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4th Sunday of Lent (Year A)
April 3, 2011
Every Sunday circulars cascade out of thick newspapers, bursting with ads for huge flat-screen TVs and phenomenal phones that seem to meet every need of one’s earthly life within a palm-size rectangle.
The first is made to see all the action clearly, the other, to view all information in one concise spot.
So, how come a person doesn’t notice what’s missing in “the big picture” — life?
I don’t get it. Are we blind? What don’t we see?
Are we looking for answers in all the wrong places, like using the latest camera’s viewfinder to frame a mediocre shot?
Is there little insight on what’s important, as though we were shooting photos out of focus?
Are we aware of deeper meanings of significant events, or do we value a façade, like capturing only the veneer of a photo?
Do we not care at all, so that we don’t look, as though we were physically present, but not attentive to significant events, lacking film or power for the camera?
Our passage in John’s gospel is about Jesus as the light of the world, in a drama about a man, a beggar, blind from birth.
This theme dramatizes the gift of sight, not a restoration of sight. The Pharisees didn’t see any light. Their unrepentant blindness was to presume their own wisdom. They would not be instructed by another.
We risk living in darkness whenever we insist we already know all we have to know about our faith — case closed — no reason take in the wider panorama.
That’s exactly what Jesus was up against. The man born blind, pre-judged as sinful because of his infirmity, had his sight miraculously given to him when Jesus made clay with saliva on the Sabbath, to spread on the beggar’s eyes.
The Pharisees absolutely would not admit the possibility of God’s intervention through a sinful man for another sinful man, for they appraised Jesus’ action as a violation of Sabbath law, despite the exasperated man’s testimony to the miracle.
All the characters displayed attitudes towards Jesus not unlike our own lack of vision at times.
The neighbors were astonished, but did not reflect. The man’s parents reflected and believed, but didn’t bear witness out of fear of persecution.
The Pharisees reflected but did not believe; their suspicion degenerated into division among themselves, then rejection of Jesus.
Finally, they, who thought themselves quite wise, brought self-condemnation upon themselves.
Newly-sighted both physically and spiritually, the beggar was the only person to reflect, believe, and bear witness to the validity of the event. And he worshipped Jesus.
The once-blind man is a model for those who unwaveringly profess faith in Jesus, despite oppression. His gift and gradual enlightenment show us what Jesus can do with us when we have patience.
When we meet Jesus, the light of the world, which role is ours?
Do we reject Jesus’ method because of fear, judgment, self-sufficiency, or pride?
Do we resist claims of Jesus’ healing because they seem too unconventional to us?
Do we even sin because we have compromised our “sight?”
Seeing the man described as a beggar is important. He had an open stance of need, a poverty of spirit, but not so the Pharisees. Honest doubt does not condemn us, but self-satisfaction can.
As we gain new sight, never stop looking. Keep focused on that big picture, powered with poverty of spirit.
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Charlie left me a voice mail. He was back at college the week after spring break and woke up sick. He was heading for the doctor.
I was in a meeting and couldn’t take a call, but later I received a text: “I’ve got the flu.” I texted back: “oh no.”
Later, when I called him, I offered to come and get him, to bring him home to recuperate.
“Did you get a flu shot?” he asked. I had. He hesitated: “I have so much work to do.”
I convinced him that he shouldn’t go to class. I convinced him he would recover more quickly if he just stayed with me and rested for a few days.
On the way to Raleigh to pick him up, I called the priests I work with to let them know I wouldn’t be back in the office that afternoon.
They both were incredulous. They considered my offer to pick up my son at college an unnecessary indulgence.
I admitted that he would most likely be okay if I didn’t pick him up. But I remembered when I was in college and sick; just being with my mother made every illness more tolerable.
About three hours later, I arrived at the rental home Charlie shares with roommates. No one else was there. We loaded his book bag, laptop, medicine, and some clothing into my car. He slept most of the way home.
I had no regrets about picking him up, and as I write this he is already much better. I’ll be driving him back to college tomorrow.
Not only did Charlie get the rest he needed, but I was able to enjoy some unexpected time with him, precious now that he is graduating in May.
Even though the priests I work with thought I was being indulgent, I’m almost certain any mother would have done what I did if she could. Caring for our children when they have no one else near to care for them is almost instinctive to us.
It doesn’t matter how old our children are. What matters is they are hurting and need our help.
That concern for the well-being for our children was illuminated for me by the Gospel I heard today at Mass. Jesus says, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish?
“If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7)
If we parents are disposed to helping our children when they are ill, how much more so is God concerned about the welfare of His children?
It’s likely Charlie would not have come down with the flu had he not spent his spring break with a group of other college students on a cruise to the Bahamas. (This was his first spring break outing in his college years. He paid for it with earnings from his part-time job.)
On the cruise, he didn’t get much sleep. Germs are easily shared on ships. The fact that he came down with the flu almost immediately upon returning from his trip suggests that the environment he was in created the right circumstances for his illness to develop.
But the circumstances leading up to his illness didn’t dampen my desire to help him recover. What mattered was that he was sick, and he let me know. And I was able to offer him a place to rest to regain his health.
How much more does our God desire for all of us to regain our health, physical and spiritual? The circumstances surrounding our need for healing are not God’s primary concern.
Jesus reveals to us a God who is so madly in love with us, God will indulge us with an abundance of healing love.
Our Lenten challenge is discovering in what ways we need healing, ask for it, and trust in God’s promise to provide.
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Joseph’s coat of many colors
Amid a kaleidoscope of cultures and nationalities, the image of Joseph’s coat of many colors kept wafting through my mind.
The wonder of diversity and its influence on the universal Church was undeniable as more than 40,000 Catholics from around the United States and beyond gathered in Anaheim, Calif. for the Religious Education Congress sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Living in a state with a salad bowl of cultures means we don’t have to travel overseas to see the many ways God speaks through a plethora of ethnic traditions. Various cultures were visible during the four-day event.
Choices for Eucharist included liturgies celebrated in the Byzantine as well as the Western Rite and featured music from the Celtic, Samoan, African, Vietnamese traditions, and more.
Some Masses had a contemplative theme, still others featured jazz musicians. But it was the closing liturgy that offered a variety of color and liturgical styles, celebrated with plumes of incense, liturgical dance, a full orchestra and a choir of more than a hundred voices.
Presiding at the closing liturgy was the newly appointed Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez with 12 archbishops and cardinals concelebrating.
Cardinal Roger Mahony received a standing ovation for his role in presiding over the many congresses held during his watch as Shepherd.
Clearly the gathering represented the Church as a throbbing presence of life and vitality.
Prior to the congress, many wrestled with decisions about which sessions to attend. With hundreds of speakers, addressing as many topics, the options left us wishing we could bi-locate. After all, how often do Ronald Rolheiser, Richard Rohr, John Allen, Megan McKenna, and Paula D’Arcy, to mention but a few, come together under the same roof?
Understandably, not every choice could be guaranteed, but I found that even speakers who were less well known provided challenges and left me with plenty to think about for days and weeks to come.
Even now I continue to pour over copious notes, plugging quotes and insights into talks I am scheduled to give during the upcoming months, all the while whispering a prayer of thanksgiving for the opportunity to attend such a theological gold mine.
The richness and diversity of Catholic teaching was apparent. Saturday morning I listened to Jack Jezreel talk about Catholic social action only to be mesmerized by Richard Fragameni as he stressed the importance of contemplative prayer in our busy world, wooing the audience with teachings from the writings of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Eckard Tolle,.
Barbara Fiand, SNDdeN, challenged us to pay attention to the voices of modern day prophets while Father James Martin, SJ, and others shed new light on the relevance of Biblical prophets beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures and ending with the Book of Revelation.
The various focuses, scholarly and pragmatic, made for a richness that continues to expand my vision of Church. However, it was the enthusiasm of the laity that offered proof that the Catholic Church of the 21st century is alive and well, despite all its human foibles and heart wrenching scandals.
Having lived most of our 42 years of married life in the deep South and then in Virginia, where Catholics have always been a minority, the abundant opportunities for spiritual growth that we are finding on the West Coast are awakening me to a deeper and more conscious connection to the universal Church.
Yesterday I had the privilege of leading the RCIA retreat for a parish in Orange County and I was particularly struck by a Vietnamese catechumen who had been orphaned as a child during the Viet Nam war.
A few months ago her husband died and her children had also preceded her in death. Yet despite her heartache and pain, or perhaps because of it, she discovered God, whose loving presence, unbeknownst to her, carried her through her darkest moments.
As I reflect on the size and diversity of our Church, I am humbled and give thanks to God who is ever present and continues to meet us in the bread and wine of our existence, the prose and poetry of our lives.
Truly the Church is a living testimony that grace is ours, if only we can see beyond our pettiness and prejudices.
Earlier in the week Father David Gaa, OFM and I were presenters at a Mission Twilight Retreat. The topic was “Furthering the Cause of Peace Through a Better Understanding of Islam.”
The topic was a first for Old Mission San Luis Rey and the turnout exceeded our expectations. The next day one of the people I work with told me that her eyes had been opened.
A family member had been wounded in the war in Iraq, and since then she had very negative feelings towards Muslims. The retreat changed her mind and her heart.
Daily I am reminded of God’s presence as a vehicle for transforming hearts.
Therefore, as we continue our Lenten journey, let us pray for hearts and minds that are open lest we, like Joseph’s brothers, blinded by jealousy and ignorance, cast one another into the pit.
Let us be mindful that the Church is indeed a coat of many colors. May we appreciate and embrace diversity, rather than stifle it.
And may we go forward, mindful of the psalmist’s plea, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.”
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