3rd Sunday of Lent
March 24, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds the crowd of 2 incidents
where large groups of Jews had suffered terrible calamity.
As was common in those days, and still among some people today,
everyone assumed God was punishing these people
because they were terrible sinners.
But Jesus shows the crowd how they’re using this as an excuse
for thinking they themselves are not sinners,
as if they’re saying,
‘well as long as a building doesn’t fall on me, I must be holy.’
But Jesus says to them:
“I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
The other day someone showed me a picture they had taken of me recently.
I saw the picture and said to myself: “who is that old man?
It’s easy to look at other people and see their imperfections, and their sins,
but it’s much harder to look at ourselves and see ours.
And if we can’t see them, we can’t change them
—we can’t repent, which is what Lent is all about.
So today, let’s think about one way we can sin everyday.
Probably the most common thing we do every day is see
–we see our neighbor, ourselves, the world.
The gift of vision is one of God’s most generous gifts to us
but at the same time one of the most taken for granted and abused.
Most of us seldom think about how wonderful it is until we start to loose it.
Think about it.
So much of what we learn, and understand, and enjoy;
so much of what inspires and motivates us,
comes to us from through our vision.
We read with our vision,
we look at beautiful art, we watch entertaining plays or movies,
we look at our smartphones and computers,
we look at the way people act and at the way they smile, or frown.
All day long we’re looking and seeing.
And we can’t confine ourselves to physical vision:
there is also the mind’s eye
—the imagination, where we see images of lots of things.
So that even when we close our eyes, we continue to see.
But like all good gifts, the gift of sight can be used for good or evil.
What is it we look at, what do we see?
What kind of books and papers do we read,
what kind of television and movies do we watch?
Where do my eyes go on the internet?
And where do I let my mind’s eye wander?
And how do we look at others
—either with the physical eye, or with the mind’s eye?
Do we see them as persons created in the image of God?
Or do we see them as something to use and abuse
—an object for our hatred, greed, pride, envy, or lust?
And also, how do others see us, and how do we try to make others see us?
We shouldn’t go around doing things just for people to see and praise us,
but when do things that people do see, they should be seeing good things.
We should be showing good examples.
We should even be aware of how we dress
—to help others see something good or to avoid seeing something evil.
For example, some people wear uniforms to remind people of their job
and that they’re available to help them.
And on the other hand, some people wear clothes to call attention to themselves,
in order some to brag about their wealth or status,
or to boast about their personal holiness or piety,
or to tempt or excite others.
So many of women’s fashions are designed specifically
to catch and tempt men’s eyes.
The power of vision is awesome.
This is all, of course, no secret.
Teachers and artists and authors have always known this.
And Hollywood, television executives, advertisers, webmasters, software writers,
and fashion designers know this.
And they use it, for good or evil,
to draw us in to what they want us to learn or buy or understand.
To manipulate us.
And unfortunately, the devil also knows this.
The devil must have had a great time
leading people to Siloam to look at the fallen tower,
so he could whisper to them,
‘look those people are bad, but no tower fell on you.’
Do you think he doesn’t see us,
giving dirty looks to the person who angers us,
or when we simply refuse to look at the poor or sick?
Or looking at another person and seeing them an object of envy or lust?
On the one hand, this can be kind of frightening and intimidating,
and it makes us stop to look carefully at our lives
and the way we use our vision.
On the other hand, there is no real need to be frightened, or intimidated.
Because just as we can see all this, God sees it too.
He’s seen it from the beginning when he created the universe,
and “saw everything he had made, and [beheld that] it was very good.”
He saw it when he made himself known to Moses in the burning bush;
as Moses says in today’s 1st reading:
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight.”
And he understood it when he came among us,
as Jesus Christ, in a body we could see!
Last Sunday we read about the Transfiguration,
when Christ took Peter, James and John up a mountain
where he let them see his glorified body, standing with Moses and Elijah.
He did this to strengthen them, because he knew that in a few weeks
they would see the horrible vision of him beaten and nailed to a cross.
Jesus understands better than anyone the power of sight.
And so time after time He let people see His power—think of all the miracles,
imagine the effect on the people of seeing him
walking on water and the raising of dead.
But He didn’t do those miracle only for the people 2000 years ago
—He also did them for us.
He knew about our minds eye, how we see so clearly with our imagination.
And knowing about our imagination
He not only gave His followers physical signs to see,
but also told them parables with powerful for the minds eye to gaze upon
–taking complex ideas and letting us see them in very clear images.
Next week He uses the image of the prodigal son,
who winds up working in a pig pen.
This week He uses the image of a fruitless fig tree in a garden,
using the very descriptive language of cultivating and fertilizing
and even cutting it down.
It doesn’t take a farmer or a gardener to see these images
as clear as high def tv screen.
And it doesn’t take a priest to understand the imminent need
to repent and bear fruit.
In His wisdom, Christ has passed this appreciation of the power of vision
to His Church.
We see it in the sacred art of the church that lead us
to understand the mysteries of the life of Christ and his saints.
We see it in the beautiful churches that draw us to worship.
We see it in the different vestments and the sacred vessels we use,
and the candles and images that adorn the altar.
We especially see this in the special seasons of the year.
In Lent we begin seeing it in the ashes of Ash Wednesday,
and we continue to see it in the sparseness of decorations in the Church,
and in the stark violet everywhere.
We see it as we visit the stations of the cross,
and as we pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.
And we see it in the pageantry of Holy Week:
the Palms and procession of Palm Sunday,
the washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday,
the kissing of the Cross on Good Friday.
And we see it in books and movies that lay before us images of
the Christ’s Passion,
inviting us to see with our own eyes
—even if only the eyes of imagination enlightened by the eyes of faith—
the depth of His love pouring out in the blood
from the scourges to His back,
the thorns in His head,
the nails in His hands and feet,
and the sword in His side.
To see with our own eyes the fact that by his wounds we are healed.
And all year long we see it in the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church.
We especially see it in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,
where we see him as he is, but under the veil of the appearance of bread.
And all of this of course leads us here—to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
where all the holy things we’ve seen come together,
and what we see with our physical eyes is understood with the mind’s eye
and the eyes of faith,
as we look upon the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord.
The gift of vision is one of the most beautiful gifts God gives us.
But like all good gifts,
we human beings, with our free wills, can use our vision very badly.
Lent is a time to consider how we use God’s gifts badly—sinfully.
A time to see clearly that we can be just as bad a sinner as anyone else.
A time to look at our lives and see all the ways we fail to appreciate God’s gifts,
the way we sin.
This year, look especially at the way you fail to appreciate the gift of sight
—both physically and in the mind.
See how powerful this gift is—for good and for evil.
And remove any image you see which leads you or others away from Jesus
and replace it with a vision that leads all people to him.
Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ.