Sunday of Lent – Scrutiny II

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy is all about vision and sight and light and darkness.  All of these, dear friends, are things that we certainly take for granted.  Think about it: we don’t appreciate the gift of light until that dark and stormy night when the electricity goes out and we’re fumbling around in the darkness trying to remember where it is we put that new package of batteries for the flashlight.  We likewise take for granted our own ability to see.  I think of my Aunt Mia, who several years before she passed away lost her sight and had to learn how to see things in a new way.

When I hear today’s first reading, it always makes me think of my dad.  He was the kind of Irishman who never knew a stranger.  We couldn’t go anywhere without running into at least one person he knew.  But he didn’t just know them, he knew their story.  And so if someone were to complain about someone he knew, he would always be able to tell them something good about that person, because Dad saw the best in them.  That’s the kind of vision we are all called to have for one another: we need to see the best in them, we need to see Jesus in them.

So what about this miracle story in the Gospel today.  I have to just say it, who cares?  I mean, it’s nice for that man born blind who can now see, but I mean, he lived two thousand years ago, so what business is it of ours if he can see or not?  Why take up so much time with this reading?  Well I’ll tell you why we should care: we should care because the man born blind is us.  We all have affected vision: none of us sees others or even sees ourselves as God does.  So we have to decide today if we are the man born blind who is easily and quickly healed, or if we want to be the Pharisees who, at the end of the day, never regain their sight because, well, they just don’t want to.

So maybe you’re asking the same question those Pharisees asked, “surely we are not also blind, are we?”  Well, of course we are.  We are, first of all, born blind.  We don’t have a way of seeing the Truth that is in front of us; we can’t acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ and the King of our lives.  It takes holy baptism to cure that born blindness in us.  Secondly, we have a kind of blindness that affects us all through our lives.  We often lose our vision and wander off the path to life.  We are affected by temptation, by cyclical sin and by the darkness of our world.  That’s why we have Lent: to realize our brokenness and to accept the healing power of Christ.  Lent calls us to remember that we are dust, that we are broken people fallen into sin, but it also proclaims that none of that is any match for the power of Christ risen from the dead, if we just let him put a little mud on our eyes.

Today’s Gospel then is a kind of journey to clearer vision.  We are all born blind, in a sense, and it takes the presence of Jesus to clear our vision.  Just as the man born blind was sent to the pool of Siloam, we too are sent to the waters of baptism, which clears our eyes and helps us to really see.  Our Elect, who are here with us today, will experience that in a very literal way this coming Easter Vigil.  In baptism, our inherited sin and evil is washed away; the darkness of life is transformed by the presence of Christ, the Light of the World.

We see that light shine brighter and brighter in today’s Gospel.  During the course of all the questionings that follow, the man’s vision becomes clearer and clearer.  At first he doesn’t know who Jesus is or where to find him.  Later on he testifies that Jesus is a prophet and finally, with the help of Jesus’ instruction, after he has been unceremoniously thrown out of the synagogue, he meets Jesus again and testifies that Jesus is the Son of Man and worthy of worship.  As he sees more clearly, his faith becomes bolder.

We make this same journey ourselves.  From the waters of baptism, we need to continue the conversation and return to Christ again and again to grow in our faith.  We grow in the way that we see Jesus through our lives.  Think about it: our faith when we were young is not the same faith that works for us later in life.  At one point Jesus is a friend walking with us on life’s path; later on he might be a rock that helps us in a particularly stormy time of life.  Still later, he might be the one calling us to become something new, something better than we think we can attain.  Jesus is always the same, but we are different, and Jesus is with us at every point of life’s journey, if we open our eyes to see him.

Traditionally, today is Laetare Sunday – laetare being Latin for “rejoice.”  That’s why we’re wearing these rose-colored vestments today.  We are now pretty much half way through Lent, and with eyes recreated by our own trips to the pool of Siloam – the waters of baptism – we can begin to catch a glimpse of Easter joy.  It kind of reminds me of the last section of the Exsultet that we will hear proclaimed on the evening of the Easter Vigil. That last section tells us:

May this flame be found still burning 
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever. 

Christ’s peaceful light changes everything. It clears up the darkness of sin and evil, and allows all of us blind ones to see the glory of God’s presence.  All of us have, indeed been born blind.  But you know what?  We’re not supposed to stay that way.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Scrutiny II)

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy calls us to clear up our clouded vision and become people of light.  The gospel gets at that pretty quickly, healing the man born blind in the first couple of minutes of what is admittedly a pretty long reading.  And that’s a good thing because, honestly, who cares about the man born blind?  I know that sounds terrible, but he lived a couple thousand years ago, and he was healed, so you know, good for him, but how does that affect us?  I’ll tell you how it affects us: the man born blind is us.  We all have affected vision: none of us sees others or even sees ourselves as God does. The first reading then is a wake-up call to us.  And we have to decide today if we are the man born blind who is easily and quickly healed, or if we want to be the Pharisees who, at the end of the day, never regain their sight because, well, they just don’t want to.

So maybe you’re asking the same question those Pharisees asked, “surely we are not also blind, are we?”  Of course we are.  We are, first of all, born blind. We don’t have a way of seeing the Truth that is in front of us; we can’t acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ and the King of our lives. It takes baptism to cure that born blindness in us. Secondly, we have a kind of blindness that affects us all through our lives. We often lose our vision and wander off the path to life. We are affected by temptation, by cyclical sin and by the darkness of our world. That’s why we have Lent: to realize our brokenness and to accept the healing power of Christ.  Lent calls us to remember that we are dust, that we are broken people fallen into sin, but it also proclaims that none of that is any match for the power of Christ risen from the dead, if we just let him put a little mud on our eyes.

Today’s Gospel then is a kind of journey to clearer vision.  We are all born blind, in a sense, and it takes the presence of Jesus to clear our vision.  Just as the man born blind was sent to the pool of Siloam, we too are sent to the waters of baptism, which clears our eyes and helps us to really see.  Our Elect, Brandon, will experience that in a very literal way this coming Easter Vigil.  In baptism, our inherited sin and evil is washed away; the darkness of life is transformed by the presence of Christ, the Light of the World.  We see that light shine brighter and brighter in today’s Gospel.  During the course of all the questionings that follow, the man’s vision becomes clearer and clearer.  At first he doesn’t know who Jesus is or where to find him.  Later on he testifies that Jesus is a prophet and finally, with the help of Jesus’ instruction, that Jesus is the Son of Man and worthy of worship. As he sees more clearly, his faith becomes bolder.  We make this same journey ourselves.  From the waters of baptism, we need to continue the conversation and return to Christ again and again to grow in our faith.  We grow in the way that we see Jesus through our lives.  Our faith when we were young is not the same faith that works for us later in life.  At one point Jesus is a friend walking with us on life’s path; later on he might be a rock that helps us in a particularly stormy time of life.  Still later, he might be the one calling us to become something new, something better than we think we can attain.  Jesus is always the same, but we are different, and Jesus is with us at every point of life’s journey, if we open our eyes to see him.

Traditionally, today is Laetare Sunday – laetare being Latin for “rejoice.”  That’s why we’re wearing these rose-colored vestments today.  We are now pretty much half way through Lent, and with eyes recreated by our own trips to the pool of Siloam – the waters of baptism – we can begin to catch a glimpse of Easter joy.  It kind of reminds me of the last section of the Exsultet that Deacon Chris Lankford will proclaim on the evening of the Easter Vigil. That last section tells us:

May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever. 

Christ’s peaceful light changes everything. It clears up the darkness of sin and evil, and allows all of us blind ones to see the glory of God’s presence.  All of us have, indeed been born blind.  But we’re not supposed to stay that way.

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What are you looking for?

That’s the question Jesus asks us today, and it’s a good one. For the disciples who were checking him out, I think it took them aback somewhat. They weren’t expecting that and they honestly didn’t have a ready answer. So instead they do what Jesus usually does and they answer the question with another question! “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And very cryptically, Jesus answers by saying, “Come and you will see.” That’s a wonderful line, so bookmark it for just a second.

Here we are, essentially just beginning the regular part of the new year of the Church. We’ve been through the Christmas season, we’ve celebrated Epiphany, Jesus has been baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin Saint John the Baptist, and now it’s time to get on with the ministry he came to do. So as he moves on, he begins to attract disciples, particularly those who had been followers of Saint John the Baptist. Most likely, they were there when Jesus was baptized and they experienced the wonders of that moment: when the Father spoke from the heavens and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. My guess is they would have wanted to get to know Jesus a little better.

And so that’s what brings them to the place we are today. Where are you staying? Come and you will see. And see they do. They recruit Simon Peter, and he joins the group. Together they will see the sick healed, the paralyzed get up and walk, the leprous cleaned, the possessed set free. They will see thousands fed by a few loaves and fish. They will witness the raising of the dead, and see Jesus’ transfiguration. But they won’t just see glory, will they? They will see suffering and death, and will then see resurrection. After that, they will see what Jesus saw in them – their ability to become the Church and spread the Gospel.

I wonder how much of that would have answered the question, “What are you looking for?” Probably none of it, really. Just like they had no idea how to answer Jesus’ question, they had no idea what to expect from their relationship with him. They really did have to take him up on his invitation to “Come and see.”

Which is where we are today, on this first, “ordinary” Sunday of the Church year. And I’m going to ask you all to pray over this in the week ahead: “What are you looking for?” What do you hope to see? What are your dreams for your spiritual life? How would you want God to work in your life right now?

For me, I’m looking forward to seeing Chris Lankford ordained to the Diaconate, the last step before his priestly ordination next year. I’m looking forward to seeing how some of our ministries develop, the fruits of adding some programs to our school, the continued growth of our parish council. I’m looking forward to baptizing an adult at our Easter Vigil this year, along with Confirming and giving First Eucharist to two other candidates. I’m looking forward to celebrating several marriages this year, along with 90 First Communions and 60 or so Confirmations. I’m looking forward to seeing how God will continue to work in my life and develop my ministry. But I know it won’t all be glory: I’ll have to celebrate funerals and say goodbye to some wonderful people. I’ll have to make hard decisions about our budget and prioritize ministries. Just like all of your families, there are tough decisions to be made in the running of a parish.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. And I look forward to the journey. Sometimes things might not happen fast enough for my liking, or maybe they won’t happen in the way I would choose, but I know that along the way, I’ll see more of God’s grace, and that’s worth the ride all in itself.

So I’ll put this back in your court again: What are you looking for? Whatever it is, Jesus answers, “Come, and you will see.”

Thursday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the voices that can never be silenced in us is the voice that cries out seeking to see.  We spend our whole lives crying out as Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel: “Master, I want to see.”  And just as the crowd and even the disciples could not silence his desires, so nothing will silence that desire in our own hearts and souls.  We want to see the truth, we want to see Jesus, we want to see the world as it really is, we want to see our way out of our current messed-up situation, we want to see the end of suffering, we want to see peace, we want to see wholeness, and maybe most of all we want to see ourselves.  As we really are.  As God sees us.  This is our lifelong task.

St. Augustine spoke of that very same task in his Confession.  He said, speaking to God: “I will confess, therefore, what I know of myself, and also what I do not know.  The knowledge that I have of myself, I possess because you have enlightened me; while the knowledge of myself that I do not yet possess will not be mine until my darkness shall be made as the noonday sun before your face.”  He goes on to say that he can try to hide from God if he wanted to, but it would never work.  Hiding from God would only result in hiding God from himself.  God sees the depths of our being, so if we try to hide all we really end up doing is running away from God who knows us at our very core.

The writer of our first reading had this idea in mind when he said:

He plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart;
their innermost being he understands.
The Most High possesses all knowledge,
and sees from of old the things that are to come:
He makes known the past and the future,
and reveals the deepest secrets.

God is calling us all out of darkness today.  He wants us to see him, and ourselves, as we were created to be.  He created us from glory.  And we won’t experience that glory in its fullness until we go through the rather painful experience of bringing all of our darkness out into the light.  Maybe we’re not ready for that yet.  But we can pray to become ready, and to be open.  We can pray in the words of Bartimaeus: “Master, I want to see!”

The Fourth Sunday of Lent [A] (Laetare Sunday)

Today’s readings

I don’t know about you, but I feel like today’s Liturgy of the Word starts off by giving us all a slap in the face.  And it’s needed.  How many of us judge others without even getting to know them?  How often do we decide who people are and what they’re like just by a first glance, or where they live, or even who they know?  It’s a habit we learned in junior high school, or maybe even earlier, and we never seem to outgrow it.  Shame on us for that, because God is clear with Samuel: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart.”  So we have to stop judging others before we get to know them; we have to learn to see them as God sees them.  We need to see with the eyes of God.

 

Whenever I hear this reading, I think of my dad.  He was the typical Irish guy who never met a stranger, and it was frankly a little irritating to go grocery shopping with him.  He’d bump in to a couple of people he knew while we were shopping, one or two more in the checkout line, and probably at least one more while the rest of us were loading the groceries in the car! But that was because dad was a man who always seemed to see the best in people.  At his wake a few years ago now, we were all overwhelmed by the incredible number of people who came and shared with us how they were inspired by him and encouraged by him, all because Dad saw something special in them.  I think dad had some inkling of the vision God wants us to have in this first reading.

 

So the theme for this week’s liturgy is vision and light.  The gospel gets at that pretty quickly, healing the man born blind in the first couple of minutes of what is admittedly a pretty long reading.  And that’s a good thing because, honestly, who cares about the man born blind?  I know that sounds terrible, but he lived a couple thousand years ago, and he was healed, so you know, good for him, but how does that affect us?  I’ll tell you how it affects us: the man born blind is us.  We all have affected vision: that’s why the first reading is such a slap in our faces.  So we have to decide today if we are the man born blind who is easily and quickly healed, or if we want to be the Pharisees who, at the end of the day, never regain their sight because they just don’t want to.

 

So maybe you’re asking the same question those Pharisees asked, “surely we are not also blind, are we?”  Of course we are.  That’s why we have Lent: to realize our brokenness and to accept the healing power of Christ.  Lent calls us to remember that we are dust, that we are broken people fallen into sin, but that none of that is any match for the power of Christ risen from the dead, if we just let him put a little clay on our eyes.

 

Today’s Gospel then is a kind of journey to clearer vision. We are all born blind, in a sense, and it takes the presence of Jesus to clear our vision. Just as the man born blind was sent to the pool of Siloam, we too are sent to the waters of baptism, which clears our eyes and helps us to really see. In baptism, the darkness of life is transformed by the presence of Christ, the Light of the World. During the course of all the questionings that follow, the man’s vision becomes clearer and clearer. At first he doesn’t know who Jesus is or where to find him. Later on he testifies that Jesus is a prophet and finally, with the help of Jesus’ instruction, that Jesus is the Son of Man and worthy of worship. We make this same journey ourselves. From the waters of baptism, we need to continue the conversation and return to Christ again and again to grow in our faith.  We grow in the way that we see Jesus through our lives.  Our faith when we were young is not the same faith that works for us later in life.  At one point Jesus is a friend walking with us on life’s path; later on he might be a rock that helps us in a particularly stormy time of life.  Still later, he might be the one calling us to become something new, something better than we think we can attain.  Jesus is always the same, but we are different, and Jesus is with us at every point of life’s journey, if we open our eyes to see him.

 

Traditionally, today is Laetare Sunday – laetare being Latin for “rejoice.”  That’s why we’re wearing these rose-colored vestments today.  We are now pretty much half way through Lent, and with eyes recreated by our own trips to the pool of Siloam – the waters of baptism – we can begin to catch a glimpse of Easter joy.  Laetare Sunday reminds us that even in the penance of Lent, that it’s not penance for penance’s own sake: there is reason for rejoicing.  It might be good, then, to ask ourselves, what in the world gives us cause to rejoice today, here and now, in our own lives?

 

In a few weeks, the Mass of the Easter Vigil will begin by telling us all the reasons we should rejoice.  That Mass begins with the sung Easter Proclamation – the Exsultet – which tells the whole story of God’s mercy and sings God’s praises.  It is sung in the darkened church, proclaiming that, even in the darkness of our world affected as it is with blindness, the light of God’s mercy still reigns and has power to overcome everything that keeps us from the true Light of the world.  It begins: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ our King is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!

 

That proclamation of the Exsultet almost seems out of place in our world today. All we have to do is pick up a newspaper to see the darkness that pervades our lives. Wars and terrorism claim so many lives.  Crime in its many forms takes its toll on our society.  Injustice and oppression still exist in our own nation and abroad.  The poor still hunger and thirst for the basic necessities of life.  In our own lives, we see sin that has not been confessed.  Bad habits that have not been broken.  Love and mercy that have been withheld.  All of these blind us to the vision Christ wants for us.  But to that darkness, the Exsultet sings: Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

 

What’s great about the Exsultet, I think, is the kind of “in your face” attitude it has about joy.  Yes, the world can be a dark place, but that darkness is no match for the light that Christ brings to the world.  Yes there is sorrow and sin and death, but they are no match for the joy of Eternal Life, the life that comes only from Christ’s triumph over the grave.  Of this kind of joy, the Exsultet sings: What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer? Father, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son.

 

Today’s Liturgy is a call for all of us to attend to our vision.  Do we see others as God sees them?  Do we even see ourselves as God sees us?  How do we see Christ at work in our lives and in our world?  Where we encounter obstacles to the clear vision that we must have in this darkened world, we should set them aside and allow Christ to anoint our eyes so that we can see as God sees, this God who sees into the heart.  Then as the darkness that exists in our own lives is transformed to light, maybe our little corner of the world can know compassion amidst sorrow, comfort amidst mourning, mercy against intolerance, love against hatred, and the peace that passes all of our understanding in every place we walk.  May we carry the flame of God’s love into our world to brighten every darkness and bring joy to every sorrow.  May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning: Christ that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all humankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

During the summer before my final year of seminary, I worked as a hospital chaplain.  It ended up being a pretty rough summer for me and the other men and women in the student chaplain group: we had a record number of deaths and tragic accidents to deal with, and it was, as you might expect, getting us pretty down.  Then for morning prayer one day, one of my fellow students brought in today’s Gospel, and we reflected especially on the end part of the reading:

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,

and your ears, because they hear.

Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people

longed to see what you see but did not see it,

and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

The more we explored that reading, the more we became aware that, even in the midst of all of the very real tragedy we were experiencing, we were also experiencing some very real great blessing.  How true that is for all of us in life.  We tend to dwell on the negative things we are seeing, and no one would ever doubt that we all have to see some pretty rotten stuff in our lives, some people it seems more so than others.  But the problem comes when we let go of the blessing that comes too.  We people of faith have to be convinced that God is with us even in, perhaps especially in, our darkest moments, and gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God that perhaps others don’t get to see.  Blessed are our eyes when we get to see them!

The people in Moses’ day didn’t ever really get to see God.  They got to see Moses, who sort of acted as an intermediary for them with God.  No one else could see God and live.  But our eyes do get to see God.  We can see God in the Eucharist, we can see God in the person sitting next to us, we can see God in the graced moments of our day.  Maybe we just need to open our eyes to see God more often, but he is there, longing to bless our eyes with the vision of him.