Homilies for March 2017

Ash Wednesday—March 1, 2017
Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030117.cfm
JL 2:12-18PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 and 172 COR 5:20—6:2MT 6:1-6, 16-18

“For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin….”

I used to be embarrassed to admit this, but Lent is my favorite season of the Church’s year. The older I get, the more I find others who think likewise. Wondering about this, I’ve come to think that Lent is a “diamond in the rough”. Hidden beneath its harsh exterior, Lent offers some of the Church’s most profound riches. Here’s an example.

In today’s First Reading is a verse that’s also chanted within one of the antiphons for the Blessing and Distribution of Ashes. “Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, stand between the porch and the altar and weep and cry out: Spare, O Lord, spare your people”. This sentence speaks to the Old Testament priest’s role among God’s People. First, it reveals that the Old Testament priest physically stands between the porch and the altar—between God’s People and the place of sacrifice to God—to act as the Prophet Joel describes.

There, the Old Testament priest weeps and cries out on behalf of God’s sinful people. While this weeping and crying is not part of his official “job description,” which, in fact, centers on the offering of sacrifice, these actions are clearly bound up with the priest’s role as mediator. This is true because the sins of God’s People are the reason that he stands where he does: between them and the Lord God, weeping, crying, and, finally, offering sacrifice.

Yet while this Old Testament background is important, the Church proclaims this verse from the Prophet Joel today in order to point our attention to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

One phrase in particular from today’s Second Reading forces us to reckon with the depth of Jesus’ priesthood. What does Saint Paul mean when, speaking about God the Father and the Son, he states that “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”? This saving truth reminds us about three distinct forms of humility that Jesus accepted for our salvation, by which He stands between sinful man and the divine Father.1

First, we need to reflect upon God the Son humbling Himself to become human at the Annunciation. Jesus stands between God and man as True God and true man. For scriptural meditation on this saving mystery during Lent, we might use the prologue of St. John’s Gospel account or the canticle of Christ’s humility found in Philippians.2

Then, more than thirty years after His conception, this divine Word made Flesh offered up His life on the Cross. We need to reflect upon Jesus’ humility on Calvary. Upon the Cross, Jesus is not an Old Testament priest, crying and weeping and offering a dumb animal in sacrifice. In humility, the Word made Flesh sacrifices His own Body and Blood, soul and divinity. To reflect on this saving mystery, we might use the Passion narrative from any of the four Gospel accounts.3

But be careful! Within this second form of Jesus’ humility is a third: a mystery that we must not underestimate. Again, in speaking about the Father sending His divine Son to save us, the Apostle declares: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin”.

Often when we meditate upon the Passion of the Christ—say, for example, during the Stations of the Cross—we are impressed by how awfully man’s sins affect Jesus. We might imagine the Cross as “containing” our sins, so that the physical weight of Jesus’ heavy cross symbolizes the spiritual weight of all mankind’s sins. Or we might imagine each lash from the Scourging at the Pillar as representing an individual sin. But while those images may help us meditate upon the meaning of the Passion, St. Paul is saying something even more profound.

God the Father made His divine Son “to be sin”: not only to carry sin, or be wounded by sin, but to be made sin. Jesus, who from before time began was true God, stands not only in the place of sinners, but in the place of sin. This is where He offers sacrifice as a new and everlasting priest. His stance between merciful grace and man’s sins brings together both in Himself, where the former destroys the latter.

But how can we human beings with our minds dimmed by sin even fathom what it means for the Father to make His Son sin? How could someone even begin to reflect on the depth of this saving mystery? One way is by asking “Why?”

“Why did God the Son humble Himself to become human? Why did Jesus sacrifice Himself on Calvary? Why did the Father make His only-begotten Son to be sin?” The answer, of course, is God’s divine love for sinful human persons. But the depth of such love for us sinners is even more unfathomable than that of the Father making His divine Son sin. What response can we make to these mysteries of our Faith?

The only fitting response is to enter into these mysteries. Each of us must enter into Christ: into the One who is divine love begotten by the Father, who is human by the mission received from His Father, yet who is made sin by the Father for our salvation. Christ’s stances in each of these three—begotten, sent to become man, and made sin by the Father—suggest three paths leading to the Father’s love. During Lent, set forth upon all three.

The third is conversion: the turning of one’s heart, mind, soul and strength from one’s sins to God. How blessed we are as Catholics to have the Sacrament of Confession to lead us in this on-going effort of conversion! Before this coming Sunday, mark on your calendar the date when you will make your next confession.

Second, good works move oneself closer to the Father by putting into practice Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel passage. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have tremendous power—when done in secret, out of human love for “your Father who is hidden”—to prepare us for growth in the Father’s love. Find a list of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and choose one of the Corporal Works and one of the Spiritual Works to focus upon more intently during Lent.

Above all is God’s grace. God’s grace is His alone, of course. You can do nothing to earn it or achieve it. Yet this is what God wants for you most of all. Everything you do can only dispose yourself to accept God’s grace, to act upon His grace, and to make His grace your life. Stand fast in Christ throughout this holy season of Lent. Seek the meaning of your life where Jesus stands.

__________ 

The First Sunday of Lent [A]—March 5, 2017
Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030517.cfm
GN 2:7-9; 3:1-7PS 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17ROM 5:12-19MT 4:1-11
 

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

Thinking back to life before ordination, I can count on one hand the number of homilies I heard based upon the day’s Responsorial Psalm. To be honest, the same goes for the number of homilies that I’ve preached about the Responsorial since being ordained. Why is it so rare to hear a homily reflecting at length upon the Responsorial?

One possible reason is that the psalms are poetry. The western world in our day and age is very prosaic and practical, unfortunately. This is largely because we’ve made ourselves so dependent upon technology. But God is a Poet, and while the Psalter—that is, the Book of Psalms—is not the only book of the Bible to feature poetry, we might well say that the psalms are God’s poetry par excellence. The excellence of the Psalter comes in part from the breadth and depth of its poetry about God and man, and about how they relate to each other.

But the Scriptures on this First Sunday of Lent focus upon the needs of man. While the entirety of the Psalter speaks to man as created in God’s grace, and as fallen by his own sin, today’s Responsorial specifically considers the pride of fallen man. Fallen man needs humility to accept the redemption that comes from Jesus alone.

Today’s Responsorial is taken from Psalm 51. This psalm is, arguably, the most profound of the seven psalms that are traditionally called the Penitential Psalms. For many centuries, the seven Penitential Psalms have helped Christians to focus on their need to accept God’s mercy, and to practice penance. Here, at the beginning of Lent, you might consider copying one of the Penitential Psalms, carrying it with you throughout Lent, and praying it every day. If you’re unsure about which of these seven to choose, try Psalm 51.

Today’s Responsorial is drawn from just eight verses of Psalm 51.4 But in these verses, the Psalmist—that is, the author of the Psalms—proclaims in poetry what today’s other three Scripture passages touch upon through narrative and doctrinal exposition. Consider each set of verses that the Church sings today between the repetitions of the refrain.

During the first set of verses, we repeatedly petition God. Four times the Church sings of our neediness. But these four needs are of a specific sort. We might say that they’re negative in nature. Of course, every need is negative in the sense that we’re asking for something we do not have: asking God to fill a void, whether it’s an empty pantry, an empty savings account, or an empty garage.

But in this first set of verses, we ask God to have mercy on us, to wipe out our offense, to wash us from our guilt, and to cleanse us from our sin. What these four needs have in common is that we’re asking God to restore to us something that we once had but have lost.

The second set of verses complements the first. If we admit in the first verses what our need is, the second set of verses helps us answer the question “Why?” Why do we need what we are asking God for? Why did we lose what we once had?

The answer is that we need mercy, and our offenses wiped out, and our guilt washed away, and to be cleansed from sin because each of us has freely chosen to sin. Each of us has sinned, and each of us needs to admit this fact. What the Psalmist in the first set of verses implied, he makes plain in the second. The Psalmist admits in four different ways that he has sinned. He says: “I acknowledge my offense”, “my sin is before me always”, “Against you only[, God,] have I sinned”, and I have “done what is evil in your sight”. The Psalmist is willing to admit not only that he has a problem, but that he is the problem.

Admitting our sinfulness like the Psalmist might sound simple, but experience shows how bedeviling it is. Because we are sinners, you and I speak and act not like the Psalmist, but like Adam and Eve. In the First Reading, we heard about Adam and Eve committing the original sin. But what did they do afterwards, when God confronted them? They rationalized. They pointed away from themselves. They blamed others. They did everything except admit the simple fact that they had sinned.

It’s not easy for anyone to admit that he’s a sinner. But the Church during Lent helps us to do so, in order to approach the Sacrament of Penance with heartfelt sorrow, and a true sense of the sins we’ve committed. The Church offers written examinations of conscience based upon her authentic moral teachings. Likewise, attending a solid retreat during Lent can help us face up to our sins. Even watching a good movie about the Lord’s Passion or the sufferings of martyrs can lead us to greater honesty about the price of our sins.

So while the first half of today’s Responsorial confesses the loss resulting from our human sin, the second rejoices in what God offers us through Divine Mercy. This second half consists of seven petitions, and one promise. But these petitions aren’t like those in the first half. The first half’s petitions ask God to remove what is negative: to wipe out offense, wash away guilt, and cleanse one of sin.

But now in this second half, the Psalmist asks God to restore and sustain what is positive. The Psalmist asks God to restore to him a clean heart, a steadfast spirit, and the joy of God’s salvation. He asks God to sustain in him God’s presence, His Holy Spirit, and a willing human spirit.

Finally, the Psalmist sings of his end. In the last two verses of today’s Responsorial, we hear the goal both of God removing from the Psalmist’s life what is negative, and sustaining within him what is positive. Here, each of us needs to consider herself or himself to be the Psalmist. What is true of the Psalmist is true of each of us, especially in terms of our Lenten fasting, prayers and almsgiving.

The final petition of the Psalmist is different from the others within the Responsorial. Now, the Psalmist sings: “O Lord, open my lips.” The Psalmist makes this petition with the aim of making God a promise: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

Praise of God is the end of mankind. Each of us during Lent needs to keep in mind that all our fasting, prayers, and almsgiving are oriented to this goal. This is what God created Adam and Eve for “in the beginning”. The final Adam, Jesus Christ, lives and dies upon this earth to restore to each of us the chance to fulfill this calling from God: to proclaim His praise all our days on this earth, and forever in Heaven.

__________

The Second Sunday of Lent [A]—March 12, 2017
Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031217.cfm
GN 12:1-4APS 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 222 TM 1:8B-10MT 17:1-9

“And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with Him.”

Saint John Paul II will always be remembered for his part in dramatic events. He preached about freedom behind the Iron Curtain, created World Youth Day, and led its celebrations across the globe, and forgave the man who tried to assassinate him. But there are also many simpler acts by which he will have a lasting impact upon Christians for many years to come. One is his addition of the Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary.

The Luminous Mysteries shed light upon who Jesus is, and what His mission on earth is all about. The scene narrated in today’s Gospel passage is the fourth Luminous Mystery. What does this mystery of Jesus’ Transfiguration reveal about Him and His earthly mission, and how does this mystery help us along our own Lenten pilgrimage?

Start at the end of the Gospel passage. Jesus commands Peter, James, and John not “to tell the vision {of the Transfiguration} to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” This command raises two questions. First, why do the apostles have to wait until after the Resurrection to tell others about this vision? Second, given Jesus’ prohibition, why didn’t He just wait until after His Resurrection to be transfigured?

We can gather why the apostles must wait to tell about the Transfiguration from the way Peter responds to it. Jesus likely feared that others, when hearing of the Transfiguration, would think as Peter did when he said: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here”. Peter’s words are all too human. He wants to rest in what is good. He wants to make tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah because he wants them to remain where they are. He doesn’t want this moment to pass.

But the moment must pass. The glory of the Transfiguration is a means to an even greater end. This means, and that end, must occur in the right order if we want to move forward in faith. Or instead, we might say that the Transfiguration, and its end, are scenes in a drama. Just as a performance of Hamlet would make little sense were its scenes acted out of order, so the drama of the Paschal Mystery unfolds in its own order. The Transfiguration is a means to the end that is Jesus’ death. So, then, what within this scene helps us understand its place within the entire drama of the Gospel?

Consider the company that Jesus keeps high on that mountain. The three chief apostles witness the transfigured Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law of the Old Testament, while Elijah represents its prophets. Jesus, with face and clothes like the sun and light, in the midst of Moses and Elijah, evokes a promise that Jesus had made at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”5 The vision of the Transfiguration helps us see what glory there will be when this fulfillment comes to pass, and helps us see what this fulfillment demands. But that fulfillment is not here and now on this mountain.

The Transfiguration is only a step towards Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. The Transfiguration helps those who witness Jesus’ glory to move forward in faith so as to follow Him where He may lead. The problem is that Jesus doesn’t elaborate about how His fulfillment will occur. He leaves that open for the apostles to wonder about.

Jesus only hints at His fulfillment through His command to the apostles: “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” These are the very last words of today’s Gospel passage. We don’t hear the apostles’ response to Jesus speaking about rising from the dead. Yet, even were you to open your bible and read what comes next, you’d find little to suggest that these apostles understand the Passion, death, and Resurrection that are to come.

You and I, of course, know “the rest of the story”. You and I know that four weeks from now we will celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus, including His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His solemn institution of the Holy Eucharist, and His bitter Way of the Cross. We’re not ignorant, as those three apostles are, of what lies ahead. You and I wouldn’t try to build three tents here and now on the mountain, keeping ourselves from the journey that leads to Easter.

Still, while it’s true that we know what happens on the next page of the Bible, and what’s due to be celebrated here in church in four weeks, aren’t you and I like these three apostles? We have no way of knowing what world events might shake the landscapes of our own nation, and of those nations that are friend and foe. We cannot know if severe weather might destroy the property and homes of loved ones and even of ourselves. We cannot possibly know whether a loved one, or ourselves, will be stricken during the next four weeks by a cancer, stroke, or heart attack, or by a personal calamity such as betrayal, as Jesus experienced not long after giving the Eucharist to the Church at the Last Supper. Such calamities, hardships, and suffering easily tempt us not to move forward in life.

But it’s in such settings that Jesus wants to lead us. It’s during such serious challenges to our faith that we also need to reflect upon the Old Testament patriarch, Abram, in the First Reading. In the Roman Canon of the Mass, the priest speaks of this patriarch—by his later name of Abraham—when the priest asks God the Father to accept the Eucharistic Sacrifice as the Father once accepted “the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith”. To move forward in faith always demands from us a sacrifice of our understanding and will, so that God might lead us forward. The Season of Lent focuses our hearts, minds, and wills upon the sacrifices that we must make in order to follow Jesus.

No matter what way in which you are challenged to move forward in faith, listen to God the Father speaking in today’s Gospel passage. He speaks from the clouds: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The Father helps us to see that the One who stands in glory in this vision, who will fulfill the Law and the Prophets, is not just a New Moses and a New Elijah. He is God’s own Son. His glory is His own, and it’s by His own divine strength that He will fulfill the Law and the Prophets, even if the form of that fulfillment—the form of the Cross—is not yet in view. Jesus, by His divine strength, wants to strengthen us in the midst of our own sufferings. Whenever we fall from the weight of our crosses, Jesus wants to meet us with His grace, comforting us with His words, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

____________

The Third Sunday of Lent [A]—March 19, 2017
Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031917.cfm
EX 17:3-7PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9ROM 5:1-2, 5-8JN 4:5-42

“‘Is the Lord in our midst or not?’”

This year on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, our Gospel passage comes from the Gospel according to Saint John. Saint John’s Gospel account differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in many ways. One of the unique things about John that we will hear during these three Sundays is that John often expresses double meanings through the words and works of Jesus. For example, when Jesus cures a blind man, the evangelist goes out of his way to show how that cure—besides being a physical miracle—is also a sign that Jesus can cure a person’s spiritual blindness. Similarly, in John, Jesus speaks with Nicodemus late at night about being “born again”, which Nicodemus misunderstands because he thinks Jesus means this literally.

In today’s Gospel passage from John is another conversation. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, and a dialogue arises between these two persons: on the one hand is God the Son, and on the other hand is a sinful Samaritan woman. She is an outcast who represents every human sinner. During the season of Lent, God calls each of us to meditate upon the mercy which God the Father undeservedly gives us through the gift of His Son. The three things that we know about this woman likewise suggest that she was herself undeserving: that is, that Jesus, in His time and place, should have had nothing to do with her.

The Samaritan woman was, first of all, a grave sinner: strike one. Secondly, she was a woman: strike two, because in Jesus’ day, no upstanding Jewish rabbi would ever speak in public with a woman. Thirdly, she was a Samaritan: strike three, because the Samaritans were a mixed race, only partially Jewish, and had no respect for the Jewish prophets, or the Temple in Jerusalem. To the people of Jesus’ time and place, He must have been out of His mind to speak with such a person. But maybe the problem is with the minds of those people of Jesus’ time and place, who cannot conceive of the true nature of mercy.

Through the dialogue between Jesus Christ and this outcast, St. John helps us see what Paul teaches in today’s Second Reading: that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us, {who are} the ungodly”. In Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, then, we can hear what Jesus is saying to each of us who is a sinner and outcast.

At the very beginning of the conversation between Jesus and the outcast, Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. Think about this: Jesus Christ, who is God, asks the outcast for what He does not have. Immediately, this sounds strange, that an all-powerful God would ask a sinful woman for a drink. Why would He do this?

Surely if Jesus had wanted, He could have worked a miracle greater than the one God had worked through Moses in the desert, bringing water from the rock at Massah and Meribah. So given His divine omnipotence, what does Jesus need with this sinful Samaritan woman?  What does Jesus need with us? He needs nothing. But He asks the outcast for something that He does not have, in order to give her something greater. Although Jesus needs nothing, He wants a great deal: that is to say, He wants every human soul to be His.

Here John’s double meaning begins to emerge. Jesus asks the outcast for what he does not have. He does not have the outcast’s soul. The Samaritan woman has chosen, over the years, to keep her soul to herself, to use herself and others for her own desires. But God wants her soul. Of course, God could always have anything He wants, just as He could have produced a river in the desert to quench His thirst. But God chooses, at the moment a human life begins, to give that person freedom: the freedom to love Him completely, which in turn means the freedom to leave Him completely.

Each of us sinners chooses to use his freedom for his own sake, to serve his own needs and desires. But the more a person serves himself, the darker, the deader, and the harder his heart becomes. God, of course, is always free to take away our sins without our confessing them, but if He were to do that, He would also take away our freedom. God uses His divine freedom to withhold forgiveness, so that we may use our human freedom to ask His forgiveness.

Jesus, throughout His dialogue with the outcast, works at drawing forth a confession from the depths of her sinful heart, just as He asks her to draw water from the depths of the well. When the outcast finally recognizes her need for something greater than this world’s pleasures, she turns to God. From Him, she seeks the joy which only He can pour down from heaven, the grace that floods the soul for the first time in the waters of Baptism.

Each of us casts himself away from God’s presence by his sins. During this season of Lent those in the RCIA who are the Elect of the Church are preparing themselves to be baptized at Easter by turning away from the sins of their past, asking God to pour out His Divine Mercy into their souls. Those of us who have already been washed in the waters of Baptism also admit our sins during Lent, availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession.

But we might ask ourselves, “Why do we confess our sins?” After all, God already has knowledge of our sins. Then again, why would Jesus, in today’s Gospel passage, need to ask for something He already has access to? We see that Jesus, in asking something of the Samaritan woman, is in fact offering her something. In her conversation with Jesus, she comes to recognize her own sinfulness, and from her heart flow tears of sorrow for her sins. From the hardened heart of an outcast flows her human love for God, and God, in return, offers a share in divine, eternal love. Tears of sorrow prepare souls to receive the flood-waters of God’s Divine Mercy.

God is working to call each of us into a conversation with Him. Jesus wants to speak to each of us, heart to heart. Each of us has the opportunity to approach Him, and offer Him our sinful selves, knowing that there is no heart so hardened by sin that God does not want to draw human love from it, and fill it with His own divine love.

____________


The Fourth Sunday of Lent [A]—March 26, 2017
Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032617.cfm
1 SM 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13APS 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6EPH 5:8-14JN 9:1-41

“He guides me in right paths for His Name’s sake.”

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. Every year on that Sunday, the Gospel passage is taken from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account, where Jesus describes Himself at length as “the good shepherd” and even as “the gate for the sheep”. But today, on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we also hear about the Good Shepherd, though from the Old Testament rather than the New. Today’s Responsorial Psalm is the most beloved song of the Psalter: the 23rd Psalm.

At first hearing, it might not seem that this psalm connects with the other three Scripture passages proclaimed today. True, in today’s First Reading, the young man, David, is described as “tending the sheep”, and is plucked from this role to be anointed the king—that is, the shepherd—of God’s People. But for the most part, today’s Scripture passages focus on another theme: blindness.

Nonetheless, we should never underestimate the depth of Sacred Scripture. If we look closely, we might be able to see a connection between these two Lenten themes: our divine Lord as Shepherd, and our blindness as sinners. This connection might help us to confess our blindness more willingly, and profess our willingness to follow the Good Shepherd.

Today’s First Reading is a good place to start looking for this connection. In fact, the First Reading focuses on both themes. Yet, the passage concludes with the anointing of David as Israel’s king, so surely this theme of the shepherd/king is the passage’s chief point?

Well, consider something that happens earlier in the passage. Samuel seeks the Lord’s anointed from among the sons of Jesse, and he does find him, but it takes eight tries to do so. What is it that hinders Samuel’s search? It is his faulty sight.

Samuel judges wrongly because he is blind to the truth of what God’s shepherd looks like. The Lord explains this to Samuel as plainly as possible, saying: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” This blindness that the Lord exposes lies at the root of all our sins. This blindness can take many forms. But the Lord here is not just condemning the shallow outlook so common today, which believes that beauty is only skin deep, and that only what our senses perceive truly exists.

The Lord here in our First Reading is condemning something more specific: the blindness that keeps us from seeing our shepherd. Samuel judges wrongly because he sees only the appearance, and looks for a man’s lofty stature, instead of looking into his heart. But this blindness takes on an even more tragic form in today’s Gospel passage.

In fact, we see two types of blindness in this Gospel passage. But the second is far worse than the first. The first is more apparent because it is a physical blindness, which naturally is hard to hide. So the man blind from birth leads the narrative.

This man, born blind, is the object of the disciples’ accusations. They don’t ask if the man’s blindness was caused by sin. They presume this, asking instead whose sins caused his blindness. Jesus has to clarify the matter by explaining that “[n]either he nor his parents sinned”. Rather, “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” that the man was born blind. These “works of God” are the works of the Good Shepherd.

After He works the miracle of giving sight to the man born blind, Jesus faces accusations from those who cannot see Him as the Good Shepherd. The Pharisees say of Jesus: “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” Others command the man given sight: “Give God the praise! We know that this man {Jesus} is a sinner.”

But as Jesus’ enemies scorn Him, the man given sight speaks more boldly. At first he only reports the facts of what Jesus had done for him. A little later he says of Jesus that “He is a prophet.” Soon after, he speaks out against the religious authorities, insisting that “[t]his is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. … 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.” The man given sight sees Jesus truly.

Yet moments later, he acts truly. When Jesus seeks out this man to whom He had given sight, the healed man confesses that he sees Jesus as Lord, and worships Him.

This scene of the man with sight worshipping Jesus would make a beautiful end to today’s Gospel passage. It would be instructive for us who fail in seeing Jesus as our Good Shepherd, and who fail in paying Jesus due homage. But especially during Lent, we need to set our sights on yet another aspect of this narrative.

The Pharisees bear a double blindness. Not only are they spiritually blind, but they are also blind to the fact of their blindness. At least the man born blind knew he was blind! Yet the Pharisees, blind to their blindness, attempt to lead others spiritually in their zeal for the Jewish Law. In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus directly calls the Pharisees “blind guides”, and notes that “if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”6

The Pharisees’ double blindness is spiritually a “dark valley”. They walk through it without a capable guide. Their zeal for the Law stems from the blindness that the Lord pointed out to Samuel: they look at the appearances of legal observance. Their blindness prevents them from seeing Jesus as Lord and Shepherd: as one who “looks into the heart”.

But as you and I reflect on these blind guides, we each need to ask two questions. First, am I blind like the Pharisees? Second, what hope is there for someone suffering from such a double blindness? The answer to the second can help us honestly answer the first.

The spiritually blind person has no reason for hope in himself. Hope for the spiritually blind rests in God alone. Their hope—our hope—rests in the truth that our Lord is a Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd “looks into the heart”, and sees only darkness there. But He wills to lead the blind from darkness into light.

The Pharisees can see into neither their own blind hearts nor the heart of Jesus. But Jesus sees into the Pharisees’ hearts, and seeing their blindness, will, on Good Friday, pour forth from His Sacred Heart the light of Divine Mercy. But will the Pharisees turn toward His light, or avert their gaze from Him?

  1. Although in theory the Son might have become man even had man not sinned, since man had in fact sinned, the Incarnation was for the sake of his redemption: see St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae III,1,3.
  2. John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:6-11.
  3. Matthew 26-27, Mark 11-15, Luke 19:28—23:56 and John 13-19.
  4. The entire psalm is nineteen verses long. The refrain to the Responsorial is only loosely based upon Psalm 51:3.
  5. Matthew 5:17.
  6. Matthew 15:14.
Fr. Thomas Hoisington About Fr. Thomas Hoisington

Fr. Thomas Hoisington, S.T.L., is a priest of the Diocese of Wichita. He serves at the parishes of St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s in Garden Plain, Kansas., is a lecturer at the diocesan Spiritual Life Center, and serves as Censor Librorum for the Diocese.

Comments

  1. Kamweti joseph says:

    Thanks fr,Thomas for your homilies that nurtures a person’s inner spirit so that one can obtain Gods mercy.

Trackbacks

  1. […] One phrase in particular from today’s Second Reading forces us to reckon with the depth of Jesus’ priesthood. What does Saint Paul mean when, speaking about God the Father and the Son, he states that “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”? This saving truth reminds us about three distinct forms of humility that Jesus accepted for our salvation, by which He stands between sinful man and the divine Father.1 […]

  2. […] Responsorial is drawn from just eight verses of Psalm 51.4 But in these verses, the Psalmist—that is, the author of the Psalms—proclaims in […]

  3. […] I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”5 The vision of the Transfiguration helps us see what glory there will be when this fulfillment […]

  4. […] God is working to call each of us into a conversation with Him. Jesus wants to speak to each of us, heart to heart. Each of us has the opportunity to approach Him, and offer Him our sinful selves, knowing that there is no heart so hardened by sin that God does not want to draw human love from it, and fill it with His own divine love. – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2017/02/homilies-for-march-2017/ […]

  5. […] The Pharisees bear a double blindness. Not only are they spiritually blind, but they are also blind to the fact of their blindness. At least the man born blind knew he was blind! Yet the Pharisees, blind to their blindness, attempt to lead others spiritually in their zeal for the Jewish Law. In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus directly calls the Pharisees “blind guides”, and notes that “if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”6 […]