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Reflections for the IV Sunday of Lent

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the fourth Sunday in Lent. He says that today’s readings both remind us that it is God who gives us proper vision in body as well as in soul and instruct us that we should be constantly on our guard against spiritual blindness.

I Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Introduction: This is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Traditionally, this day is known as Laetare Sunday, from the Latin word for the command “rejoice,” the first word in the introductory antiphon for today’s Liturgy, (based on the words of Isaiah 66:10).  The antiphon and the readings both express the Church's joy in anticipation of Jesus’ Resurrection. Today’s readings both remind us that it is God who gives us proper vision in body as well as in soul and instruct us that we should be constantly on our guard against spiritual blindness.

Homily starter anecdote: "Lead kindly Light": St. John Henry Cardinal Newman was a professor at Oxford University. When he was an Anglican priest, along with the other scholars, he started the Oxford movement. When he was thirty-two years old, his health was bad, and he took a break from his writings and went to Europe to recuperate. But unfortunately, he contacted a deadly fever. He wanted to return to England, but no transportation was available. As he waited, his life became lonely and tedious; he was experiencing great physical and emotional despair. It is then that he penned a beautiful hymn asking God for light: “Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on; The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on: Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene-one step enough for me.” In his confusion and distress, Newman prayed to the God of Light to lead him from darkness to light, from confusion to certainty, and from sickness to health. God heard his prayer and led him home safely. In 1845, he was converted to the Roman Catholic faith. (

Scripture lessons summarized: By describing the anointing of David as the second king of Israel, the first reading, taken from the First Book of Samuel, illustrates how blind we are in our judgments and how much we need God’s help. In today’s Responsorial Psalm, (Ps 23), we celebrate the care of God, our Good Shepherd, singing, “even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for You are at my side with Your rod and Your staff that give me courage.”  In the second reading, Paul reminds the Ephesians of their new responsibility as children of light: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Jesus’ giving of sight to a blind man, reported in today’s Gospel, teaches us the necessity of opening the eyes of our mind by Faith and warns us that   those who assume they see the truth are often blind, while those who acknowledge their blindness are given clear vision. In this episode, the most unlikely person, namely the beggar born blind, receives the light of Faith in Jesus, while the religion-oriented, law-educated Pharisees remain spiritually blind.  "There are none so blind, as those who will not see."  To live as a Christian is to see, to have clear vision about God, about ourselves and about others.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that we are to live as children of the light, seeking what is good and right and true.  Our Lenten prayers and sacrifices should serve to heal our blindness so that we can look at others, see them as children of God and love them as our own brothers and sisters saved by the death and Resurrection of Jesus.  

First reading: I Sam 16:1a, 6-7, 10-13a explained: For a long time, Israel had been ruled by Judges.  Samuel was the last of these Judges, and towards the end of his life he had more or less succeeded in forming a loose confederation among the twelve tribes of the Israelites. But the people were displeased with the lack of unity and political security.  The pagan nations which surrounded them were ruled by kings who led them to battle and who organized their territories on a sound, political basis.  In spite of the Lord’s warning and the wise advice of the elders, the people demanded a king so that they could be like other nations.  Finally, the Lord granted them Saul as their first king (1030 BC). Though successful in many battles, Saul offended God, and the kingship was taken from him.  The Lord then prompted Samuel, the last Judge in Israel, to go to Bethlehem to anoint the next king. Today’s passage shows us Samuel's journey to find the Lord's chosen one and the ritual for anointing the new king. As an old and experienced judge who had studied how the first king (Saul) had failed, Samuel had his own ideas about whom God would choose.  But God chose the most unlikely candidate, namely, David, the shepherd boy, the youngest son of Jesse.   The reason He gave Samuel for this choice was:   "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart."  

The second Reading: Eph 5:8-14 explained:  The whole passage extends the light-versus-darkness metaphor, leading to the blindness-versus-sight theme of today's Gospel.  For Paul, Baptism is “participation in the death and Resurrection of Jesus” (Rom 6:3-4) and “clothing with Christ’’ (Gal 3:27).  In today’s reading, taken from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul echoes Isaiah (26:19; 60:1), saying that Baptism is also an “awakening and living in the light”— that is, Christ:  "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." That is why in the early Greek-speaking Church, Baptism came to be known as photismos meaning "an illumination or bath in light."  Hence, Paul reminds Christians of their new responsibility as children of light: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” The Benedictine Bible scholar, Ivan Havener explicates today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians thus: “The readers of this letter were once Gentiles without Christ and were darkness itself, but now as Gentiles in the Lord, they have become light. Their new identity as children of light requires that they live in a different way. The fruit produced by their light-life is all goodness, righteousness, and truth, considering what is pleasing to the Lord. Therefore, instead of participating in the unproductive works of darkness, they should condemn such deeds.”

Gospel Exegesis: The paradox of blindness. The healing described in today’s Gospel occurred when Jesus came to Jerusalem with his Apostles to participate in the feast of Tabernacles or the festival of tents (Sukkoth).  As part of the celebration of Sukkot, four huge golden four-branched candelabras were set up and lit in the courts of the Temple—each was 50 cubits (=75 feet) high. The Mishnah says that “there was not a courtyard in all of Jerusalem” that did not gleam with the light from the Temple menorahs when they were lit for Sukkot. The healing of the blind man, told so dramatically in today's Gospel, brings out the mercy and kindness of Jesus, "the light of the world."  Isaiah prophesied, and the Jewish people of that era believed, that when the Messiah came, he would heal blindness and other diseases.  The type of blindness which we now call ophthalmic conjunctivitis was very common in Biblical times.  Jesus gave to the blind beggar not only his bodily eyesight but also the light of Faith.   This story also shows how the stubborn pride and prejudice of the Pharisees prevented them from seeing in the humble "Son of Man” the long-expected Messiah, and that made them incapable of recognizing the miracle. He begins by identifying Jesus as “a man.” Questioned further by the Pharisees, he declares that the man who healed him is a Prophet.  When the parents of the blind man convinced them that their son had been born blind, the Pharisees argued that the healer was a "sinner," because the miracle had been performed on the Sabbath. But the cured man insisted that Jesus, his healer, must be a man from God, and they excommunicated him from Temple worship.  When Jesus heard this, He sought and found the man He had healed,   and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” the man answered, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” In response to Jesus,’ “You have seen Him, and the One speaking with you is He,” the now-sighted man said, “… ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshipped Him.”  Fr. Harrington S.J. comments, “The blind man’s progress in spiritual sight reminds us that we need God’s grace and revelation to move toward sharper spiritual vision.”

Blindness and Baptism: In the context of the Lenten RCIA scrutinies, the Church challenges us to see this man’s journey from darkness to light as a paradigm for our own spiritual lives—from the darkness of doubt to belief (for catechumens preparing for Baptism); from the darkness of sin to the light of repentance, mercy and freedom (for those of us already baptized, who are called to renew our Baptismal promises, and to “own” our Baptism more consciously). From earliest times, today's Gospel story has been associated with Baptism. Just as the blind man went down into the waters of Siloam and came up whole, so also believers who are immersed in the waters of Baptism come up spiritually whole, totally healed of the spiritual blindness with which all of us are born. Raymond Brown comments that in the lectionaries and liturgical books of the early Church, there developed the practice of three examinations before one's Baptism. These correspond to the three interrogations of the man born blind. When the catechumens had passed their examinations, and were judged worthy of Baptism, the Gospel book was solemnly opened and the ninth chapter of John was read, with the confession of the blind man, "I do believe, Lord," serving as the climax of the service. Paintings on the walls of the catacombs of Rome portray Jesus healing the man born blind as a symbol of Holy Baptism. One of the writings from that time says: "Happy is the Sacrament of our water, in that, by washing away the sins of our earthly blindness, we are set free unto eternal life." The early Christians looked at their Baptism as leaving behind blindness and darkness and stepping into the glorious light of God. In other words, they realized that their becoming Christians and then continuing as followers of Christ, was indeed a miracle - as great as, if not greater than, the healing of the physical blindness of the man in the Gospel today.

The spiritual blindness of the Pharisees: The Pharisees suffered from spiritual blindness.  They were blind to the Holy Spirit.  They had the externals of religion but lacked the spirit of Jesus’ love.  They were also blind to the suffering and pain right before their eyes. They refused to see pain and injustice.  There was no compassion in their hearts.  In short, they were truly blind both to the Holy Spirit and to the human misery around them. “The blind man’s progress in spiritual sight is paralleled by the opponents’ descent into spiritual blindness.” (Fr. Harrington). Here is a contrast between those who know they are blind and those who claim to see. According to these blind Pharisees, Jesus, by healing the blind man doubly broke the Sabbath law, which forbade works of healing, and also kneading which was involved in making clay of spittle and dust. Raymond Brown adds a third and fourth reason that increased the seriousness of what Jesus had done: in the Jewish tradition, "there was an opinion that it was not permitted to anoint an eye on the Sabbath," and "one may not put fasting spittle on the eyes on the Sabbath." So, they concluded, "The man who did this cannot be from God, because he does not obey the Sabbath law."

Spiritual blindness of modern Pharisees: Although the Pharisees have long since disappeared from history, there are still many among us who are blinded by the same pride and prejudice. Spiritual blindness is very common in modern times. Perhaps, the most awful disease in our country today is spiritual blindness. Such blindness refuses to see the truths of God's revelation.  This blindness refuses even to admit that God or Christ exists.   In their pride, the spiritually blind claim that everything ends with death and that there is no life after death.  They propagate their errors and accuse believers of childish credulity and folly.  They ignore the gifts of the intellect we all possess.  God's revelation through Christ informs us that there is a future life awaiting us in which our spiritual faculties and our transformed bodies will be fully and fittingly glorified. According to Pope Benedict XVI, the miracle of the healing of the blind man is a sign that Christ wants not only to give us sight, but also to open our interior vision, so that our Faith may become ever deeper and we may recognize Him as our only Savior. He illuminates all that is dark in life and leads men and women to live as "children of the light" (Lenten message-2011).

Life messages: 1) We need to allow Jesus to heal our spiritual blindness. Physiologically, the “blind-spot” is the part of our eye where vision is not experienced. It is the spot where the optic nerve enters the eyeball. A blind spot in a vehicle is an area around the vehicle that cannot be directly observed by the driver.   In real life, we all have blind-spots -- in our marriages, our parenting, our work habits, and our personalities.  We often wish   to remain in the dark, preferring darkness to light.  It is even possible for the religious people in our day to be like the Pharisees:  religious in worship, in frequenting the Sacraments, in prayer-life, in tithing, and in knowledge of the Bible – but blind to the poverty, injustice and pain around them.  Let us remember, however, that Jesus wants to heal our blind spots.  We need to ask Jesus to remove from us the root causes of our blindness, namely, self-centeredness, greed, anger, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, addiction to evil habits and hardness of heart. Let us pray with the Scottish Bible scholar William Barclay, “God our Father, help us see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly.”

2) We need to get rid of cultural blindness.  Our culture also has blind-spots.  Often it is blind to things like love, happiness, marriage, and true, committed sexual love in marriage.  Our culture has become anesthetized to the violence, the sexual innuendo, and the enormous suffering of the world around us.  Our culture, our media, our movies and our values, are often blind as to what it means to love selflessly and sacrificially. Our culture, in spite of scientific proofs, is blind to the reality that life begins at the moment of conception, and it callously promotes abortion. We continue to advance destructive practices such as embryonic stem-cell research, homosexual “marriages,” euthanasia, and human cloning, and we refuse to see the consequences of godless behavior on human society. In the name of individual rights, the radical left in our society decries any public demonstration of religious beliefs and practices, or the public appearance of traditional values, questioning the substance of family values. The radical right, on the other hand, decries the immorality of our times, without lifting a finger to help the poor and the underprivileged and without ever questioning unjust foreign policies and wars. This   cultural blindness can only be overcome as each one of us enters the living experience of having Jesus dwelling within us and within others, through personal prayer, meditative reading of the Bible and a genuine Sacramental life.

3) We need to pray for clear vision:  Peter Marshall, the former chaplain to the United States Congress used to pray, "Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for, because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”  Today’s Gospel challenges our ability to see clearly.   Do we see a terrorist in every member of a particular religion?  Do we see people who are addicted to drugs as outcasts and sinners?  Do we fail to see God at work in our lives because He has shown us no miracles?  Jonathan Swift said, "Vision is the art of seeing things invisible."  Let us remember that this gift belongs to those who can see the good hidden in the kernels of suffering and of failure.  It resides in those who never give up hope.  Let us pray for the grace to see and experience the presence of a loving and forgiving God.

4) Let us not allow the world and Satan to blind us so that we forget our real identity and call – that we have been created by God and bought with the blood of Jesus; that we have been adopted as God's chosen children; and so that our role is to become God's representatives in our community and our world. We are called to stand out by the way we show love and concern for others. We are called to promote justice and peace; to set an example of what it means to live according to God's way. We are called to discipleship – that means a disciplined life of prayer and the study of God's Word, worship with our fellow Christians and standing out in the crowd (even though that may be difficult to do when it means sticking up for those who are being wronged and confessing that Christ in our lives does make a difference. It’s so easy to miss the point of what it means to be a Christian, and we end up “blending in” and fail to be a positive and powerful influence to bring about change in people’s lives and our world. Lent is a good time to take stock of how we are affected by this blindness, to see just how blind we have been to Jesus and His call to discipleship, and to realise how often we have preferred to stay blind. Lent is a good time to renew our vision and fix our eyes again on the Saviour who came so that we can be assured of forgiveness for such blindness, for the times when Jesus has come to us through his word and we have been too blind to see him calling us to action.( (Fr. Antony Kadavil, chaplain, Little Sisters of the Poor, Mobile, AL, U.S.A.)

19 March 2020, 09:00