4th Sunday of Lent 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.
A few weeks ago Pope Benedict released his second volume
of his theological treatise “Jesus of Nazareth.”
As is usual some in the secular media have taken snippets of his writings
out of context and tried stir up trouble.
One thing some have been reporting that he supposedly wrote
that Catholics shouldn.t try to convert Jews.
Of course, if you read what he wrote that.s not what he said at all.
In fact, I had to laugh in reading the stories because they reminded me
that just a couple of years ago, at this same time of year,
the press was attacking Benedict for a prayer
that.s part of the Good Friday liturgy of “Old” Traditional Latin Mass.
Some said the prayer was anti-Semitic because it referred to “the blindness of”
the Jewish people, and prayed they may see “the light of ….Christ,
and “be rescued from their darkness.”
But the controversy got me thinking
about the fact that all mankind, including both Jews and Catholics,
are in need of conversion,
and that at one time or another, and all of us suffer from
spiritual blindness and darkness.
Which is why all of us need the one who called himself: “the light of the world.”
If we need any reminder of this all
we have to do is look at each of today.s 3 Scripture readings..
In the first reading from Isaiah we read:
“Not as man sees does God see.”
In the 2nd reading from St. Paul.s letter to the Ephesians we read:
“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
And finally in the Gospel we read
the story of Jesus giving sight to the man born blind.
What is the meaning of all this?
Well, of course, light and dark, sight and blindness
are filled with rich symbolism in Scripture.
Let.s focus on 2 aspects of this symbolism today:
the symbolism of ignorance vs. knowledge,
and the symbolism of sin vs. holiness.
Let.s start with “ignorance.”
First, remember what the word “ignorant” means.
It doesn.t mean “stupid”, it means “not knowing,” or “unaware.”
So St. John and the Holy Spirit tell the true story of the man born blind
in part to remind us of all the people who are born into cultures or families
that have no real knowledge of Jesus, the light of the world.
Included in this group are, of course,
most Muslims and Hindus, Confucians, Shintos, and animists.
We also find some Atheists, especially so many raised in the
Communist and post-Communist regimes of eastern Europe and Asia.
And of course, we find our older brothers in the faith of Abraham,
the Jewish people.
Now, does this mean that all these folks are somehow intrinsically evil,
or less loved by God?
No, not at all.
As Jesus says:
“I came into this world…so that those who do not see might see.”
And it.s not just people from non-Christian cultures who are ignorant of Christ.
The 21st century finds so many people in the western countries
whose cultures are rooted in Christianity,
but who are now so ignorant of those origins.
And it.s worse than that, because so many people
who still call themselves Christians are also ignorant of Christ.
And their ignorance, is in many ways, worse than the others.
Because the have some knowledge of Christ,
but choose to live in ignorance of so much of what he taught.
In effect, they are, in a sense, not born blind,
but they choose to become at least partially blind to the light of Christ.
And to them Christ says:
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, „We see,. so your sin remains.”
So here we come to the 2nd meaning of blindness and darkness: sin.
“I came …so that those who do not see might see,”
but then he added, “and those who do see might become blind.”
Those who are not ignorant,
choose to act as if they are ignorant—they sin—
and live a life with eyes closed,
choosing to be blind to what they should readily see.
You know, up until about 5 years ago
I had better than perfect 20/20 vision, physical speaking.
But years of overstraining my eyes finally caught up to me
and suddenly I.m up here wearing bifocals.
Some of this is simply aging,
but some is due to my own personal choices of behavior
that led me to loose some of my sight.
And the same thing happens to us when we sin:
my choice to ignore Christ weakens my ability to see Christ as he truly is,
and to see myself for what I.ve become.
I was reading the other day how people living in war zones
after awhile get used to seeing all the violence and hardship.
In other words, you sort of become blind to it.
It.s the same thing with people who live surrounded by other peoples. sins
or enmeshed in there own sinful lives.
They stop noticing the sin.
Think about this.
Imagine a good Catholic living in Northern Virginia in 1961
being instantaneously transported in time from 1961 to 2011.
They turn on the TV and find what they think is a channel
devoted entirely soft porn and sick humor.
And you come in the room and all you see is a primetime network sitcom.
Now, in a certain sense,
like the man in the Gospel today and his physical blindness,
all of us are actually born spiritually blind.
Again this is in the same 2 ways: ignorance and sin.
This time let.s talk about sin first.
All of us are born with “original sin.”
One of the effects of Adam and Eve.s first sin is
that none of us is able to see as clearly as we were created to.
For example, you see someone cut in front of you in traffic
and you think you see the meanest dumbest son of a gun you ever met.
And then you notice that the driver is actually a diminutive nun
who looks like of Mother Theresa.
Your vision wasn.t acting the way it was supposed to—it confused good and evil.
This confusion—part of what theologians call concupiscence—
is the result of being born partially blind in original sin.
How do we solve this blindness?
The same way Jesus does in today.s Gospel:
First he puts mud on the man.s eyes
—perhaps as a symbol of the much and filth of sin blinding our eyes.
But then he tells him:
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”
And the man washes, and he sees.
It doesn.t take a Scripture scholar to recognize this is a symbol of baptism
and the grace it pours out on us,
washing away the muck from the eyes of our souls
and opening them to see in the light of Christ.
All of us are also born in the blindness of ignorance.
Did you know that when we.re born we really aren.t able to see very well?
—in a real physical sense we.re all born partially blind,
and have to actually develop and learn how to see
with normal vision.
But babies aren.t only physically blind, they.re also intellectually blind;
in other words, they.re ignorant: they know nothing.
So parents have the duty to teach their children
how to see the world as it really is
—especially the truth of the teaching of Christ
passed down to us in His Church.
Any parent—and I would include spiritual fathers like priests in this
—who fails to do this leaves their child in ignorance and darkness,
and shows their own blindness—either in sin or ignorance.
Like Jesus says of the Pharisees, these parents and priests are:
“they are like blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man,
both will fall into a pit.”
Which lead us to the fact that not all blindness comes to us at birth:
some of us are born into families and cultures
that teach us about the truth about the Gospel,
but we choose to become ignorant,
by letting our good training lapse,
or failing to keep learning as adults.
Many of us—if not most—learned our faith as children:
how many of us have actually tried to seriously continue
to learn about our faith as adults?
When was the last time you sat down read the bible?
or the Catechism?
or one of the great Catholic spiritual classics
or St. Therese.s “Story of a Soul.”
Like the blind man we have to constantly strive to learn more about the Messiah,
asking: “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
And the blindness of sin can also return, even after baptism,
with every actual sin we freely choose to commit in our lives.
As St. Paul tells us in today.s 2nd reading, Baptism makes us “children of light.”
Even so, we can still chose, as he goes on to say,
to “Take part in the fruitless works of darkness.”
But when we do, all is not lost—Christ will not leave us in darkness.
Jesus didn.t just cure the man born blind
—he cured lots of blind people who became blind during their lifetimes.
And so Christ washes our eyes clean of sin not only in Baptism
but also in the sacrament of Penance.
If only we will come to him and confess our sins with sorrow.
As St. Paul goes on to say:
“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them…
everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”
We see in all this that ignorance and sin are very much interrelated.
And we see that ignorance can lead to sin:
But it.s also true that ignorance can actually excuse of the guilt of our sins:
as Jesus says: “If you were blind, you would have no sin”
If you don.t know something is wrong, how can you be guilty?
Sometimes we can.t help being ignorant about something.
Moral theologians call this “invincible ignorance.”
For example, sometimes young Catholics tell me they didn.t know
it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday,
because no ever told them
—in fact priests and teachers in Catholic schools
told them it was NOT a mortal sin.
In one sense, who can blame you for not knowing when you were never taught,
or were betrayed and not taught the truth?
But we need to be careful here:
does your responsibility to learn about Christ end
with the last word you heard leaving Catholic grade school or CCD?
Does having a priest tell you that adultery or contraception is not a sin
negate the fact that even the secular press knows the pope calls it a sin?
Again, are we so blind,
that we can.t read the Catechism or the Bible for ourselves?
Some ignorance we can.t help,
but some is as easily washed away as mud from our eyes.
And we can.t stop with our ignorance.
What about the ignorance of others?
Christ came to be the light of the world,
and he puts his light in you,
and warns you not to “light a lamp” only to “put it under a bushel basket;”
commanding you to
“set it on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.”
You do this first of all by your actions:
your life should be a shining example of knowledge of the truth,
not of your ignorance or you turning a blind eye to the Gospel.
But you also need to talk to people about Jesus:
especially when they ask you questions.
You say, but Father, I don.t know what to tell people about Christ.
Well, then learn—prepare yourself.
And even if you get asked a question you can.t answer, don.t panic.
Look at the man born Blind going toe to toe the Pharisees.
Twice he honestly says “I do not know”,
but then he adds the simple but powerful and irrefutable observation:
“One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”
Lent is a time for us to recognize that we all live in a world full of darkness,
and some of that darkness is in our own souls.
So now, at this Mass, as we enter into the mystery of the Cross of Good Friday,
let us pray for all the peoples of the world,
that they may come to see and live in the light of Christ,
We pray in a particular way for the Jews,
because we love them in special way:
after all, it was a Jew, the son of David,
who died on the Cross of our sins.
But most of all, we pray for ourselves,
that the grace of Christ
may wash away the ignorance and sin that blinds us,
“rescue[ing] [us] from [our] darkness”,
to “Live as children of light.”