Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lent: the Man born Blind

                                    4th Sunday of Lent

Since Lent began the first reading for each Sunday has presented us with great figures from the Old Testament. First, there was the story of Adam and Eve. Then we heard the story of the calling of Abraham, the father of Israel. Last week"s reading was about Moses, the deliverer of his people from captivity. Today's reading is about David, the greatest of the kings of Israel. 

But David was not always a great king. Today we see him as the youngest and the least of the many sons of Jesse. Nevertheless, David is chosen over his brothers because,

            Not as man sees does God see,
            because man sees the appearance
            but the Lord looks into the heart.

Today's gospel also deals with a nobody, the poor beggar, blind from birth. I would love to see a film depicting this incident. It would take a great comic actor to portray the role of the blind beggar. In my mind I can visualize Roberto Benigni, the greatest Italian comic actor of our time, in the role. Who can forget his exuberant performance in the Academy Award winner, Life Is Beautiful, or his even more exuberant performance at the ceremony when he won the award.

It is not hard to understand the emotional roller coaster of the blind beggar in today’s gospel.  A man he cannot even see has made a paste of clay and spittle and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He washes and miraculously begins to see for the first time in his life. What’s the result? People can’t believe their own eyes. They can’t even believe that he is the same person. Then he is dragged into court and interrogated by officials who also refuse to believe their own eyes.

The officials next question the beggar’s parents who testify that their son had indeed been blind from birth. In a way, they are also on trial since it was believed that their son’s blindness was also the result of their sin. We may think that blaming the parents for the son’s blindness is an outmoded and superstitious concept. Yet, still today many people blame their parents for what has gone wrong with their lives. Even worse, many counsellors and psychologists will encourage disturbed people to look back and blame others for their plight and not consider their own responsibility.

Even before he had healed the blind man, Jesus had emphatically denied that physical blindness was the result of sin. He continually insisted that sickness or accidents were not caused by sin but that sin was the result of turning away from the spiritual truth that had been implanted in all our hearts.

The real sin of the Pharisees was in refusing to see what God had done for the blind man. It was as if they would have preferred him to remain in darkness instead of rejoicing at his miraculous gift of sight. Today’s readings are all about seeing and not seeing, about light and darkness. As St. Paul says in the second reading,

Live as children of light,For light produces every kind of goodnessAnd righteousness and truth

The Pharisees are still among us. In fact, we are all prone to see things as they did and to ignore the evidence of our own two eyes. I would like to end with a statement by Anna Jameson, a very great lady of the nineteenth century, who suffered much in her own life. She refliected on a sermon that she had heard in church by a preacher whose preaching sounded like the Pharisees.
He is really sublime, this man! with his faith in “the religion of pain,” and “the deification of sorrow!” But is he therefore right? What has he preached to us to-day with all the force of eloquence, all the earnestness of conviction? that “pain is the life of God as shown forth in Christ;”—“that we are to be crucified to the world and the world to us.” This perpetual presence of a crucified God between us and a pitying redeeming Christ, leads many a mourner to the belief that this world is all a Golgotha of pain, and that we are here to crucify each other. Is this the law under which we are to live and strive?
 Surely there is a great difference between the resignation or the endurance of a truthful, faithful, loving, hopeful spirit, and this dreadful theology of suffering as the necessary and appointed state of things! I, for one, will not accept it. Even while most miserable, I will believe in happiness; even while I do or suffer evil, I will believe in goodness; even while my eyes see not through tears, I will believe in the existence of what I do not see—that God is benign, that nature is fair, that the world is not made as a prison or a penance. While I stand lost in utter darkness, I will yet wait for the return of the unfailing dawn,—even though my soul be amazed into such a blind perplexity that I know not on which side to look for it, and ask “where is the East? and whence the dayspring?” For the East holds its wonted place, and the light is withheld only till its appointed time. God so strengthen me that I may think of pain and sin only as accidental apparent discords in his great harmonious scheme of good! Then I am ready—I will take up the cross, and bear it bravely, while I must; but I will lay it down when I can, and in any case I will never lay it on another.

Anyone who can read the gospels can see that Jesus was a healer who came to cure both physical and spiritual suffering. His sacrifice on the Cross showed us the extent we should go to heal the pain and suffering of those entrusted to our care. While we take up our cross, we must never lay it on another.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Samaritan Woman

                                    3rd Sunday of Lent

On this third Sunday in our Lenten season the readings all deal with the subject of faith. Even the responsorial Psalm says, "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts." This saying is always associated with the famous incident at Massah and Meribah where the Israelites "grumbled" against Moses and the Lord.

In today's reading although the people have escaped from their captivity in Egypt, they are stranded in the desert and dying of thirst. They complain to Moses:

            Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
            Was it just to have us die here of thirst
            with our children and our livestock?

Because of their thirst the people lost their faith in Moses and even in God. They wondered, "Is the Lord in our midst or not?"

In today's gospel account the Samaritan woman fails to see the Lord in her midst even when she comes face to faith with Him. In the first two Sundays in Lent the Church presents us with big, dramatic events in the life of Christ--the Temptation in the Desert and the Transfiguration. But today and next week we will encounter two ordinary people like ourselves. This week's story is about a woman going to draw water from a well. Next week's story will be about a blind beggar.

We all should be aware of the social background of today's gospel from St. John. The Samaritans were descendants of Jews who had intermarried with non-Jewish settlers hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. They were regarded by the Jews as traitors and idolaters because they had added some of the foreign beliefs and practices to their Judaism. In addition, it was rare, even scandalous, for a Rabbi to speak to a strange woman in public.

So we can understand the woman's response to Jesus when He asked her for a drink of water. "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" Our Lord replies that if she only understood who was facing her, she would be asking Him for living water. Why can't she believe? So many others when they encounter our Lord seem to instantly believe. Is it because He is a Jew? Is it because He is a man? Is it because He is not what she expects the Messiah to be like? Or maybe, she's like us and just doesn't expect that at this time and this place she can at last find Goodness and Happiness.

 Today's excerpt from St. Paul's letter to the Romans is his most famous statement about  faith.        .

            Since we have been justified by faith,
            we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
            through whom we have gained access by faith
            to this grace in which we stand...

I won't try to add any more words to the millions of words that have been written about "justification by faith." I will only say that St. Paul as a result of his own conversion was sure that all of us, whether we know it or not, have been given the gift of faith by virtue of our Lord's great act of love on the Cross. Faith is not something that we get by reading books, or by praying, or by hearing some persuasive speaker. It is a gift that has been given by God. Indeed, it is only because we have faith that we are able to hope and love in the midst of all the suffering and sorrow in the world.

However, we can deny or lose this great gift of the Spirit of God and when we do, hope and love will disappear from our lives. We can say like the Israelites in the desert, "Is the Lord in our midst or not?"

We don't have to look far to find this attitude in our own time. Whenever some natural disaster occurs, there are always those who ask why God could have allowed it to happen. Some will even go so far as to blame God as if He were responsible. It's even more faith shattering when the disaster strikes close to home in the suffering or death of a loved one. 
I know of a young man who ridiculed his mother's religious faith because of the suffering that her mother, his grandmother, had to endure at the end of her life. "Where was your God when Nana was suffering?"  The answer to his question was staring him in the face. His mother had taken care of her mother every day and stayed with her throughout her suffering. She was one of those rare individuals who absolutely refused to place her mother in a nursing home. The young man also must have known that his mother, a Catholic, had also spent countless hours consoling a Jewish friend who had lost a young child. Why couldn't the young man see the Lord in his midst in the faith of his own mother?

Just like our Lord she gave of herself for her mother, her friend, and for her son. As St. Paul said,

            But God proves his love for us,
            in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


Reading 1. Exodus 17: 3-7
Reading II. Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Gospel. John 4: 5-42 (the Samaritan woman).

Sunday, March 12, 2017


                                    2nd Sunday of Lent

Stained Glass Window
Assumption church
Fairfield, CT*

This year we are in the A cycle of readings which have been employed by the Church ever since the Second Vatican Council. In this cycle the first reading for each of the Sundays in Lent marks one of the highlights of the history of the nation of Israel. Last Sunday we had the familiar story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This Sunday we have the calling of Abraham. Next Sunday, it will be Moses and after that the calling of David.

No one in the history of Israel was more revered by our Lord than Abraham. The highest compliment Jesus can give to someone is to call him a "true son of Abraham." It was Abraham's faith, his willingness to follow the Lord's direction no matter what the cost or sacrifice, that set him apart. In today's reading the Lord tells Abraham to set out into the unknown on a great adventure.

            Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
            and from your father's house to a land that I will show you.

His mission will be not only to make Israel a great nation, but also to be a "blessing" to "all the communities of the earth."

This reading reminds us of St. Matthew's account today of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Traditionally, the gospel for the first Sunday in Lent is the story of the temptation of our Lord in the desert. In the same way, the Church has always reserved the second Sunday in Lent for the account of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is far along in His mission when the Transfiguration occurs. He has given the Sermon on the Mount, healed the sick, driven out devils, and raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. In the previous chapter of his gospel Matthew had related how Jesus had fed the multitude with five loaves and two fishes. After this incredible miracle, He asks the disciples, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" Peter answers, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Our Lord commends Peter and says, "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. But then He reveals the mission of the Christ:

            From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem
            and suffer many things...and be put to death, and on the third day rise again.

Characteristically, Peter cannot accept this shocking news and our Lord rebukes him--"get behind me Satan."

Immediately after this prophecy of our Lord's suffering and death, Matthew goes to the scene of the Transfiguration where we get a  glimpse of the Resurrection. "Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother. and led them up a high mountain by themselves," just as He would later do in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the mountain,

            he was transfigured before them,
            his face shone like the sun
            and his clothes became white as light.

Matthew tells us that two other great figures from the history of Israel appeared to Jesus and conversed with Him. In his account St. Luke tells us that Jesus was speaking with them of the "exodus" that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. The word "exodus" is full of meaning. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery to the promised land--Jesus was about to do the same for us. Older translations say that Jesus was speaking of "his death, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem." 

Finally, a cloud envelops them and they hear a voice just as they did at the Baptism of the Lord saying, "This is my beloved Son; ...listen to Him." The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus are linked to the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham and his spiritual descendants. We are the true sons and daughters of Abraham when we hear the Word of the Lord and believe.

Today's second reading is from St. Paul's  letter to his disciple, Timothy.  Paul is telling Timothy to "bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God." During Lent we should put ourselves in Timothy's place. Paul's words are meant for all of us.             .

Right before the Transfiguration, after Jesus had spoken of his crucifixion, He told the disciples and us that we must also bear our cross.

            If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross         daily, and follow me. For he who would save his life will lose it; but he who loses          his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole   world, but ruin or lose himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory...

This is why our little sacrifices during the forty days of Lent are so meaningful. They are a reminder that it is impossible to stand firm in the Lord without sacrifice of some kind.

Raphael: Transfiguration and Healing
of the possessed boy.


* Image of Assumption church window by Melissa DeStefano. Click on image to enlarge.

Reading 1. Genesis 12: 1-4a
Reading II. 2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Gospel. Matthew 17: 1-9 (Transfiguration)